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Alfa Romeo has long been a brand of unfulfilled promise. With the 4C it gets right back on track. Andy Enright reports.
A rear-wheel drive, mid-engined sports car based around a lightweight carbon fibre chassis? That'll be a McLaren or a Lamborghini, right? That's usually the case but Alfa's £45,000 4C sports coupe joins that club. With a turbocharged 1.7-litre engine behind the driver and a serious power to weight ratio, the good times look to be returning to Alfa Romeo.
Has there ever been a marque with more public good will but less ability to capitalise upon it than Alfa Romeo? How car enthusiasts have willed Alfa to at least get things part way right but instead have all too often been palmed off with prettified Fiats, second-rate dynamics and the clear imprimatur of accountants getting their way over engineers. There has been the odd highlight along the way but for an enthusiast marque, Alfa Romeo has all too often not just missed the bullseye, but studiously managed to miss the entire target. That era ended with the arrival of the 4C sports coupe. Here is a car that seemed to promise so much that most just prepared themselves for huge and crushing disappointment. The wonderful news for sports car lovers is that the 4C delivers on its promise. It's revolutionary in the way it brings all carbon-fibre chassis construction to a sensible price point. And it goes in a way that those who demeaned it as just a 1.7-litre four-cylinder auto would never believe.
One figure tells you a lot about the 4C's potential. Its power to weight ratio is 259bhp per tonne. That's right up there with powerhouses like the BMW M3 CSL, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo FQ-400 and the Audi RS5. Heck, it even beats the Lamborghini Countach LP500S. All of that comes courtesy of an all-aluminium, direct-injection four-cylinder 1750cc turbocharged petrol engine that makes 240bhp and is assisted by the 4C's kerb weight of just 925kg. That's about the same as a Lotus Exige, so you know that this is quite a special beast. It gets to 62mph in 4.5 seconds, which takes a Cayman S's trousers down quite easily, drive being deployed via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with paddle shifters. The gearchange is 30 per cent quicker in Dynamic or Race modes and the clever rev-matching ability of the engine ensures that shifts are quick and smooth without any unnecessary dramatics. There's a lot of performance but also more flexibility than you might expect from such a small engine, with its best work coming between 2,000 and 5,000rpm. The exhaust note has been tuned for a raucous effect and this combined with the wastegate sound effects means that you won't miss an approaching 4C. The steering is entirely unassisted.
There was a little controversy over the decision by Alfa to change the 4C's front headlamp design to something akin to a fly's compound eye, but other than that the design looks neat and clean. Walk around it and you might well see elements of Lotus Elise or Maserati Gran Turismo but other than that, the styling is recognisably Alfa Romeo. It's small too, and you'll feel that after you've clambered over the wide sill and dropped into the driver's seat. The fascia is angled towards the driver and it's fairly easy to get a comfortable driving position, with the steering wheel adjustable for rake and reach. There are some ergonomic oddities, like the centre console's edge jutting into the footwells and you'll need to pack light for a weekend away as luggage capacity is a piffling 110-litres. You'll probably want to specify the optional rear parking sensors as well as the view backwards is almost non-existent. There's plenty of naked carbon fibre on display inside and although the interior finish could never be described as plush, the 4C gets away with it due to its quest for weight reduction.
The 4C debuted with a special Launch Edition that sold out in no time at all, costing £51,600 and fitted with a carbon-fibre bodykit, door mirrors and headlight clusters finished in the same material. Dark alloy wheels and front air intakes, a sports exhaust and a firmer suspension set-up were also be a part of this special edition, as well as custom interior stitching. The standard 4C is a little more affordable at £45,000, which seems about right insofar as it's a little more than a Lotus Elise S and a little less than a Porsche Cayman S. The bodystyle alternative lies with the desirable open-topped Spider version, which costs around £60,000. Standard equipment includes the dual-clutch TCT gearbox (the equivalent of which tacks another £2,000 to a Cayman's price), Brembo brakes all round, sports seats, a decent stereo and air conditioning, although you can delete the air and tunes if you really have a weight-saving fetish. This isn't really a car you should be looking at while considering what toys you're going to get. Instead, it's a vehicle where the money has been spent on the thing that really makes it stand apart - the 65kg carbon fibre tub that makes up the main passenger cell.
