There used to be a saying that Italian sports cars like the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider were patterned after volatile mistresses: beautiful, exciting, expensive, dangerous and impossible to live with.
The new 4C, a two-seat targa-style convertible, enhances the legend. It tantalizes a small minority of car nuts—emphasis on the nuts. Stylistically, it is a work of art. But it is a terrible car. Well, someone has to say it.
It’s analogous to the Alfa Romeo Spider of yore. From the late 1960s into the 1990s, with few changes, the Alfa Spider—also known as the Duetto—was lauded as one of the most beautiful sports cars ever conceived, which was true. But the thing drove like a tractor.
Alfa Romeo has a glorious history despite its current sickness as a car company, which owner Fiat Chrysler has vowed to cure with a $6 billion investment and new models—two of which are the new 4C coupe and roadster.
Visit the recently reopened Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, Italy, and you can view the entire history of the world-famous nameplate. Alfa stands for “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili,” which translates into Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company. Classic Alfas can sell for millions of dollars at auctions.
Likely that will happen with the 4C Spider. But it makes it on looks, which of course is the first and last thing every car buyer considers. It also has some sports car credentials, including lightweight carbon fiber construction and an engine and transmission that can propel it to 60 mph in about four seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed of around 160.
Getting there certainly is exciting—if your idea of exciting is living on the edge. Come along for a ride.
At first look, no question it’s gorgeous, looking exactly like everybody expects of an Italian exotic sports car. For balance and handling, it has rear-drive and a mid-engine, with the 237-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine mounted right behind the driver’s shoulder blades.
Open the door and get in. Well, actually you have to sort of insinuate your body into the passenger pod, fanny first, twisting this way and that like the dragon on the Alfa Romeo emblem.
The seating actually is decent once you get installed. However, despite big side bolsters on the seats they’re down so low they don’t provide much lateral support.
Though you can’t see them, the pedals are metal for—well, you know. There are four buttons on the console, labeled 1 (to get going), A/M (to switch from automatic to manual paddle operation of the dual clutch transmission), N (for neutral) and R (for reverse).
There’s also a toggle switch to change the driving dynamics from Weather (for soft starts in slippery conditions) to Natural and Dynamic. The last is the most aggressive, short of an all-out race mode, which you don’t get to try.
In any mode, the harsh ride rattles not only the molars but every bone in the body, especially now that the U.S. boasts some of the worst roads in the world.
Light up the engine. You have to twist the key—no pushbutton stuff here. It comes to life with a raucous roar, smack in your eardrums. Either in automatic or manual mode it snarls and barks menacingly at you between shifts. Exciting? Maybe for folks who like to listen to steam engine sounds and racing engines.
One of the features for 2016 is an Alpine audio system, which looks like it came off the shelf at Best Buy. It’s a nice unit if you listen before you start the engine. After that, you can’t hear it unless you crank it way up—and simply add to the racket.
Roll the fabric top off for open air driving and the engine uproar dissipates some. But then you battle wind noise as well.
The steering is manual, which takes wrestler’s muscle at low speeds. Once moving, it’s easier but then all it does is nibble around, following every indent in the road. Constant steering corrections are annoying and tiring. There’s no cruise control, which adds to the fatigue on freeways.
The only way this Alfa feels at home is at speed on twisting pool table surfaces. But who drives at extra-legal speeds all the time?
Yet none of this matters. Even at 70 grand, Alfa Romeo will easily sell every one. Reportedly, there’s already an 18-month waiting list.
- Model: 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider two seat roadster.
- Engine:8-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 237 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Six speed dual clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
- Overall length: 13 feet 1 inch.
- EPA passenger/trunk volume: 47/4 cubic feet.
- Weight: 2,847 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/ combined fuel consumption: 24/34/28 mpg. (Premium fuel required).
- Base price, including destination charge: $65,495.
- Price as tested: $70,595.
Photos (c) FCA North America