One part power, one part pampering: From Corvette to Porsche to Lamborghini, the modern sports car seems determined to bathe drivers in luxury and gadgets.
But when the Lotus Elise and Exige left America in 2011, they created a power vacuum for a featherweight, stripped-down fighter that comes on like a snootful of crystal meth—especially one with enough bravura and exclusive Italian style to knock the country-club softies on their heels.
A hearty buon giorno, then, to the Alfa Romeo 4C, a breath of Italian air that’s simultaneously fresh and familiar. Like a seedy Casanova, Alfa split its American lovers 19 years ago, and has reneged on promises to return ever since.
Now Alfa is back, eyeballing global conquest as part of the Fiat Chrysler empire, which happens to include Ferrari and Maserati. And after so much time away, the mid-engined Alfa, with its heart-stopping Mediterranean style, could likely pass as a Ferrari among gullible valets and impressionable women alike. Consider the 4C’s source: Lorenzo Ramaciotti, the Fiat Chrysler design chief whose four-decade portfolio is stuffed with glorious Ferraris and the Maserati Alfieri concept that was the toast of this year’s Geneva auto show.
The 4C’s bona fides include an ultra-stiff carbon fiber chassis, handcrafted in Italy and then shipped to Maserati’s Modena factory for final 4C assembly. That carbon-fiber monocoque is usually the stuff of six-figure supercars. Yet the Alfa goes on sale later this summer at $69,695 for the initial run of 500, feature-stuffed Launch Editions. Models to follow will start at $55,195, on par with the new Corvette Stingray coupe.
To some eyes, especially those besotted with Italian curves and carbon-fiber exotica, the Alfa may seem a screaming bargain. The play-it-safe crowd will scoff at an upstart immigrant that beings neither 400 horsepower nor a navigation system.
Sure, the Alfa positions a four-cylinder engine and wolf-whistling turbo behind its driver’s head, not a burly Chevy V8. Yet with a mere 2,465 pounds to tote around, the 237-horsepower, 1742-cc engine spurs the Alfa from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, barely off the ‘Vette’s straight-line pace. Top speed crests 160 mph. A six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission delivers that power to rear wheels in mostly snappy fashion, though the DIY crowd may be unhappy that Alfa has eschewed a manual transmission option.
But the rest is as pure, and exhilarating, as it gets: A double-wishbone front suspension and MacPherson struts at the rear; that hubba-hubba composite body; Brembo brakes and Pirelli P Zero tires that together deliver 1.1 g’s of lateral grip and 1.25 g’s of braking force. In Lotus-loving fashion, the steering has no power assist. But a steering wheel that felt like wrestling a bear at parking-lot speeds turned magically correct along the 2.5-mile Sonoma Raceway and the scenic, gymnastic environs of coastal California. In its two-lane element especially, the Alfa proved a marvel of speed and quicksilver sensation, as you might expect in a two-seater whose mass undercuts a Porsche Cayman by 500 pounds.
Photos Courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC.
Nearly 15 inches shorter than the formidable Porsche, the Alfa shrieks like a pissed-off supermodel, and rushes just as impatiently past commoners in workaday Toyotas and Fords. A Racing Exhaust option eliminates a muffler entirely. Wide doorsills require a yoga stretch for entry. That heartwarmingly basic cabin puts its carbon fiber on naked display, angles the dash and Fiat parts-bin controls toward the driver, and ignores a passenger completely – there’s not even an armrest, only a leather door pull. No distracting electronic nannies or massaging seats. Only the task at hand, which you may recall: It’s called driving, and fast.
As with its spiritual predecessors, from the Lotus to the classic 1967 Alfa 33 Stradale, the 4C may not make sense to drivers gorged on horsepower and spoiled by luxury. But for a certain breed of driver – including America’s long-denied Alfisti who remember what sports cars used to be – the 4C will seem a blast from the past and the wave of Alfa’s future, all wrapped up in a pretty Italian bow.
Photos by REX USA/Greig Cowie/BPI