Gorgeous Alfa Romeo 4C delivers plenty of snap, crackle and pop
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Not made for traffic jams or sloping driveways, but definitely made for fun
It takes a special type of person to own an Alfa Romeo 4C. First, they must love attention, they need to be nimble and, most importantly, have a flat driveway.
First revealed as a concept at the 2011 Geneva motor show, the 4C was launched to the global media in March 2014 before eventually leaving Italy and heading to New Zealand.
There are the coupe, including a Launch Edition model, and Spider now available, with the 4C handbuilt at the Maserati factory in Modena.
From the rear, the 4C coupe is curves a plenty but the V-shaped bonnet and the cluster of small lights above the headlights shows this isn't your typical sports car, this is an Alfa, thank you very much.
The 4C has a 1.8-litre, four cylinder turbo petrol engine that produces 177kW of power and 350Nm of torque and is paired with a 6-speed automated dual-clutch transmission. The 4C reaches 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds with a top speed of 258 km/h.
We tested the Alfa Romeo 4C Launch Edition priced from $139,900, up $10,000 on the standard 4C.
Since its arrival in New Zealand, there have been eight coupes and five Spiders registered, which means when it is on the road the 4C garners huge attention.
It is 3990mm long, 1184mm high and 1868mm wide with 18in alloy wheels at the front and 19in at the rear. Thanks to the extensive use of carbon fibre, it weighs only 925kg.
It is built with a carbonfibre tub, with aluminium used for the engine plus the front and rear sub-frames while there is high strength steel roll-bar behind the two occupants.
The 4C sits just centimetres off the ground and, with a front angled spoiler positioned about 100mm above the tarmac, you have to slowly navigate speed bumps. Driveways with steep curbs are out of bounds.
With a wide lip, entering and exiting the 4C is typical of such sports cars as the McLaren 560 C and Lotus Elise. You place one leg over the sill, flick your bottom into the seat then move your other leg in. To exit gracefully (especially, if like me, if you're wearing dress or skirt), you quickly put your leg out, place your hand on the sill to lever yourself and, as you start to stand, remove your other leg.
The 4C has no power steering which, on the positive side, means you get an upper body workout, but on the negative side means driving at low speed or trying to park is tough on you.
Slotted behind the cabin, the engine is showcased under glass and being so close to passenger and driver, means you get that turbo sound track up close and personal.
To keep weight down, the Alfa uses little sound-deadening material and has thin glass on the windows which means you'll be getting lots of road, wind and engine noise.
You can forget the stereo (which really is more of an after-thought than entertainment centre) to drown out the road noise, instead you should listen to the delightful crackle and pop cacophony of the turbo engine which alerts pedestrians to your presence.
And you can't be shy if you own a 4C. I had drivers (tsk, tsk) and passengers taking smartphone shots of the car, while a carload of young guys followed very close on the motorway so they could check out the car.
Parked, I had pedestrians asking me for a ride, though one of those fans who was approaching the 4C from behind, originally thought it was a Ferrari -- a frequent comment due to the Alfa's curved rear bumpers.
Although it may look like a baby Ferrari, the Alfa 4C has a very individual look and appeal. It's priced to compete with the likes of the Porsche Boxster and Cayman, Jaguar's F-Type coupe and height wise could match the Lotus Elise.
There isn't much like it on our roads but tamer versions of this sports car include Toyota's GT86 and Mazda's MX-5 2-litre.
But let's be clear -- while the F-Type, Cayman and GT86 could be used frequently, the Alfa Romeo 4C is not a daily drive.
The rear boot is deep but narrow and fits about three full bags of shopping. Just don't put the white wine or raw chicken close to the engine as you'll find them both hot by the time you get home.
The dual-clutch transmission isn't the best gearbox for traffic or daily driving, where it can be a bit jerky and stuttery.
Instead I opted to use the steering wheel-mounting paddles to flick the 4C into second gear.
But on the open road -- or better still, quiet back roads -- the shifts are fast and the transmission keeps up with the pace.
Rear and over-the-shoulder visibility is nil. You get a pretty good view of the engine cover in the centre mirror, but not much of the road behind you.
The rear-view vision is affected when it rains as the window between the cabin and the engine fogs up during a downpour, making reversing out of an angled space in a busy shopping car park near impossible.
But as my neighbour pointed out, when he was remarking on the turbo engine noise, this vehicle is also ideal for the race track where you really don't need to see what's behind you as you should be leading the pack.
Although I didn't get it on a race track, I did drive it on quiet roads and this is when it comes into form, giving you a dynamic and thrilling ride.
The lack of power steering means firmer handling, just what you need at speed, and the engine delighting with the crackling sound track.
Sure, being low to the ground means you feel the bumps, but also being so low means you have that gokart-cum-race car feel.
This is the third car in your garage (alongside a European sedan and luxury SUV). It hasn't been created to be used to nip to the supermarket or for driving to work every day. This is a weekend drive, so head out of town to enjoy it.
ALFA ROMEO 4C
1.8-litre petrol engine, 6-speed transmission
PROS:Head turner, dynamic drive
CONS: Not a daily drive