2015 Alfa Romeo 4C First Test
Alfa's Atonement for Past Sins Puts us in a Very Forgiving Mood
Remember the Alfa Romeo 8C that began the storied brand's halting return to the U.S. market? Well, forget it. With the hindsight of half a decade, that quarter-million dollar beauty looks like a cynical attempt to wrap aging hand-me-down hardware in a beautiful new wrapper -- kind of like the Crossfire did at one-seventh the price. This 4C is Alfa's make-good for such past sins, and we're promised it spearheads a lineup that will include eight cars by 2018.
If you've read anything about the 4C, it's probably been gushing, glowing hyperbole suggesting that this feathery mid-engine track-star might have been co-developed in heaven by the holy ghosts of Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapman and some nameless, incredibly crafty bean-counter. Divine intervention on that last front was surely required to finagle a starting price of $55,195 for a car with a carbon-fiber tub constructed the slow Formula 1 way by hand-laying pre-impregnated carbon fiber sheets and autoclaving them, not the newer, more efficient Lamborghini Aventador/BMW i3 way of laying dry fiber mats in molds and injecting resin. The aluminum subframes at either end add even more cost, and while these are somewhat offset by a few bits and pieces shared with mainstream models (like the dry twin-clutch transmission), the X-Ray view of this car looks as much like a supercar as the outer skin does. Trust me, this is as earnest, contrite, and heartfelt an atonement for past Alfa sins as we could reasonably hope for.
The very first thing I do when the PowerPoint presentations wrap is nab the keys to the lightest 4C available -- with the cloth seats, the smaller 17-inch front/18-inch rear tires, the "racing exhaust" ($500 well spent to leave off the muffler) -- and bolt from central San Francisco to the Golden Gate bridge and the twisty Marin County roads on the other side. The sound of that exhaust bouncing off buildings and the car's eagerness to jink past, around, and between the lumbering commuters has me grinning like an idiot, brainstorming fresh hyperbole, and fearing for my license.
Up on the deserted and tightly kinked tarmac the fun-quotient quadruples, and after about 5 miles of flailing away at the unassisted 15.7:1 steering, my pecs are burning a bit. Steering effort at speed isn't particularly high (it's perfect), but the repeated arm-over-arm work required by the slightly slowish ratio keeps the muscles busy. It's the most entertaining upper-body workout you'll never find, however, attended as it is by a never ending succession of turbo whistles, blow-off valve pops, over-run braaaaaps, and the like. Dynamic handling is superbly neutral. The car turns in eagerly and tightens its line when the throttle closes, but it resists tail-out hoonigan behavior pretty strongly. I sample a car equipped with the 18/19-inch footwear and a muffler later on the exact same stretch of road, and find that much of this amusing audio is stifled, but the ride quality and handling limits seem about the same. (Pirelli P Zero ARs are fitted in both setups.)
The very next thing my co-driver and I do is to perch our 4C on a set of corner scales. The results: 2437 pounds with a 41/59 percent front/rear balance (the muffler and upsized wheels will add only 18 pounds to our afternoon car measured on the same scales). Okay, that's 405 pounds heavier than an Exige, but it's 622 pounds lighter than a Cayman. And with each of its 237 horses lugging 10.3 pounds, it splits the difference between the base and S versions of the mid-engine Porsche (9.7 and 11.1). The more dearly departed Exige scaled at 7.9 lb/hp.
How do the performance numbers compare? Third on our things-to-do list is to mount a VBox, dial up Race mode on the cutely named DNA drive-mode switch (hold the toggle in the Dynamic position for 6 seconds), pull the left (-) shift paddle, floor both pedals, and release the brake. The transmission executes a 6000-rpm launch and upshifts itself at the optimal rpm (an indicated 6200 in first, 6500 thereafter), getting a bark of wheelspin in second. The result: A blistering 4.3-second dash to 60 mph en route to a 12.8-second, 108.8-mph quarter-mile. That beats the manual Exige by 0.2 second and 0.9 mph (thanks twin-clutch!) and trails our best twin-clutch Cayman S by exactly the same margin. Braking from 60 mph looks less impressive at 113 feet versus Exige's 105 and Cayman S' 101, but the different test surface could account for some of that. I certainly can't find any fault with the feel or fade-resistance of the four-wheel vented-and-perforated Brembo discs.
Stop four on the day's itinerary is Infineon Raceway, where a fleet of four cars fitted with the track package (stiffer suspension, the larger 18/19-inch wheel/tire package, and race exhaust) beckon. Here the car really feels at home, and only here can one muster both the courage and the speed required to generate full-on trail-brake-induced oversteer and point the car into the next turn. This only works in Race mode, which switches off the stability control system, and even then it's tricky to maintain a slide as the "Q2 electronic limited slip" software continues to dither the inside rear brake to equalize wheel speeds across the rear axle. Drifters may need to pull a Q2 fuse and fit slipperier tires.
