Kyalami, Johannesburg - It's essentially a large go-kart with bodywork and a few comfort frills. Launched in South Africa this week, the mid-engined 4C sportscar is what the illustrious Italian marque refers to as the epitome of Alfa Romeo, the brand stripped to its essentials.
Where many high-performance cars today are designed to be efficient all-rounders - high-velocity toys that double as comfortable daily commuters - Alfa hasn't watered-down the 4C's sporting nature to make it more user-friendly or appeal to everybody.
The mid-engined two seater's firm ride, low ground clearance, and heavy steering make it an uncompromising car aimed at the most purist of petrolheads.
Much more like a Lotus Exige than a Porsche Cayman, the Alfa 4C is destined to spend much of its existence chasing laptimes around circuits.
It's built in Maserati's factory in Modena, Italy, with production limited to just 3500 units annually. Less than 30 per year will be headed for South Africa with the first shipment here already sold out, but though the numbers are small it's a halo model for the Italian brand and a possible sales-enhancer for other Alfa derivatives.
The car was largely inspired by the Alfa 33 Stradale of the late 1960s, a stunningly attractive mid-engined rear-wheel-drive two seater with a lightweight body.
Although the 177kW/350Nm output of the 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine is mild by supercar standards, the 4C's low 895kg mass (a Cayman S weighs a chubby 1 400kg in comparison) gives this Alfa a very lively power-to-mass ratio and nimble handling. A lightweight carbonfibre monocoque chassis underpins a composite body and aluminium roll cage, and the rear wheel drive car sprints from 0-100km/h in just 4.5 seconds with a 258km/h top speed.
A manual transmission wasn't part of the “purist” brief, and like so many other sportscars today the 4C employs a twin-clutch auto transmission.
This six-speeder can be left to shift gears by itself, or, if owners want to be more involved in the drive, via paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
The 4C retails for R870 000 and comes standard with a three year / 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.
TAKING A SPIN
Much like a Lotus Exige, the 4C is a very raw and uncompromising driver’s machine. To give it as much feel as possible the steering has no power-assistance, so it takes a bit of muscle to manhandle the 4C through a series of tight turns.
Alfa Romeo hosted the media launch of the new 4C sportscar at the iconic Kyalami circuit and after a handful of laps I was sweating.
Aside from being heavy the steering’s also very direct, which makes the car very chuckable and reactive to small inputs, a character trait that’s enhanced by the car’s low mass and lack of body roll. It’s a car that puts you into the heart of the action, making a perfect dance partner to an enthusiast driver looking to slice extra tenths of a second off their laptimes.
However, I do wish the driver’s backrest would allow a few more degrees of rearward tilt, as in its furthest-back position I still found myself sitting uncomfortably ramrod-upright.
Like other Alfas the 4Chas different mappings (All-weather, Normal and Dynamic) and in Dynamic I really enjoyed the way the car allowed significant powersliding and counter-steering before the stability control kicked in and saved me from a sticky end.
There’s also a new Race mode which switches off the electronic traction-enhancement altogether, if you’re brave enough.
The 40/60 front to rear weight balance gives it an understeer-defeating nature without making it wildly tail-happy. The rear steps out with little provocation, but not in a snap-oversteer kind of way.
There’s nothing like being able to boot the power early out of a corner, and Alfa’s Q2 electronic differential control system allows you to do so.
PLENTY OF GUTSO
The 1.8 turbo petrol engine pulls the lightweight car with plenty of gusto. It’s relatively low revving with its power peak at 6 000rpm, but it has impressive midrange torque so I found I could leave it in higher-than-expected gears through the corners and it still had plenty of pull.
The four-cylinder engine makes a raspy sound through the twin tailpipes, nothing as musical as a V6 or V8, but appropriately vocal for the performance on offer here. The “brupp” between gearshifts is particularly appealing.
Inside, the car’s all business with its minimalist and “naked” look, dominated by black surfaces embellished with carbon and subtle aluminium accents. There are nods to comfort and practicality with features like electric windows, hill holder, an audio system, climate control, cruise control and reverse paking sensors.
But it’s all about the beauty of the outside, and the 4C’s supermodel curves – accentuated by fine detailing like the LED headlamps housed in carbonfibre – hold your gaze like Gisele Bundchen herself. - Star Motoring