What is it?

The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is the second salvo in Alfa’s latest incursion into North America. So far all of the company’s hardtop launch edition 4Cs are sold, and the average on-lot time for the next batch is just 17 days. It’s a good problem to have, says Alfa -- though it's worth noting total sales this year only add up to 295 units. The removable-top 4C Spider arrives later this summer. It’ll sticker for $65,495 including $1,595 in destination charges.

The 4C Spider gets the same Italian-made, all-aluminum 1.75-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the coupe, making 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It sits behind the driver, but doesn’t cause nearly as many visibility problems as it does on the coupe. A six-speed twin-clutch transmission sends power to the rear wheels through an electronic limited slip differential. That, plus the launch control function, pushes the 4C Spider to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. Alfa notes that it’s faster than both the Porsche Cayman and the Boxster--two of the most obvious competitors. Top speed is 160 mph, which seemed easily reachable on a decent stretch of track.

The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, nearly a forgone conclusion when the 4C coupe debuted, has arrived at the Detroit auto show with a pastel-yellow paint job. The big news here is that it only gains about ...

The “top” is really just an easily removable targa that covers the driver and passenger. The standard material is cloth, which stows in the trunk; buyers can alternately specify carbon fiber, which Alfa says, “can be conveniently stored in your garage.”

One of the best parts about this Spider is the lines, which aren’t ruined by a ribbed top or mechanical folding piece. The windshield frame comes standard in carbon fiber, and the rear halo can also be specified with the lightweight material.

The cabin is clean and sparse, just like the 4C coupe. The carbon fiber tub shows through on the floor, there are straps for door handles and you get no armrests. The cup holders are well out of the way between the backs of the seats. Our 5-foot, 10-inch frame fit fine, though drivers above 6’ 2” would probably put the seat at its backstop. Getting in takes a little contorting, but with the top off we just hung onto the windshield frame and dropped in.

What’s it like to drive?

We have one word for you: feedback. The 4C and 4C Spider have fantastic non-assisted, manual steering. That means it’s a little taxing to parallel park, especially since the car’s default transmission setting is neutral and it’ll roll backwards if you’re not on the gas. On the road at speed, however, the experience is like a 3D laser scanner of the road directly connected to your hands. We felt the grooves in the pavement, we felt the cold patches of asphalt, and we felt the twigs that blew down onto the street when a particularly strong gust appeared as we burned down the Pacific Coast Highway on our way to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Forget the new-fangled electric power steering: this is how a high-performance car should feel.

The Spider weighs in at 2,487 pounds. That’s only 22 pounds more than the hardtop. Alfa says the carbon fiber monocoque doesn’t need any stiffening when the roof is chopped off, so the extra weight is mostly in the rear packaging changes.

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The 4C Spider comes with Alfa’s “DNA” switch, which changes between dynamic, natural and all-weather modes (DNA -- get it?). That switch affects the engine, transmission, electronic stability control and differential, allowing more aggression which each step. Race mode defeats the traction control completely, though Alfa told us that if the car senses an antilock braking event the stability control will kick back on to help prevent catastrophic accidents. Probably a smart idea. On the track, the brakes stayed surprisingly fresh after several hours of duty, with a strong bite and only an inch or so of pedal travel difference.

Power comes on in a rush at about 2,500 rpm when the turbo really gets going. It’s not so much as a kick in the back but more of a slow, strong shove. It won’t upset your line, but things will start coming at you a lot faster in short order, and that acceleration doesn’t seem to slow in higher gears. Passing is just a matter of paddling down once or twice and stepping on the gas—a feature we used regularly on the tourist-filled, two-lane highways. Those paddles? They’re your only option for shifting. A manual won’t be available.

There’s lots of drama from this Italian; surprise, surprise. Between the wooshing of the turbo and the wailing exhaust note, not to mention the sexy bodywork, the 4C Spider wants attention. That signature exhaust note is nice when it goes up and down in pitch on the track. But on the road at a constant speed it gets a little monotonous. We found ourselves shifting up and down in traffic just to make it sing. If the revs drop too low, the sound gets deep and rattles the inside of your ear drums. The Subaru WRX is the same way; keep those revs up though, and no problems.

We’re going to get crazy and say the only purer driving experience is in a Lotus. The lack of a manual hurts here, even though we know the DCT is faster than we could ever be, and wind noise and exhaust get pretty loud at constant speeds. With the lack of luggage space, it’s going to have to be a second car. But we’re perfectly fine with that.

Can you get a more powerful second car for the price? Sure. Can you get a bigger second car for the price? Of course. But can you get the combination of a high-revving, Italian-made engine, near perfect steering setup, 34 mpg on the highway and a body that puts Elisabetta Canalis—look her up—to shame? We don’t think so. If we could afford it, we’d have one today.

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