There's even more to love. The instrument display mimics those in the Ferrari 458 or Lambo Aventador, changing the graphics, color, and content with each drive mode, and flashing a bright yellow rev band when it's time to shift up; the light, cheap Parrot Asteroid radio lets your phone provide navigation and other advanced telematics content (though you'll find it connects to Android phones easier than it does to iPhones); the seats provide ample lateral support without feeling cramped; and a wide, flat footwell allows the passenger to brace sufficiently for high-g cornering without handholds. Yes, the climate controls feel chintzy, the airbags deploy from clearly visible doors, there's no glovebox or armrests, the cupholders are too small, the rear-view mirror is worthless (except for watching the engine rock as you get on and off the gas), it's too loud, etc. If any of that bothers you, Porsche has a Cayman with your name on it.
The 4C goes on sale late this year at 86 dealers (83 of which currently sell Fiat; the others Maserati) in 33 states. The first 500 will be special launch edition models, equipped with the track pack, special wheels, leather/microfiber seats and steering wheel, special carbon fiber trim inside and out, a larger spoiler and fender air inlets. The price: $69,695. Hold out for a base car; it'll be the steal of the century.
Keep reading for the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C test chart and more than 140 additional photos.
When's the Spider coming?Don't hold your breath. Removing the roof of this extremely rigid structure poses no engineering challenges, but with the profit margin at practically nil as is and a production capacity of about 1000 cars per year, it'll be tough to concoct a business case for a second model.
Why no stick!?This is a no-compromises high-performing sports car; manual shifting would slow the car a bunch. Also, packaging a shifter and the complicated linkage required to reach the transverse-mounted transaxle would have resulted in an unsatisfying shifter feel.
What's this thing going to be like to repair and insure?Insurance rates are ultimately determined by the overall value of the car, so we're assured there will be no big surprises there. Front and rear crash damage is usually confined to the replaceable aluminum structure. Major crashes that impact the carbon-fiber tub will summon a U.S.-based "Flying Doctor," who will assess the damage and suggest repair, replacement of a section, or total loss.
Isn't that just a Giulietta/Dart front suspension moved to the back?Nope. Yes, it's a strut design, but a unique and pretty sophisticated one. To make it package lower, the lower spring perch also serves as the upper mount to the suspension upright, and by canting the spring inboard at a greater angle than the strut rod, the spring imparts a side-load that helps reduce friction in the strut. Also, the lower control arm forms a very wide triangle that would never fit under a Dart.
Why no twin-scroll turbo?Twin-scrolls are a no-brainer in twin-turbo big-displacement engines, where they help build boost at a lower rpm for great grunt off the line. Here the priority was high-rpm power, which a single-scroll helps optimize. The intake is tuned to help bolster the low-end torque that a twin-scroll would have provided.
How does that slinky body do in the wind tunnel?Great! And all the magic is underneath. Carefully managing the flow of all cooling airflow under the body and out the rear diffuser helps deliver a 0.33 Cd with a -0.05 coefficient of lift (meaning there's modest downforce) balanced front to rear, without any gigantic spoilers, wings, or splitters.
I thought the carbon fiber tub was unidirectional, but the tub looks like a weave.The tub is formed of layer upon layer of one-directional carbon fiber, aligned for optimal strength in all areas, but that stuff is ugly to look at, so the there's a layer of 2 x 2 twill carbon fiber on top for looks.
Why does the American version weigh 200 pounds more than the global model?Europe granted the 4C low-volume exemptions from some regulations. Alfa did not pursue such exemptions in the U.S., so additional reinforcements are required primarily for frontal and side-impact crash protection, and our unbelted-occupant crash tests demanded a different (and heavier) set of airbags.
|2015 Alfa Romeo 4C (base)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum) block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||106.3 cu in/1742cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||237 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||258 lb-ft @ 2200 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||10.3 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||12.0-in vented, drilled disc; 11.5-in vented, drilled disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||7.0 x 18-in; 8.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||205/45ZR17 88Y; 235/40ZR-18 95Y Pirelli P Zero AR|
|TRACK, F/R||64.5/63.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||157.5 x 73.5 x 46.6 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.5 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||2437 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||41/59 %|
|SHOULDER ROOM||49.8 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||3.7 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.1|
|QUARTER MILE||12.8 sec @ 108.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2100 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$57,795|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||10.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||24/34/28 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||140/99 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.70 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|