Our man in Italy, Akis Temperidis, drives hard the new Alfa Romeo 4C on the road and in the Autodromo di Modena, the new racetrack of the Italian motor-town. As he writes this report, he still feels some pain in his neck, thanks to the G forces he experienced while traveling sideways…
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Words: Akis Temperidis
Photos: Angelo Corradini
That was a lucky bet. We were supposed to test the 4C sooner or later but not so soon. Last Tuesday I was at the Maserati HQ talking with Franco Bay, the Press Office chief of the Modena factory. He told me he had just tested the new Alfa 4C the same day and he was amazed by the tiny Italian supercar.
I asked if it would be possible to test the car as long as it was in Modena. Franco, as a real friend, called Davide Kluzer directly, the PR Manager at Alfa Romeo. The response was immediate and positive:
– Akis can drive the 4C for one day only, on Thursday, because the car must return to Milano the day next!
One day with the Alfa Romeo 4C? Not bad! But how could we make the most of this day? I make a call to Luca Mantovani, the marketing manager at the new Modena circuit (www.autodromodimodena.it) with whom I have been in touch:
– Is it possible to use the track for an hour or so on Thursday?
After a check on the track schedule, I get the green light: we can enter during lunchtime on Thursday and do our job with Angelo Corradini, one of the two official Maserati photographers. Yeay!
Early in the morning the deep red Alfa 4C waits for me at the entrance of the Maserati HQ at Via Divisione Aqui 7 in Modena, 50 meters from its production line. The tiny, carbon-fiber built, 2-seater and mid engined Alfa Romeo is actually assembled in the dream Maserati factory next to the Granturismo and GranCabrio. This happened ever since the production of the new Quattroporte was transferred to Grugliasco. The car is handmade in a very similar way the Enzo was – and probably the new LaFerrari is – built in the Maranello factory.
Engine, Transmission and other specs
Alfa Romeo 4C follows the same minimalistic approach Colin Chapman introduced in his Lotus Seven and is still valid to Lotus Elise: simplicity and weight reduction. In the same way, the new super-Alfa should be as light as possible in order to provide supercar performance with a small 4 cylinder engine and cost much less than usual, multi cylinder supercars.
As a result, the technical specs of the 4C are unique not only among the other Alfa Romeo but in comparison to any other sports car today.
This is the only car under 4 meters built on a carbon fibre monocoque chassis with aluminium subframes and suspension and dressed in a lightweight Sheet Moulding Compound (SMC) body, practically comprising of hardened, well finished fiberglass. As for the carbon monocoque, it weighs only 65 kg!
Suspension is a double wishbone scheme up front and an evolved Mc Pherson on the rear axle. Brakes are Brembo discs and calipers all around. The engine is a new 4 cylinder 1742cc turbo capable of 240 hp @ 6000 rpm and 350 Nm at a wide ranging 2200 to 4250 rpm. You might think this is the same unit of Giulietta QV but it isn’t. The engine built for 4C features an aluminium block that saves 22 kg and direct injection with 7-hole injectors.
The powerful 4 cylinder engine is mid mounted right behind the seats and uses the brand new Alfa Romeo TCT, twin, dry clutch, 6-speed gearbox that features a Ferrari-like launch control mode and fast changes at 130 ms. Gearbox, engine and electronics are controlled by the popular DNA switch that features a fourth “Race” mode, where traction and stability control is completely disconnected.
Manufacturer performance data are impressive: top speed is at 258 kmh, 0-100km/h at 4.5s, 1.1 lateral g force (on the corner) and 1.25 longitudinal g force (braking), thanks to the semi racing Pirelli PZero that were specially developed for the 4C.
Interior – Cockpit and Comfort
The new Alfa is not made for overweight, oversized people. Entering and getting out of the car needs some basic fitness. The seats are thin and lightweight thanks to a carbon-kevlar structure and they are pretty comfortable.
