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First pics: Production-ready Alfa 4C

This is a very important car. What you are looking at is the final production version of the Alfa Romeo 4C, which the world will be able to drool over for the first time at the Geneva motor show on 5 March.

It's important in the broader scheme of things not only because it is an Alfa Romeo sports coupé, a genuine mid-engined, rear-wheel drive, performance car with just two bucket seats, but also because this is the car with which Fiat/Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne intends to relaunch the Ala Romeo brand on the lucrative North American market.

It will be built at the Maserati plant in Modena and will go on sale, says Marchionne, during the course of this year. It's derived from the award-winning concept that caused such a stir at the 2011 Geneva show, and retains most of that car's design flair, except for a slightly less radical front treatment, more conventional side mirrors and, if anything, even more dramatic headlight clusters with pinpoint LED daytime running lights.

SUPERBLY EFFICIENT

The designation 4C (four cylinder) was inspired by the all-conquering 8C and 6C sports-racing cars of the 1920s and 1930s which won races not because of their powerful engines and straight-line speed (that was more the preserve of their Mercedes and Audi rivals) but by putting superbly efficient small-capacity engines in lightweight chassis.

In the same way, the 4C is not a muscle-car; it achieves pocket-rocket agility, superb responses and a power-to-weight ratio of more than 185kW per tonne by keeping overall size and weight down. It's less than four metres long, just on two metres wide, and a slinky 1.18 metres high, on a compact, 2.4-metre wheelbase.

It's built around a carbon-fibre central cell, using mostly aluminium running gear, and clothed in carbon-fibre panels that evoke some of it greatest ancestors, particularly the Stradale 33, a successful endurance racer of the 1970s that pared the Alfa DNA down to its purest essentials and, of course, the more recent 8C Competizione.

DESIGNED, NOT STYLED

The interior follows the same philosophy, with the carbon-fibre matrix of the central cell in full view throughout; Marchionne likes to say that this car's cabin wasn't styled, it was designed, because it's all about the technology of maximum driving satisfaction.

That technology is also to the fore in the 4C's all-aluminium 1750 direct-injection turbopetrol engine, a development of the unit already on the market in the Quadrifoglio Verde version of the Giulietta.

It has a new, lighter, block, revised inlet and exhaust plumbing, continuously variable valve timing on both camshafts and a new scavenging control system that radically reduces turbo lag.

It drives the rear wheels through Alfa's TCT automatic twin dry clutch transmission, which they claim is the lightest, most compact and quickest-shifting in its class, and which can also change gears sequentially using the shift paddles behind the steering wheel.

The 4C also sees the début of a new Alfa DNA selector which not only features the three standard settings available until now - Dynamic, Natural and All Weather - but also a fourth mode: Race, tuned specifically for the track.

Full specifications and European pricing will be released at the car's Geneva debut.

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