By Frank S. Washington
DETROIT – Where to begin? The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C was just different. This Italian- made pocket rocket is the first of a slew of Alfa Romeos headed to this market. And if the 4C is any indication, there is a new player in the luxury performance game and the engineers from Modena, Italy, are to be taken seriously.
Our test car was small, real small. It was 157.5 inches long, 73.5 inches wide, and at 46.6 inches, it wasn’t four feet tall. That meant we had to slide down into the 4C, almost like sliding into a not so shallow bathtub and then we had to leverage or climb our way out of the car. This was a task. But it was worth it. The Alfa Romeo 4C was a palpitating piece of machinery.
The car was a monocoque made of carbon fiber, a material that delivered stiffness and strength. Everything about the 4C was about saving weight. Even the windshield and side window glass were 10 percent thinner for a weight savings of up to 15 percent. There was no park gear, just neutral, drive, reverse and manual to bring the paddle shifters into play. But there was a parking brake. These “gears” were buttons mounted in a diamond on the center console.
The two seats had carbon fiber and fiberglass reinforced composite frames. They had very nice cloth seat cushions and seat backs. Of course, the car had a manual tilt telescoping steering wheel.
There was no power steering either and we realized that as soon as we tried to turn the flat bottomed steering wheel while the 4C was standing still. In other words, Alfa Romeo dumped the weight of a hydraulic or an electric power steering system.
The audio system was, eh, rudimentary. There was no satellite radio, no CD player, and no USB jack. But there was an auxiliary jack and a slot for an SD card. However, there was no navigation system either. And the sheet metal, well, it was not exactly metal. Alfa Romeo said attached to the 4C’s monocoque were front and rear cell structures, roof reinforcements and an engine-mounting frame made from lightweight aluminum.
The bodywork was SMC (sheet molding compound), a composite that was 20 percent lighter and more rigid than steel. It was used on the 4C to create the swerves and curves that made the car even more distinctive than just its diminutive size. The fascia and rear spoiler were made of injected polyurethane.
What appeared to be the CPU or audio system controller popped out and it looked more like a small point and shoot camera. This was different kind of car. If you care about creature comforts, the Alfa Romeo 4C is not for you, trust us. But if you care about fun, the 4C has it to spare. As with all fun cars, the levity starts with the engine. In this case it was a mid-mounted 1.7 liter direct injected turbocharged four cylinder aluminum engine that made 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
Alfa Romeo said, “A new generation turbocharger features a pulse-converter exhaust manifold to exploit pressure waves and boost torque at low-engine speeds. A waste gate valve adjusts turbo pressure and improves the engine’s efficiency. Advanced scavenging technology enables the Alfa Romeo 4C to maximize torque at low engine speeds and deliver more response to driver input by increasing combustion efficiency and turbine speed, all while eliminating turbo lag. As a result, torque delivery is instantaneous, with a peak of 258 ft.-lb. (350 Nm); 80 percent of which is available at only 1,700 rpm.
“Teamed to the all-aluminum engine is a paddle-shifting Alfa TCT twin-clutch (six-speed automatic) transmission, which has been specifically tuned for the all-new Alfa Romeo 4C. With its uniquely calibrated software that adjusts with the Alfa DNA selector system, the Alfa TCT’s gearshifts are designed to become most aggressive in the Dynamic and Race modes. The Alfa TCT system also integrates a “launch control” mode – delivering the utmost acceleration possible as soon as the driver releases the brake.”
Weighing less than 2,500 pounds, our test car was packaged lightening. By the numbers, the Alfa Romeo 4C could get to 60 mph from a standstill in 4.3 seconds, it had a top speed of 160 mph, and it had an amazing curb weight to power ratio of 10.4 pounds to every one horsepower. And the thing was fuel efficient. It had an EPA rating of 24 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined.
The 4C was exceptionally fast. Once we aggressively accelerated from in front of our driveway and the car reached more than 50 mph three or four driveways down the street. No matter the speed we were traveling, every push on the accelerator brought titillation. We couldn’t let the rear-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo 4C even get close to getting loose on surface streets; it was just too fast.
The manual rack and pinion steering translated driver input instantly. The car’s suspension let us feel exactly what was transpiring between vehicle and road. And the aural experience was even more vivid because the engine could be seen out of the corner of our right eye through the polyurethane wall separating its compartment from the cockpit that was surprisingly spacious. This was a different kind of car.
Only 1,000 Alfa Romeo 4Cs will be sold in the North American market annually. And it is a safe bet that with a base price of $53,900, Alfa Romeo won’t have a problem selling every last one of them. Our tester with options and freight charge was $60,195.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.