The cockpit is small as in a Smart and the quality is at the same standards. Hard plastics are used for weight saving and some familiar components (wheel switches and air ducts) from previous Alfa are used for cost saving and suit perfectly the essential look of the cabin. There is no moquette inside but the luxury of well finished carbon fibre and aluminium racing style pedals coming out of the floor.
Practicality is close to zero. There is no space for your iPhone between the seats or any door pockets. There is only a cup holder on the back of the console, 12V outlet, a small stylish bag for documents and a soft pocket in front of the co-driver. The old say that in a real performance car “there is only space for a toothbrush”. And that is literally valid for the Alfa 4C. Infact there is no space for even a toothbrush in this one.
The Experience – Sound, Vibes and Feel
The sound from the exhaust is loud and wild. The Italian 4cylinder has a bass and metal throat that may inspire or annoy – depending on the time of the day and the mood of the driver. Pressing and leaving slightly the gas pedal results to a snorting sound that resembles modified turbo cars. Personally we would prefer a more discreet inlet noise. Everything else is noisy in the cabin. Sound proofing does not exist, you get to hear the heavy metal rock without any barriers in its way.
The steering wheel is not assisted. You heard it right, its manual – a choice made on purpose by Alfa engineers for better road feeling and weight saving. It is very heavy on parking maneuvers and your girlfriend might hate it. Maybe that’s a good thing, for she’ll never want to drive your precious machine. Steering gets lighter in town but still not comfortable. But who needs comfort in a car like this? The wheel is flat bottomed and ergonomically not perfect where hands wrap it – it could have been a tad thinner we reckon. Rear visibility is non-existent, there is a tiny window only above the cylinder head but then again, such things don’t matter much in a car that very few will try to pass!
The feeling inside this Alfa resembles a racing car. Suspension is stiff – more than in a Ferrari 458 for example – so you feel everything from the road, even the smallest of the imperfection!
The gearbox paddles are mounted on the wheel and turn with it. They are short and plasticky – like in a Playstation wheel. We would prefer them to be mounted firmly, in longer size and possibly made of aluminium – if not carbon…
The TFT display that includes all information is fancy yet practical. We still prefer analog clocks but we admit this is a well designed unit. The background color and speed digits change according to the selected DNA mode and the graphic rev-meter is well visible though not as well as in an analog clock. On race mode there is even a G force graphic cycle!
Centre console ergonomics are similar to the ones in modern Ferraris. There is no drive selector stick but buttons like R, 1 and N. The there are buttons for transmission control and launch control. The DNA switch needs to be tilted for more than 5 seconds to choose the Race mode.
Handling and Dynamics
First I tested the car on the Emilian Apenin mountains, around Pavullo town. Black ice was present on shadowy corners and the environment was pretty alpine after the first snow.
The Alfa 4C accelerates like a sport motorcycle and gets to three digit speeds easily in the shortest straight line stretch one gets. TCT gearbox provides fast and almost seamless changes and downshifts superbly with an instant dose of gas that adds drama to the whole driving experience.
Turbo boost tops early at 1800 rpm and from there to 5000-5500 power delivery is impressive. Post that level, all the way up to 6500 rpm (where the limiter cuts in) the power and exhaust is as not exciting. You can upshift whenever you want with the torquey turbo engine working hard, and still have all the power available at your right foot.
Steering wheel is fast (2.7 turns lock-to-lock) and reactive without any delay. It feels everything from the road – you can actually see your hands moving as the car undertakes a camber change or moves over the tiniest of road irregularities.
The brakes have a racing feeling as well. The pedal is heavy and firm but precise and progressive. On the road, the grip is so high that you will never notice the existence of ABS. The grip provided by the 18” front – 19” rear PZero tyres (included in the extra sports pack) is superlative.
You might think that a 900 kg, mid engine car like this with 240 bhp, loads of torque and a Mini like wheelbase (2.38 m.) would be very nervous on the limit. It actually isn’t! The 4C is firm like a rock and as a result you will hardly notice any electronic intervention or wheel slipping (on race mode) on a normal road.
