Alfa Romeo 4C | Good to be back.

BY Joel Tam

With the 4C, Alfa is bent on reminding car enthusiasts that they can still make a car that’s sexy and good to drive.

It’s been dull cars and uninspiring products for the past few years from the Turin-based Italian company. But things are about to change starting with the new 4C, a sexy two-seater that embodies most, if not all, of Alfa's values.

As I walked to our 4C test car, I couldn’t help but wish they had given us one painted in red. The white paint on our car swallowed up all the curves and didn’t do it justice. The 4C’s shape was refined over many hours in the wind tunnel so that it works aerodynamically to provide negative lift at speed and a low Cd of 0.35.

Undeniably, Alfa’s latest sports car is sexy as hell. With strong lines inspired from the 8C Competizione, the 4C is a beautiful mix of curvy haunches and big intake scoops. As an owner of a Lotus Elise, I’m privileged to be able to benchmark the Alfa with the Lotus, since much of the 4C’s DNA has been engineered to match (and surpass) its raw English rival anyway.

While looks may be subjective, quality definitely isn’t. Step inside the 4C (getting in is a bit of a stretch, but nowhere near as difficult as the Elise) and the lovely black leather-wrapped seats welcome you with a convincing hug. The leather (flat-bottom) steering wheel is compact and feels good in your hands. The dials and instrumentation are all neatly placed and have a good quality feel to it. Compared to my 7-year old Lotus, this feels like a Bentley.

Look ahead in the cabin and a nifty TFT screen looks back at you with a large electronic tacho dial surrounded by all the info you need (time, temperature, speed, gear position, revs). The look of the display changes when in ‘Race’ mode and becomes, erm… racier. The Alfa DNA toggle selector on the middle console allows you to change the ‘behaviour’ of the car by adjusting the throttle response, gearchange time and degree of chassis stability intrusion.

Now that we’re nice and snug in the black bucket seats, we’re ready to work the 1.8-litre turbocharged powerplant with 240bhp and 350Nm of torque. Fire the 4C up and a nice loud roar is emitted form the sports exhaust with dual chrome tips. Blip the throttle and it barks with a nice growl - and we’re not even in ‘Race’ mode yet. Now we really can’t wait to steer it. And steer it we do, for (like the Lotus) this car has no power-assisted steering and some effort is needed at crawling speeds to get it to go anywhere other than in a straight line.

But all is well, because once you’re on the move, the weighted steering feel is very much appreciated. Throttle response is sharp and the 4C is very responsive to inputs of any kind. Be it a jab of the accelerator pedal (which results in a mighty thrust forward), or a quick turn of the steering wheel (which makes the car change direction in an incredibly intuitive fashion). This is a car you can feel.

We all know that for ultimate control though, a manual transmission is preferred. But with this baby, you’ll have to make do with one less pedal. So for those of who say that ‘real men use three pedals’, you’ll be missing out on what the 4C has to offer. Because the gearbox and clutch system is quick and smooth, rev-matching every swap of the cogs and accompanying the process with a nice growl of the engine.

Driving the 4C is extremely entertaining. It’s almost like a rock concert. Aside from the sheer speed, the sound is also a big part of the experience. At times, it seems like the sonorous exhaust note is singing a solo, but take the car ‘higher’ and you’ll hear back-up vocals coming from the wastegate ‘whooshing’ away. Inspiring!

After pushing it hard through a series of corners and some twisty bits, we found the Alfa to be nimble and direct like very few cars are. Once again, coming from a Lotus, that’s high praise indeed. On public roads, handling the compact 4C is a joy. It’s so responsive and the steering so 'pointy' that it makes overtaking other cars and executing brisk passing manoeuvres really irresistible.

The Alfa Romeo 4C is a car that needs to be experienced once in your lifetime. I dare say it’s very close to being the ultimate driver’s car - at least until you see the price tag. At an estimated $360,000, it’s not what you’d label 'value-for-money' or 'bang-for-buck'. At that price range, your options would be a Porsche Cayman GTS and perhaps a Lotus Exige S, both of which are really good in their own right.

But if you’ve always wanted something special (anything Italian usually is), yet has a good balance of performance and quality, the Alfa Romeo 4C is the one to have. Granted, the Cayman might be a ‘safer’ choice, but there are just too many around - and while the Exige is more exclusive, it would be harder to live with on a day-to-day basis (for most people at least). So there you have it. Forget the 5 C’s, the 4C is all you need, and want.