By: Jesse Adams in Balocco, Italy
Sports cars with carbon-fibre tub chassis aren’t unusual today. Mid-mounted motors, turbochargers and dual-clutch gearboxes are also readily available. But throw all those ingredients together in one lightweight and low-slung package, and a price tag under a million bucks is pretty much impossible. Until now.
This is Alfa Romeo’s new 4C, and at the press launch in Italy this week, the word “accessible” was woven into product presentations and dinner conversations like lengths of fettuccine through alfredo.
And accessible it is, relatively speaking. With a launch price of R799 000, the cash savings over any other car with all those aforementioned components could be measured by the truckload.
However, with only 3 500 4Cs made a year, and only around 13 of those destined for South Africa, accessible wouldn’t be my first choice of word when it comes to availability. And yes, they’re all sold.
Those lucky enough to find themselves on the order list have quite a special car coming. That monocoque tub weighs in at only 65kg and contributes to a kerb mass of just over 900kg, making for one of the lightest road-going cars sold today.It feels light, too.
The turbocharged engine behind the two seats is only 1.7 litres in capacity (1742cc to be exact) but with 1.5-bar boost it provides enough shove to make this sports car properly exciting.
Power is quoted at 176kW and 350Nm and I don’t doubt Alfa’s claims of a 4.5 second 0-100km/h dash. A pukka launch control system sees to that.
But it’s in the bends where the pint-sized 4C really turns on.
There’s a race car-like wishbone suspension set-up under that plastic skin, and the steering system is 100 percent mechanical, so your girlfriend might not like parallel parking it, but the arrangement does offer extremely connected feedback.
With such a short wheelbase (2380mm) the little Alfa dances around on straight bits of road even with the wheel held dead straight. The slightest twitch of the wrist, such as when flicking a shift paddle, results in dramatic right and left quivers, so you can imagine what a manhole cover or pothole does to it.
Comparisons will inevitably be made with the Porsche Cayman, but I can’t help but notice a very Lotus-like character.
Just like the Europa, Elise and Exige, you’ll need to step over a massive door sill (exposed carbon-fibre in this case) to board the 4C, and once inside you’re greeted with a noticeably sparse interior. A radio comes standard in the first 500 Launch Editions, but after that extras like this will need to be specced at extra cost.
Mechanical is the best word to describe the driving experience, too. The cabin is flooded with a cacophony of whirring gears, flung gravel and a swishing turbo. So much so that driver/co-pilot chatter is limited. I wouldn’t recommend long road trips – the 4C is more of a Sunday lunch-runner.
The 4C gets a TCT (twin-clutch) gearbox similar to the Giulietta hatch, but I’m happy to report it performs much better here. With the DNA toggle switch (also Giulietta and Mito derived) in Dynamic mode, shifts happen quickly and sharply.
Push-button reverse, neutral and first gear selectors – much like in more expensive Italian supercars – are finicky, though, so don’t get stuck doing a three-point turn in a busy street.
Build quality, is unique.
Open the rear engine lid and instead of stainless steel cap screws holding things down you’ll find hex head bolts like the kind Builders Warehouse sells.
A beautiful leather pouch mounted between the seats is lockable, but the key looks like one that comes with a child’s jewellery box. Excess glue can be seen running out of nooks and crannies everywhere. German cars can’t get away with these things. Alfa Romeos can. In the 4C’s case, it’s better for them.
Half of South Africa’s allocation is expected to arrive before the end of the year and the other half will come early next year.
But, as mentioned, they’re all accounted for. Get into the order books early for 2014/15 models if you’re interested, but prepare for exchange rates to wreak havoc on future pricing. Also, look out for an open-top Spider version in coming years.
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