To be honest, it is practically impossible for any driver to reach the car’s limit on an unfamiliar mountain road. Only on slow, 1st gear hairpins you can think you can brake the rear wheels grip. Anywhere else you will only feel a slight, instant and easily controllable understeer at the very limit! Suspension is very stiff in town but absorbs well the road irregularities and demonstrates great depth.
Performance and Handling on Racetrack – Autodromo di Modena
There is a new, small racetrack 12 km west of Modena through the historic Via Emilia. The new track was built in 2011 next to the airfield of the town. It features a modern box building, 12 corners and a 480 m. straight. One “es” is designed to simulate the famous “corkscrew” corner of Laguna Seca. It is a small but technical and very safe circuit, ideal for testing a car like the 4C.
The Modena racetrack (https://www.autodromodimodena) doesn’t host international races, but often plays host to local car and motorcycle events, drift shows, track days, test sessions and a well organized Safe Driving School, the MO-Drive. The day we visited the place, Andrea Bertolini, the works Maserati driver and 2010 GP1 World Champion was testing his cart on the same circuit!
How does this explosive little Alfa drive in a racetrack? The car actually feels at home here but in the end is not as fun as you might expect. On the limit, the 4C is neutral to understeering. The carbon chassis is extremely stiff for a road car but it would be perfectly suitable for a Cup race series.
The car asks for great driving technique from its driver, especially on the entry of the corner. Too much on the wheel or gas will result to understeering that reduces speed and fun.
Brakes are excellent, very powerful with a great feel and are heat resistant. The engine is very torquey from very low rpm so on most corners you have to choose whether entering on lower gear with the engine screaming in the exit or with the next one, so that you can exit with lower rev but more progressively. Bertolini could tell us more about this but we think that 4C is a car better balanced with “plus one” selected gear. This makes an extreme car much easier to drive fast but less rewarding than the same car with a high-rev, VTEC like, aspirated engine.
For those of you that look at the pictures of this article and wondering how it feels drifting the new super-Alfa, we can say one thing first: the 4C is not made for drifting at all. Its setup is oriented to clean, racing like driving. It is pretty difficult to provoke a power drift on the exit of a corner as power is not enough for the given grip.
If you want to drift this Alfa, you need to flick it in a long, 3rd gear corner, like any front wheel car. When the rear wheels lose grip, then you can control a long drift with the gas – if you are good enough – or end up to a spinning – if you are not. This is also valid for a European grippy tarmac. If the road is slippery, like in India, the whole process might be much more straightforward…
So, what is the feeling we got after a day in the much expected Alfa Romeo 4C? First, that the concept of the car is really unique. It is more similar to Elise than to a Porsche Cayman. 4C is not an everyday car, a mid-engine alternative to a hot hatchback as it is not a GT car that you can use in the track. 4C is a genuine sports car, a real toy for the big boy that will drive it when he feels good to drive, after he has parked his everyday car.
We would prefer this Alfa to be a little bit more rewarding on the limit but this is not the case for the 99% of the people who will buy it. Let’s stick to more realistic facts: this Alfa is a collection item, at first. It features Enzo like technology (in miniature) and construction. It is a driving machine with a 90’s Ferrari performance with a medium size Euro6 engine and last but not least is so beautiful from inside out.
Finally, we would like to thank Alfa Romeo and their entire teams for letting us have a spin in this beautiful machine.
ALFA ROMEO 4C TECH SPECS
Engine:4 cylinder turbo, direct injection, 1742 cc
Power: 240 bhp@ 6000 rpm
Torque:350 Nm@2200-4250 rpm
Gearbox: 6 speed, semiautomatic, double clutch TCT
Top speed: 258kmh
0-100 kmh: 4.5sec
Average consumption: 6.8lts/100 km
CO2 emissions: 157gr/km
Luggage: 110 lts
Alfa Romeo 4C Image Gallery