In this world, there are coupe people and there are convertible people. The former will defend their position with claims of lighter weight, greater structural integrity and a cozier cabin. The latter will bang on about the virtues of wind-in-the-hair motoring and the added sensations that only come when driving sans roof. These two groups may finally be able to agree on a single car.
The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider offers all the fun of a drop-top car with virtually none of the downside. According to Alfa engineers, the 4C’s exotic (read: expensive) pre-preg carbon fiber tub is where nearly all of the car’s rigidity comes from. Because of this, only minor structural changes in the form of a steel cross-brace in the engine compartment, a carbon fiber windshield frame and an aluminum roll bar, needed to be added for the coupe-to-spider conversion. The result is a curb weight just 22 pounds heavier than the 4C coupe. The emergency tool and spares kit you cobbled together and carried in the trunk of your ’70s Alfa Spider weighed more than that.
The other result is that none of the mechanical specifications needs to be revised specifically for the 4C Spider. The suspension setup is all the same, as is the powertrain tune. That means 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 1.7-liter engine mounted amidships in the 4C’s chassis and a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. In a car that weighs just 2,487 pounds, that equates to a 0-60 mph time of just 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 160 mph. If ever the “go-kart on steroids” cliche was deserved, it’s by this Alfa.
We’ve lived with our long-term 2015 Alfa 4C coupe for a couple months now and upon climbing into the Spider, we found a couple differences from the car we’ve been piling miles on. One is the faux carbon-fiber trim around the instrument panel, which looks a little more interesting than the plain black plastic in our car. There are also new padded cellphone holders to the side of both driver’s and passenger’s seat, and the mesh pocket mounted between the seats on the rear firewall is now a leather pouch. Both of these changes will be found in all 2016 4C models. The Spider alone gets an exclusive Alpine stereo head unit, which looks a little flashier than the coupe’s but largely performs similar functions, including allowing for Bluetooth connectivity.
Before we set off on the road, we decided to stow the 4C Spider’s fabric targa-style roof panel. Removing and installing the panel is easy enough -- it’s attached to the front and rear window frames with a series of sliding pins -- and the whole thing rolls up and fits into a storage bag when it’s not in use. The bag, top inside, fits in the trunk. Be warned: Stashing the top takes up about three-quarters of the trunk’s volume and, unlike in some mid-engined cars (the Porsche Boxster comes to mind), there’s only the rear trunk available. The Alfa’s “frunk” space is taken up with componentry and cannot be accessed.
So what’s it like to drive the Spider? Pretty much just like the coupe version. It’s a manic, always-on thrill machine. Calm just isn’t what this Alfa likes to do. The unassisted steering is always alive, writhing around with road imperfections and tram-lining on certain types of pavement. It takes a certain amount of attention just to keep the Alfa pointed straight ahead, which is all part of the fun. The single-turbo four-banger gets on boost quickly (80 percent of max torque is reached at 1,700 rpm), and the turbo’s impeller whistles and whooshes away behind your head, threatening to drown out even the fairly sizeable growl from the optional muffler-less race exhaust system.
Shifts come quick enough in manual mode from the paddle-shiftable dual-clutch gearbox (borrowed with some improvements from the Dodge Dart and Alfa Giulietta) when you don’t feel like dictating every shift, the auto mode does a reasonable job of predicting when you’d like to drop a cog or shift into top gear. In fact, besides the constant steering input, the Alfa can settle into a sort of mellower, long-distance vibe where miles can be eaten up with a fair amount of calm. Those planning on doing more mellow driving should opt for Alfa’s new dual-mode, center-exit exhaust, which keeps the noise down in the drive system’s Natural mode when you’re not romping on the throttle.
But the best part of the Alfa 4C Spider is the Spider part. That removable roof panel makes a wonder of difference to the car’s in-cabin demeanor. With the sun and breeze wafting in, the cabin of the 4C is simply a nicer place to be than that of the slightly claustrophobic coupe. The roofless design also allows a place to escape for all the sound and resonance that tends to rattle around the many hard surfaces of the interior.
During lapping sessions at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the car’s Dynamic drive mode, the 4C Spider never felt disadvantaged by its missing roof section. Quite the contrary, the car feels as taut and direct as ever before, except driving sans roof makes all that exhaust noise even more visceral. Handling behavior felt much the same as the 4C coupe, with a hint of initial understeer giving way to neutrality, then a touch of power oversteer throttling aggressively out of Laguna Seca’s tight left-hand turn 11. Under braking for the famous turn 7 corkscrew, pedal firmness and modulation is also a strong suit. The 4C’s brake feel is about as close to a race car as you can get on the road. It’s a baby supercar, this one. A radical racer for the street.
When the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider goes on sale this summer in the U.S., it will command a $10,000 premium over the hardtop version. That’s either a small fortune or a bargain depending on how you look at the car. Still, given a choice between the two, we’d find the Spider mighty tough to resist. Oh, and you may want to opt for the Spider-exclusive Giallo Prototipo yellow paint, while you’re at it.
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