2014 Alfa Romeo 4C Quick first drive

How 15 minutes with this car will leave a greater lasting impression than 15 days with most others

By Shahzad Sheikh

Alfa Romeo 4C

I just got back from a trip to Italy to drive some Fiats which you’ll be reading about soon right here on MotoringME.com. But as a surprise special treat for the Middle East contingent we got a brief run in this Alfa Romeo 4C at the very end of the press event.

Since they’ve got confirmed orders for several dozen of these in the Middle East and it was something of a showstopper at the Dubai Motor Show last year, we were all desperately eager to get a taste of this accessible exotic.

We each got only about half an hour in the car on some country roads around our hotel in Malpensa right near the Milan airport. And taking out 15 minutes to grab these pictures, I probably drove it for only a quarter of an hour or so.

Alfa Romeo 4C

Astonishingly it was enough to sear a vivid impression of this extraordinary road-racer deep into our minds – and leave an unquenchable thirst for more of the incredible experience of driving this masterpiece.

Honestly speaking, I can’t think of many cars in recent years that have so instantly and vehemently come alive in my hands, shouted so loud in my ears and shot such a charge of adrenaline coursing through my veins leaving my heart racing, my nerves tingling and my natural excitement levels topping out at scales I had forgotten even existed.

Let’s start with a few facts – it weighs just under 900kg. Yep that’s it. Yet its turbocharged four-cylinder produces 237bhp and 258lb ft of torque from 2200rpm. That translates to a 0-100kph time of 4.5 seconds. It’s not a hybrid. And if you have any hang-ups about this being just 1750cc – get over them. Now. (Besides it’s still more than today’s F1 cars.)

Alfa Romeo 4C

The 0-100 may not sound like much in today’s world of hyper-exotics, but it’s quick. And from behind the steering wheel it feels way quicker still, lightning fast in fact. Leaping angrily with a frightening bark off the line, snap in the next ratio through the paddle-shift dual-clutch auto, and as the revs rise, it seems to get a second wind of terrifying thrust.

You’re sitting extremely low – although it’s really not as hard to get in and out of as some super-sports cars, and the carbon fibre passenger tub is cosy but not cramped. The interior is exquisitely finished from what little I remember, but I had no time to focus on that, the drive was engaging all my faculties, and demanding all my abilities.

Despite being an auto, and featuring creature comforts such as electric windows, a/c and leather-lined upholstery for its supportive bucket seats, this is not a car to take lightly. It reminds me somewhat of a Caterham in that it makes you work but then rewards your efforts.

Alfa Romeo 4C

The steering is non-powered – which will be one hell of a culture shock to drivers of modern cars – but so much the better for it in terms of visceral feedback and feel. Accuracy and assuredness underscore the sensational acuity of the helm.

Between this and the proximity of your butt to the ground, not to mention the firm, yet compliant, ride, you’re getting a lot of communication about the terrain you’re traversing so quickly.
It takes a while to build up confidence after the initial terror of unleashing this little beast, but the more you work with it, the more your confidence grows and the more satisfaction you get out of the mere act of driving, even if it’s just 15 minutes.

Take-your-breath-away performance, sensationally faithful responses and a great transmission – didn’t think I’d be saying that about an auto in a sports car, but then things are happening so fast in an 4C that you actually end up being grateful for once to not have to worry about self-shifting.

Alfa Romeo 4C

Rear visibility is virtually non-existent through the interior rear view mirror and you have to rely heavily on the side mirrors thanks to the absence of a reversing camera – though there are sensors – and the brakes could do with a bit more bite, progressiveness and feel, especially in something as fast and pointy.

Also whilst the upshifts are snappy and come with a distinct mechanical clack as well as a whup and whoosh as the exhaust sharply intakes breath gulping hungrily at air, whilst not actually using that much fuel, the downshifts are a little too subdued. These are minor quibbles though, completely overshadowed by the unfamiliar brilliance of a machine purely made to be spanked hard, by those that are man enough to take it on.

15 minutes was more than enough to know this is one of the sharpest drives out there, and I can’t wait to get another go and delve deeper into its pretty evident depth of a talents. Plus of course it’s beautiful and that belligerently boomy exhaust roar wakes neighbourhoods, terrifies hybrid hatchbacks and convinces bystanders you must be packing a much mightier unit than you are.

Watch Alfa Romeo 4C being built from start to finish

2014 Alfa Romeo 4C – the specs

Price: AED280k-320k ($76k-87k) Est
Engine: 1742cc 16v turbocharged 4-cyl, 237bhp @ 6000rpm, 258lb ft @ 2200-4250rpm
Performance: 4.5 0-100kph, 259kph, 6.8L/100km
Transmission: Six-speed auto, mid-engined, rear-wheel drive
Weight: 895kg

See also Lotus Evora S, Porsche Cayman

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