For such a focused sports car, the Alfa 4C records a stunning set of efficiency figures. Pause for a moment and it's easy to figure out why. The light weight, downsized turbocharged engine and efficient twin-clutch transmission means that combined fuel economy is rated at 41.5mpg and emissions are a mere 157g/km. For a car that's quicker than a Porsche Cayman S, that's really good going. Other costs are a little harder to assess. Residual values should be well propped up by the fact that only around 200 right-hand drive cars a year will ever make it to the UK, so no matter what demand there is, the 4C will remain a relatively rare sight. Its sporting predecessor, the 8C Competizione, has skyrocketed in value and previous rear-wheel drive Alfa specials like the RZ and SZ have also done well financially, so if you're worried about depreciation, it's likely to be a non-issue.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is an absolutely fascinating vehicle. It's exactly the car most petrolheads would have urged Alfa to build while positioning themselves as fantasy CEO. They would have demanded a carbon chassis, rear-wheel drive, light weight, unassisted steering, big brakes, sharp styling and affordable pricing. Well, it's now a production reality and despite many feeling that the 4C was always destined to be one of those cars that would grace motor show stands and then be quietly shelved, Alfa has been brave enough to bring it to market and looks set to be rewarded for doing just that. For these reasons, we'd love the 4C to succeed and we'd be even happier were it to spawn a host of imitators, because it's a car that does things the right way. It's not perfect. The engine and transmission look a perfect match on paper but at launch, there were some grumbles about the finer points of their calibration. If you like a zingy, high-revving, hair-trigger of an engine, the 4C's lazier, flywheely feel is probably going to frustrate. Likewise, there are elements of the cabin quality that could conceivably disappoint. Try it before you buy it as it's a car that touches greatness in so many areas. It might well get there, but this is Alfa Romeo, a company well known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, this one looks too good to waste.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is a compact sports car. It has been designed to be as light and safe as possible as to provide better performance with a smaller engine. The bodywork is comprised of 1 piece of moulded carbon-fibre, meaning that aerodynamics, fluency and safety are exceptional. The car is priced around the £50,000 region, obviously depending on model and added options, but looks and feels inside & out like a £100,000 car. It is astonishing to look at and fantastic to drive.
The Alfa Romeo 4C has a top speed of 160 mph and 0-62 is achieved in just 4.5 seconds utlising a 1.75 engine which produces 237bhp. It might not sound like a great amount of horespower but that's because it doesn't need it due to its carbon-fibre frame providing an ultra lightweight shell. To demonstrate this, the 4C completed the Nurburgring fastest of any production car under 250bhp, with a time of 8 minutes and 4 seconds, which is the same time as Porsche Cayman S.
Basically, you'll get a high-performance car that turns heads and still does 40mpg in normal mode, and also doesn't bring along with it a high price tag. These cars hold their value well, so you're likely to pay a lot less for the lease term, but keep your eye on our deals for the latest offers.
If you want something for the weekend then this is perfect, on or off the race track. No seriously. The 4C has Alfa D.N.A which means you have a choice of 4 traction modes - Dynamic, Neutral, All-weather and Race Mode. In Dynamic mode the car hands full control to you, and takes away ABS and stability control for optimum performance. Race mode is self-explanatory but means the car is in full on race-track mode, so for the Nurburgring, etc. This is a fairly sharp piece of kit that not many road-going cars like this one can boast about; TopGear themselves did a full feature of it on their show and raved about its performance.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is a stunner and has the performance of a Porsche without the price tag. Have a look around the hub for the latest special offers, image gallery, in-depth reviews and HD video to see if an Alfa Romeo 4C lease is the right choice for you.
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