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Review of: 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C 2dr Conv Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: Don’t miss the point
By G. R. Whale
Dec. 5, 2016
Alfa’s 4C Spider is built for driving fun. Period. Any attempt to sway with Ferrari looks at a third the price, easy parking or livable consumption will be countered by ill-begotten notions it should be luxurious, quiet and have both a roomy trunk and a manual transmission. Most people miss the point: Fun.
Pros & Cons
- + Efficient performance
- + Great engine sound
- + Attention-getting styling
- - Turning circle
- - Headlight switch
- - Instrument visibility
It’s an attention-getter for good reason. Multiple observers labelled the car—not necessarily the leggy blonde passenger—gorgeous, one asserting while another nodded, “You can’t tell me Ferrari makes anything prettier.” Style is personal so I didn’t, but I’d certainly put a 488 on the same page. Nearby Porsches went completely unnoticed, and a dark-green Lotus didn’t do much better.
The pyramid shape is purposeful, putting all the heavy bits low in the middle of it. Search terms like “polar moment” and “center of gravity” and you’ll understand advantages extend well beyond the sexy red outfit.
I think it looks better than the coupe and you can flavor the rear roof in carbon fibre if you must. By the third conversion I had the ribbed soft-top off or on in 30 seconds, and if I kept speed above 50 kph didn’t get damp in a light rain sans top. Only one bad road caused nominal cowl shake and irregular crossings didn’t bring any groans or squeaks like six-digit Euro sedans did.
This is a driver’s car, not a particularly tall one (1184 mm) at that. My 1.91 frame fit fine—though my preferred seat adjustments require tools—but I must slouch purposefully to see the top section of the instrument display. That panel provides all the needed data in less space than most motorcycles.
Seats are shell-like with decent bolsters and suede centers for slip resistance. Entry/exit is simpler top off and women in short skirts will cause even more attention, but ensure one of you is petite as total load is about 170 kg.
A removable faceplate stereo offers a speaker upgrade but it’s not needed for traffic and weather, which is all you’ll care about. A jacket-pocket “glovebox” aft console holds driving gloves, foam sockets outboard the seats hold not-too-large phones, good dead pedals brace both occupants and the usefully-shaped trunk holds 105 litres except when there’s 50 litres of rolled-up top in it.
My only Italian moment happened at night. Your left hand’s busy with a paddle shifter and main-beam on the typical stalk. Also there is the semi-soft detent light switch, so I accidentally turned the lights off twice when looking for more.
Forget about infotainment and autonomous driving—emotionless machines don’t understand fun. Tech here is a carbon-fibre cockpit, composite bodywork, aluminum almost everywhere else and relentless effort at shaving grams. Yes, it’s a few kg heavier than a Mazda MX-5… but its power-to-weight ratio is 50 per cent better.
Less than a minute after grumbling about space to put her bag the leggy blonde was giggling to the Alfa’s snorting, puffing, chirping and snarling devoid of any muffling. Yes, you need both hands to park, but once out of a slot the unassisted steering is wonderfully direct, full of feel and weighted appropriately… and needs 12.1 m to U-turn.
Heavy on midrange torque, the bubbly four doesn’t rev high or sing like most Italian sports cars but it gets the job done, able to scoot past 100 km/h in the low four-second range, pass quickly on steep hills and clear 255 km/h if you have the track. The firm brake offers instant bite and excellent modulation, and in fast winding bits the driver will be sweating before the car does.
However, more than speed, retarding or even the generous grip it’s the flat, near-instant transitions and balance that stand out. There’s not too much power for the tires or the brakes and the beautifully neutral handling reacts to throttle or brake changes as it should. And all this mechanical information is readily telegraphed through your feet, hands and backside.
Against ratings, I did 6.1 L/100 km highway and 10.1 enjoying it, averaging 9.2 for a week. Only the MX-5 and Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 (nee Scion FR-S) provide anywhere near the pure driving joy at that mileage.
From $78,000 to $89,000 as-tested, this synergistic collection of materials is not cheap, though it’s just a quarter of Ferrari’s 488 and almost as much fun at legal speeds. Alternatives include the more livable, less involving Audi TTS (coupe only from $63k), 718 Boxster from $64k and more extreme vehicles like an Ariel Atom, good Lotus Elise or KTM X-Bow.
Even when considered as it should be—a sports car—the 4C Spider isn’t perfect. But it’s immensely enjoyable to drive and perfectly balanced, and if you expect anything else you have missed the point entirely.