This, and the Italian's fondness for the bygone-era sexiness of the racing-derived 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, is explanation enough for the lightweight, mid-engined 4C's conception, though of course less romantic business considerations apply, such as returning the marque to the states with combustible flash ahead of more pedestrian future offerings.
You'll excuse us for worrying about those future cars in the coming months; for now, the present is enough following the carbon-monocoqued 4C's seemingly never-going-to-get-here gestation. But after technical delays and arrival-date resets, Alfa's new two-seater lands in 82 U.S. dealerships -- three of them Maserati stores, the rest Fiat outlets -- in the third quarter of this year. (Editor's note: With approximately only 1,000 examples, give or take, headed our way in the next 12 months, prospective buyers should stop reading now and hit up dealers immediately, as exact allocations are unclear.)
You'll need $69,695 (including destination) to get one of the first 500 4C's coming to the states.PHOTO BY ALFA ROMEO
Is it worth the wait? And then some. The 4C's ethos remains unchanged since the last time we sampled it, in Europe, and came away smiling and impressed. Well, unchanged mostly … so let's get this out of the way: 342 pounds.
That's the U.S. version's additional weight compared to European-spec 4Cs, bringing its curb weight to 2,465. Before you hurl expletives and your Lavazza at government regulations and whatever screen you're reading this on, you might look at this from another perspective: Alfa wasn't so much forced to add weight to U.S. cars (297 pounds comes from monocoque crash-zone reinforcements, side airbags and a fore-aft passenger seat adjustment necessary to meet crash-certification mandates, with the remaining 45 pounds from standard air conditioning and radio); rather, a European regulation exception for hyper-low-volume production cars allowed it to strip down the car. Then again, the difference represents a 16 percent weight gain. Hurl away.
Still, without back-to-back drives of U.S. and Euro cars, complaints about the American-spec 4C's dynamics are, in our experience so far, almost non-existent. The 1.8-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder's 237 hp at 6,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque from 2,200-4,250 makes for 0-60 times around 4.5 seconds and a 160-mph top speed, according to Alfa, and hard acceleration is immediate, with turbo lag never an issue. We commented previously that the engine/exhaust note is “unique,” and this stance has not changed. If anything, we like it more with each listen. The exhaust tone's deep-ish baritone combined with the turbo's loud whistle when you open the throttle fully is strikingly similar to the sounds made by 2014-spec Formula One cars, at least in terms of how Grand Prix cars sound on TV. Perhaps surprisingly, while this soundtrack has taken an excessive beating from F1 fans, teams and drivers, it is extensively amusing and satisfying in a road-going sports car, and a $500 sport exhaust (a must have, we recommend) cranks up the volume further.
Alfa Romeo's 4C is not a dedicated track car, but right out of the box it is not far off in terms of creature comforts.PHOTO BY ALFA ROMEO
Driving the 4C on twisting back roads and on race tracks -- this time around, California's exceptionally challenging Sonoma Raceway road course -- is delightful. The quick (15.7:1) unassisted steering rack delivers, if anything, almost too much information. Steering is heavy as you drive slowly into and out of parking spaces and parking lots, but afterward speaks to you loud and clear, and makes picking off apexes a breeze. It does, however, serve as one of several reminders that the 4C is built for, as Ramaciotti says, drivers who occupy “a niche within a niche within a niche.” Get away from driving for driving's sake, or from a track or autocross course, and plot a trundling 45-minute route down the highway in traffic, and the requirement to make very small steering corrections constantly will wear on those who buy this Alfa as status symbol or image maker rather than for its intended purpose.
On the track? The steering and exceptionally stiff, 50-50 weight-distributed chassis -- notably when combined with the $2,400 track pack that includes stiffer springs, retuned dampers and larger antiroll bars front and rear, plus larger wheels and available (track-pack only) softer-compound Pirelli P Zero rubber -- offers outstanding stability on corner entry. A few brief lapping sessions at Sonoma reveal what feels like an inherently neutral balance coaxed easily into rotating through corners with strong front-end bite and equally competent traction and, if so desired, slideability on exit.
Brake feel is exceptional, thanks to a big, aluminum pedal well positioned for left-foot actuation and exhibiting very little travel in road-car terms, which provides excellent pressure modulation of the Brembo-supplied brakes similar to a race car or well-sorted track-day car.
For all of its hardcore credentials, Alfa's 4C is not a dedicated track car, but right out of the box it is not far off in terms of creature comforts. This does not apply to on-road ride quality, which is far from brutal on its standard, staggered tire size (17-inch, 205/45 front; 18-inch 235/40 rear -- an 18/19-inch tire package is available). Aim at potholes, bumps and expansion joints, and you'll find comfort similar to the previous-generation Porsche Cayman or 911 without active suspension. Inside the cockpit is a different story: Save for an elastic pocket attached beneath the dashboard in the passenger footwell and a small pocket between the seats on the rear firewall, storage space is non-existent. Customers would be well served by the addition of, at the very least, mesh pockets attached to the doors, which would add only a few negligible ounces.
The exhaust tone's deep-ish baritone combined with the turbo's loud whistle when you open the throttle fully is strikingly similar to the sounds made by 2014-spec Formula One cars.PHOTO BY ALFA ROMEO
Road-trip accommodations and amenities are similarly sparse -- putting it mildly -- with a small compartment in the rear capable of swallowing a few computer-bag-sized pieces of luggage, but nothing more. And forget about storing anything under the hood, which doesn't offer cargo space -- or even open unless you break out your tools and remove it entirely. Fear not track-day veterans or do-it-yourselfers: Underhood access is not necessary to change oil, brake fluid, coolant, washer-fluid or battery. Likewise, don't look for a navigation system or, so far, backup camera or high-end sound system. A backup camera would be particularly welcome, given the, er, limited rearward visibility; parking sensors are present, though, along with a maddeningly loud and annoying in-cabin alarm that reeks tonal havoc until both driver and passenger secure their seatbelts.
“Connectivity” is all the rage with mainstream car buyers, but the Android-based radio is preloaded with only a handful of apps, including Google Maps and the ability to use Google's Waze app for route instructions, but forget about a conventional, built-in nav system, at least for now. You can plug in your phone or media device for songs and entertainment, but doing so is beside the point.
“There isn't any big touchscreen in the middle because we thought this is a driver's car,” says Ramaciotti. “The guy that buys this car doesn't want to play around with entertainment that you will not even hear because of the sound of the engine. We also thought not to have electric windows, but then we found at the end of the day it was actually less expensive to have them. [But] we put the money where it was needed.”
You'll need $69,695 (including destination) to purchase one of the first 500 4Cs arriving in the United States, dubbed “Launch Edition” and including, among other items, the track pack, interior leather package and a unique front fascia with brake-duct air inlets, plus carbon-fiber mirrors, rear spoiler and interior trim, HID headlamps and the larger wheel/tire package. Once those cars land, $55,195 gets you in the door approximately six months from now when standard editions begin to arrive in dealers.
If you're of Ramaciotti's ilk -- and by extension, Chapman's -- when it comes to driving devotion, and plan to buy this Alfa but you're still sitting here reading, you might already be behind the curve. That's something we, and most roads and race circuits -- could they speak -- will never say about the 4C.
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