We ride shotgun in Alfa Romeo’s 4C
Doing a road test from a passenger seat is a bit like doing a restaurant review without tasting the food.
I could tell you what meat and potatoes are like, but may struggle to describe the precise flavours. But here goes anyway, because I happen to be sat in an Alfa Romeo 4C and I’m about to be whisked up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
We’ve been looking forward to this car very much. It has a carbon fibre chassis, a 177kW turbocharged engine in the middle, a dual-clutch ‘box sending power to the rear wheels and a dry weight of just 895kg. It’ll go on sale towards the end of this year and cost somewhere around quite a lot more than R600k, which is a fair bit to swallow for an Alfa.
It also means we’ll be comparing it to the likes of the Porsche Cayman and Lotus Exige. So if it’s not right, it’ll be punched firmly in the tummy. If it’s good, it has the potential to join the list of our favourite cars of recent history.
WHAT IS IT LIKE?
So what can I tell you? There’s not much room in here. I tuck my elbows in to avoid brushing the driver’s arm. We have a couple of helmets on board (motorsport is dangerous, folks – read the signs) and there isn’t room for much else. But so what? It’s a small two-seater. The carbon is exposed in places and the glass is especially thin because, well, nobody likes fat glass. So you can clearly hear the 1750cc engine behind your head. It sounds gruff, like it should clear its throat, but reminds me of the mechanical chunter of a six-cylinder Porsche. In a good way. I’m told the final car will have a louder exhaust, but I’m not sure it needs it.
Off we go. We’re in Dynamic mode, so there’s still a bit of traction control, but enough slip to allow a mildly smoky burnout off the start line. And it’s good news from here. It’s fast enough to leave your stomach behind, and feels good for 0-100 in five seconds or less. The lack of flab makes itself known immediately – it doesn’t heave or haul. It darts and skips. With fuel and two blokes on board, I guess it weighs somewhere close to 1100kg. But it feels like less.
The gearbox is the TCT dual-clutcher, which we’ve previously slagged off in other cars (we’re looking at you, MiTo). But here it’s been tuned to suit a sports car and it slips into each gear pretty damn quickly. From what I can tell from this side of the car, there are no dramatic pauses between pulling the paddle and feeling the change (though it appears to be a touch sticky at curbside manoeuvring speeds).
There are, however, many beeps. It’s the traction control, my driver tells me, letting you know it’s interfering (switching to Race mode would turn it off completely, and avoid any beeps). But I suspect they also chirp when it’s time to change gear. Either way, I’d like to put them on mute, or rip out the wiring and throw them through the window. This is a driver’s car. So let us drive.
In almost every other way – or at least those I can detect from here – this really is a driver’s car. Reminds me very much of a Lotus Elise in the way it rides and goes around corners. You might feel bumps right up your spine (it’s a carbon tub, to which the suspension is directly mounted, so it’s supposed to be stiff), but somehow it’s not brutal. More like a firm sports massage. Then there’s the steering, which is unassisted. None of your electrohydraulic nonsense here – just a good ol’ natural connection. It feels like this is a car made by people who know what they’re doing. And one we’ll like very much when we drive it.
Of course, we’ll to wait until it’s literally in our hands before casting a final judgement. But based on today’s experience, hopes are rather high.