Up: Italian style, beautiful exhaust note (sport exhaust), go-kart handling
Down: Options get pricey, why even make the regular exhaust?
Neutral: Alfa Romeo in Giallo Prototipo? Mama Mia!
2012 marked the debut of three of the most advanced vehicles known to man and dubbed them hypercars. The McLaren P1, Porsche 918, and Ferrari LaFerrari were built with space exploration grade materials, big engines, huge turbos, electric motors, and enough downforce to flatten a house. 2016 brought us production vehicles such as the Bugatti Chiron and Koenigsegg Agera that preferred brute strength to lap times; each pumping out at least 1,500 horsepower from the factory. And this year a local Texan company is doubling down and boasting that their new Hennessey Venom F5 will be the first vehicle to reach 300 mph! What a time to be alive!…if you’re in the upper half of the 1%. But did you know there is also another way to make a car equally as fun? Just remove all the weight.
Example? Try the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. The 4C debuted in 2013 and was the first Alfa Romeo (in a long, long time) to be sold on U.S. soil. And boy am I glad they did. Just look at it! It’s tiny, nimble, it has big wheels, Italian curves, ‘spider’ is spelled correctly, and the top comes off. It’s even mid engined! It doesn’t need 1500 horsepower, electric motors, or a special key that allows you to access its full potential. The 4C is a true driver’s car that can proudly stand alone in its own class.
Why do I say its own class? Well first you have to consider the competition. Lotus makes the Elise and the Exige but both are more “club racing” cars and aren’t as easily accessible to the general public. There’s the Jaguar F-Type but that has the (more powerful) engine in the front, weighs 1000 lbs more, and has competition of its own. And then there’s the most comparable option, the Porsche 718 Boxster. They are similarly priced—both starting in the mid $50,000 range—but they pose a trade-off; while the Porsche has 70 more horsepower, the Alfa weighs 500 lbs less. This comes down to buyer preference but since all Porsches look exactly like all Porsches, the Alfa Romeo would win in the uniqueness department. And finally, if you want anything else mid-engined besides the Alfa Romeo 4C and Porsche 718 Boxster, you are looking to nearly double your budget.
So what makes the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider so special? Well first you should just look at it. The 4C looks like nothing else on the road. The front bumper has huge grilles for air flow accompanied by large wheel arches and goofy bug-like headlights. The body lines are curvy and swoop upwards, allowing room for two more vents to feed the engine. And the rear bumper has simple circular taillights that are separated by a subtle ducktail style spoiler. Any single aspect of this car looks rather goofy on its own but when pieced together as a whole it becomes art. No one thing is too wild while also not being too subtle. If anything, the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider could at least be parked in a living room as a conversation piece.
So how’s the performance? With a car that looks like that and costs so little, something’s gotta give, right? Sort of. The 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider has a 1.75 liter turbocharged engine that puts out 237 horsepower—that’s Volkswagen GTI power for reference—and weighs roughly 2,400 lbs, about 700 lbs less than that same GTI. That power-to-weight ratio translates to a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds and a quarter mile time of 12.7 seconds. Again, that’s 2 seconds faster than the GTI and only 1 second slower than a McLaren 12C‘s 0-60 which has nearly 400 more horsepower! That’s how much of a difference weight can make in a car.
And how do they save all that weight? You guessed it, carbon fiber! Alfa Romeo calls the 4C’s structural technology “Supercar DNA” on their website which isn’t far from the truth. Basically they can shave hundreds of pounds by making the chassis a single piece of carbon fiber that integrates (monocoque) with the aluminum sub frame. This keeps the weight light and low to the ground. Alfa even left evidence of all the carbon fiber everywhere on the car for your personal bragging rights. You can see it when you open the rear trunk, when you open the door, and while you’re sitting in the car.
What’s it like to drive? I have been fortunate enough to drive everything from a Subaru BRZ to a brand new Acura NSX. In short, the Alfa Romeo 4C is literally a go-kart. The 4C’s weight is balanced far better than the BRZ and offers similar adrenaline spikes as the NSX while on the street. It goes in the exact direction you point it and there is no situation where you stomp your foot down to accelerate out of a turn. Hell, it will even get a little tail happy without killing you because of the sophisticated computers monitoring traction. Not that I wouldn’t know…
Is it a car I could drive every day? I don’t see why not! It’s not so expensive that you have to worry about leaving it in a parking lot and it gets nearly 35 mpg on the highway. The two primary arguments for daily driving a sports car are the small frunk and that it only seats two. But don’t you think the customer knows that when they buy it? It’s not like one would bring a car like this home and think, “Oh crap! Where will I put my kids?” It’s also comfortable and easy to drive. No PHD is required by the driver to enjoy the 4C to its fullest.
Alfa Romeo also recognized that the 4C would be driven more frequently by adding some unique drive modes. Of course there is Dynamic Mode and Race Mode with a launch control option (which works very well), but they’ve also added Natural and All-Weather mode. Natural is the softest setting with less throttle response while Dynamic gives you the throttle response while leaving all of the safety features on. These are the two you will be in 90% of the time. However, if a storm rolls in while you were at the mall, All-Weather is a smart choice to activate on your way home. This basically turns the anti-slip and stability controls to 11 on low-grip conditions to make sure you arrive safely.
But by far the best part of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is that it’s also completely accessible. If you want one, you can go to a dealership, get a conventional loan, hop in, and drive away. You don’t need to be on a special list, have owned 15 Alfa’s in the past, or kiss the right cheeks. A base coupe starts at $56,000—the Spider at $66,000—and you can option one all the way up to $75,000. The options add bigger brakes, a sportier exhaust (which is a must), unique Giallo Prototipo yellow paint, and more. Yes, you can get more power for that price and yes, you can get more luxuries for that price, but do those cars offer the same uniqueness and excitement? I don’t think so.
If you could design, engineer, assemble, and ship fun, this is what it would look like. Alfa Romeo proves that more power doesn’t always equate to more excitement with the 4C. The entire time I spent driving it I was surprised again and again by its capability on the road. It’s quick in a straight line, turns on a dime, likes to drift, and will do the occasional donut if you push it. It’s the type of car that attracts smartphone cameras, turns heads, and that you always turn back to look at. And you can acquire one without taking a second mortgage on your house. The 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is a love letter to people who love driving, but don’t want to be afraid to park it in public.