Falling for Alfa

The 4C Spider is all about the drive

The new Alfa Romeo 4C is a rare sight on Chicago streets, and the open-top Spider is even more so. It’s not due to an outrageous price; it’s due to the limited dealer points and lack of consumer awareness. At virtually every stop I was asked, “Hey, what kind of car is that?” during my time with this semi-exotic.

The 4C Spider (like the coupe) is a highly stylized, sculpted jewel inspired by Alfa Romeo’s 1960s race cars. Visually, the car is dominated by the “Alfa beak,” and the rest of the super-low body features beautiful flowing scoops, curves, deep vents and that long trunk/engine cover.

Removing the very thin canvas top requires sliding a few latches and unscrewing two large bolts in the center of the windshield header. The top rolls up and can be placed in the very small trunk bin behind the mid-engine.

Inside, the cabin is a bit of a shock — it reminded me of the inside of a roller-coaster car. The exposed aluminum floor, red leather seats, plastic pieces and carbon-fiber surfaces just don’t mesh well in a car of this caliber. You have to be limber to get inside. Once in, you’re behind a flat-bottommed steering wheel, facing electronic-rendered gauges on a 7.0-inch LCD display. Paddle shifters flank the steering wheel, as there isn’t a shift handle for the transmission — just four buttons: auto/manual, 1 for drive, N for neutral and R for reverse. Rear visibility is grim, and there was no backup camera on my test car — tsk, tsk. The audio system in this car is unusable. Ditto for storage.

However, all that is forgotten when you fire up the turbo-four. Power comes from a direct-injected and turbocharged 1.75-liter four-cylinder engine with 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s loud, it’s a little rough and yes, there is just a touch of turbo lag. A four-cylinder with less than 300 horsepower doesn’t sound that thrilling, but consider that the 4C has a 2,495-pound curb weight. Try 0-60 in about 4.5 seconds and a 155 mph top speed.

The turbo 1.75-liter is backed with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, and it’s race-car stuff. A cool feature is a “DNA” toggle that alters shift and throttle timing and dash gauge colors in three modes: Dynamic, Natural and All-weather. I tried them and just left it in Dynamic.

Around corners, this car just rips! The grip from the Pirelli P Zero 205/45R17 (front), 235/40R18 (rear) BSW three-season tires, combined with the light weight and engine power is serious. As I got to know this car better, I let the cat out, and the handling and acceleration is outstanding for the price. At slow speeds, the 4C’s unassisted manual steering makes you feel like you’re driving granddad’s LeMans. The around-town, rough road ride is harsh. But the smiles and exhilaration generated by this car, warts and all, is hard to say no to.

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