2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

Starting MSRP: $53,900 - $63,900

Estimated MPG: 24 city / 34 hwy

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Review

Family sedans and humble crossover SUVs move over, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C has arrived. This tiny, carbon fiber super car is almost as impractical as it is breathtakingly gorgeous.

By Chris Brewer
Last Updated 05/03/2016

In a time when smaller cup holders are often molded into standard cup holders, USB ports outnumber the vehicle's seating capacity and center consoles contain wireless charging stations, the beautiful simplicity of Alfa Romeo's mid-engine 4C is decidedly refreshing.

Available as a two-seat coupe or convertible (Spider), the 4C unequivocally favors performance over comfort, offering incalculable thrills while avoiding unnecessary frills, like power steering and carpeting.

The 4C keeps the drivetrain choices simple: a tiny 1.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine turns the rear wheels by way of a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Enthusiasts craving a traditional manual gearbox will need to explore the Alfa Romeo 4C's competitors, if there are any direct competitors.

Exterior

Exterior
10

Very little captures the imagination like the exotic styling of Alfa Romeo's 4C. With lines stolen straight from the Italian super car masterpieces of my youth, the 2015 4C is at once entirely modern and immediately familiar. The unique, decidedly Alfa Romeo grille is accented by a pair of outrageously disproportional bug-eye headlights.

Deep ducts that feed cool air to the engine dictate the lines running down the doors; while the 4C is beautiful, form always follows function. The elegant rear hood houses a large glass window that reveals the 4C's turbocharged engine. The wide stance and low graceful stature combine to complete the super car look.

If you despise being the center of attention, I can assure you that the 4C is not the car for you. Driving the little red two-seater around the streets of my hometown was an often-humorous lesson in the life and times of a pop star. Everyone wielding a smartphone can and should be considered a member of the paparazzi.

Admittedly, my Italian heritage may bias my decision, but it is hard not to award the exterior of the Alfa Romeo 4C a perfect 10.

Interior

Interior
6

Opening the door of the Alfa reveals a purpose built carbon fiber encased cabin. The doorsill measures over 12 inches wide and 16 inches tall; climbing in and out is an acrobatic venture. The manually adjustable leather and microfiber racing seats contour nicely around my average build, but I would imagine that larger drivers and passengers would find the seat and the cabin itself constrictive. The small windows and seats that are bolted directly to the floor could easily push a claustrophobic over the edge.

Initially, the driver's seat felt comfortable. As an enthusiast, the first time you flop yourself into the 4C the simplistic beauty of Alfa's design washes over you and your mind turns to mush.

All you can think about is high-gloss carbon fiber, the fact that the turbocharged engine is inches from your head, and the magnificent flat-bottom steering wheel. The aluminum race-inspired pedals ride on hinges mounted directly to the carbon-fiber tub. If you were a kid who dreamt of being a race car driver, you are instantly 12 years old again.

Unfortunately, my body isn't 12 years old, no matter what my mind tells it.

The limited amount of adjustment available for the seat back meant that I couldn't dial in the amount of support that I needed. In full disclosure, I absolutely loved driving the 4C, but my extended time behind the wheel resulted in what I initially diagnosed as "unknown cause" lower back pain. It was a couple days before I realized that my body didn't share my heart's enthusiasm for the turbocharged rocket ship.

A nifty push-button panel replaces the automatic transmission's traditional shift knob. A lever to the right allows you to choose between the Alfa Romeo's four driving modes, or D.N.A., which include Dynamic, Natural, All-Weather, and Race (I'm not sure why it isn't called D.N.A.R, other than it isn't as snappy). Unlike many of the cars I review, the modes actually create noticeable changes in the cars shifting speeds, throttle response and traction control.

A 7-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) display, which is located in the middle of the gauge cluster, replaces just about everything else. This would almost be fine if you could see it. Unfortunately, it is just as tiny as everything else bolted to the 4C and the amazingly chunky steering wheel blocks the majority of it when you are 5-feet-10-inches tall and adjust it accordingly.

While it is easy to excuse the 4C's interior as a necessary evil when owning a carbon fiber, aluminum and composite built exotic, the car's price tag and brilliant execution in almost every other area leaves you scratching your head. The thoughtful elegance of the "spare no detail" design of the 4C's body and drivetrain seem abandoned when the team tackled the interior.

The optional $2,700 leather interior group certainly dresses things up, but doesn't go far enough to address the random group of USB, auxiliary input and iPhone 4 adapters hanging from a vinyl pocket in the passenger seat foot well. The paddle shifters feel insignificant and I'm fairly certain they are made of plastic. The radio sounds like an old boom box from the 1980's and the interior buzzes and rattles when you turn it up loud enough to hear it over the 4C's glorious exhaust.

In the track ready spirit of the 4C, I would suggest that Alfa Romeo leaves the audio system in the parts bin alongside the carpeting and power steering and use the money saved to install titanium paddle shifters.

As brilliant as so much of the 4C is, the interior feels strangely out of character.

Performance

Performance
10

Weighing in at a featherweight 2,465 pounds, the Alfa Romeo 4C leverages space-age materials and engineering against a minuscule forced-induction engine that only produces 237-horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque to create an Italian super car that blasts you and a companion from zero to sixty in 4.1 seconds.

Thanks to the manual steering box, the 4C provides some of the best feedback of any streetable car built by a major manufacturer today. Parking lots are a bear, but once you are moving, the 4C exhibits a level of control so high that you wonder if the car is reading your mind.

The rigid chassis, low center of gravity and rear balanced weight distribution result in a driving experience more similar to a race car than something you would take to the supermarket – which is excellent, since the 3.7 cubic foot trunk is going to limit your shopping list to a bottle of milk and a box of Oreos anyway.

Set the 2015 4C in dynamic mode, tap the left paddle shifter, depress the brake pedal with your left foot and smash the throttle to the floor with your right. Wait for the revs to reach 3,500 rpms, filling the cabin with the sound of the whistling turbo and the grumble of the exhaust and release the brake. The 4C's launch mode dumps the automated manual transmission's clutch drag strip style. The tires instantly grip the road and you're off to the races.

Perhaps the greatest feat of the 4C is not how quickly it rips around the track, but how slowly it sips fuel. In an age where fuel economy is the new performance benchmark for many buyers, the 4C's 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined may shine more brightly than the 160 mile per hour top speed.

Technology

Technology
6

In all fairness to the 4C, the true technology of the car cannot be gauged by the gadgets found in the cabin. The 4C is a technical masterpiece. The combination of a carbon fiber monocoque, aluminum front and rear subframes, and sheet molded compound body panels wrapped around a logic-defying 1.7-liter turbo engine that gets better gas mileage than many subcompacts is nothing short of amazing.

Brilliance recognized, the 4C lacks many of the technological goodies that we have come to expect in a brand new $50,000 vehicle. 

The full-color 7-inch TFT in the gauge cluster complements the Alfa's futuristic styling by providing the car's vital information in a format immediate familiar with video gamers.

A simplistic AM/FM radio boasts iPod controls, USB and SD card connectivity and connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth, allowing hands-free calling and streaming music.

Safety

Safety
6

The Alfa Romeo 4C comes with standard anti-lock brakes and advanced stability control. Front and side impact air bags and seatbelt pretensioners protect both driver and passenger. The driver is provided with an additional knee air bag.

Rearward visibility is difficult in the 4C. The tiny rear window and massive blind spots make driving in reverse an unnerving proposition. I couldn't help but hear the words of commercial driver's license instructor echoing in my head, "Reverse is a last ditch effort, always park accordingly and try not to get yourself into trouble."

The 4C has not been evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Cost-Effectiveness

Cost-Effectiveness
8

Pricing for the base 2015 4C coupe starts at a surprisingly affordable $53,900. While that number may send some into sticker shock, the 4C represents good value considering that it borderlines on being an exotic super car. My interior caveats aside, few vehicles provide the staggering curb appeal and driving performance that the 4C offers at that price. As shown, my optioned review vehicle retails for $64,650 plus a $1,595 destination charge.

The 4C Spider, with its removable top, starts at $63,900. A top-trim Launch Edition rounds out the trio at $68,400.

Knowing that the 4C will likely be most owners second or third vehicle, I think the Alfa Romeo 4C is an extremely fun weekend toy that garners the attention of vehicles costing twice as much.

Overall

Overall
9

The Alfa Romeo 4C is a race car with just enough safety and comfort features to be streetable. Very few cars offer the direct connection between human and machine that the little Italian almost-exotic does. Unfortunately, the 4C leaves a lot to be desired in terms of comfort and technology. You may need to use your phone for directions and hit the gym to summon the strength for parallel parking.

However, all of that "inconvenience" becomes worthwhile when the third stranger in a row rolls up next to you and says that seeing the 4C in action was a highlight of their day.

That is what makes the Alfa Romeo 4C so special. Just watching the raucous little Italian drive by is enough to make almost anyone grin ear to ear. The high-pitched whistle of the turbo and the growl of the exhaust are enough to make even the neighborhood curmudgeon giggle like a child on the last day of school before summer vacation.