If you’re cross-shopping the Alfa-Romeo 4C Spider ($63,900) with the Porsche Boxster S convertible — a car that sells for about the same price but secures a bit more room and gobs of tech with names like “torque vectoring” along with the built-in swagger of the Porsche brand — or, say, the Chevrolet V8 Corvette — a car where you can throw down about 10 grand less and drive off in a similarly open-air borderline track car that’s nothing less than the automotive equivalent of a big swinging dick — then you might as well just pull the trigger there, because the Alfa 4C Spider is, well, a different kind of car.
This tiny, carbon-fiber-rich sports car with a targa roof is both a little bit better, and a little bit worse than its so-called competition, but it’s also something beyond. It’s a Montblanc to the Corvette’s Bic; a Sennheiser to the Boxster’s Beats. In a way, neither of those other cars merits being spoken in the same breath as the Alfa. They’re basic; the Alfa’s anything but.
Start with the lines. There’s something so unbelievably Italian about the car’s design — not just uniquely Alfa. It’s full-bore sexy and curvy in a way that its Italian compadres Lamborghini and Ferrari just aren’t. They’re staid compared the Alfa’s lewd visual behavior. Check out the steeply arced character lines that sweep up toward the scoops just behind the doors (built to channel air toward the mid-mounted engine), or the ridges on the front hood that direct the eye down below to the air grill and the logo. They’re like the string-thin straps on a bikini bottom. The targa version, of course, is that bikini with a missing top. Can the Boxster pull off that caliber of visual pornography? Don’t make me laugh.
It’s full-bore sexy and curvy in a way that its Italian compadres Lamborghini and Ferrari just aren’t.
You have to have confidence to inhabit a look like this, and in the 4C Spider that confidence comes from a petite, lightweight, ready-for-anything frame. There’s not an ounce of body fat on this car, and the bone and sinew that is there is spare and lean (which gives it another edge over its competition). The monocoque is full-carbon fiber, essentially a super-stiff, super-light tub for the seats. You can see the carbon fiber from the seats — the designers saw no need to mask those details — and feel it in the turns. The car, which weighs only 2,450 pounds, stays flat as a pancake no matter how hard you’re slinging it around. That stiffness also allowed Alfa’s engineers to lop the top off without having to bolster the car’s structural integrity via extra bracing, which also typically contributes significant weight to convertible conversions. The 4C Spider is only 22 pounds heavier than the coupe version.
Under the Hood
Engine: 1.7-Liter Turbocharged Inline-Four
Transmission: TCT Twin Clutch
Torque: 258 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds
Top Speed: 160 mph
The 4C Spider’s light, snappy drive is reminiscent of the Lotus Elise, a similarly small-scale, bare-bones sports car that costs about $20,000 less and brings about 500 fewer pounds to the scale. The Alfa, however, is a vastly more modern version of that groundbreaking car. Though the Lotus has legitimately advanced aerodynamics that the Alfa does not — you can actually feel the Lotus’ downforce sucking the car to the pavement — the Italian does have a more sophisticated engine, a 237 horsepower turbocharged inline-four with four driving modes, and it has a super-fast six-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters, helping you deliver the power precisely and without interruption to the road. It’s also got a sweet launch control mode — foot on the brake, throttle pedal matted, flip the left paddle, release the brake, and you shoot up to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. All-in, the result is a car that’s precise, growly, and fast — with gobs of immediate feedback. It doesn’t glide down the road as much as it stalks, angry, twitchy and fearsome.
It doesn’t glide down the road as much as it stalks, angry, twitchy and fearsome.
There are, of course, some things that the 4C comes up short in. For one, it’s uncomfortable. The car’s stiff seats are tight and offer minimal adjustability. The steering is also extremely heavy at low speed, since there’s no power steering. While driving, the feeling is terrific, but you do have to muscle the car around until you truly get moving. Also, it’s truly tiny, so it’s a very tight fit. For that reason, the targa is the one to get. It’s easier to get into and out of, and if you’re remotely tall-ish, it’s not half as confining. For most people, this car will be a garage-kept weekend toy, not a daily driver, so most will likely keep the braced-fabric roof off — though it does roll up and stow pretty easily.
It’s also quite a bit more skittish on the road, especially when you’re driving with any degree of aggression. Whereas a Porsche or a ‘Vette have the mass to minimize the effects of bumps, grooves and other roadway hiccups without much ado, the Alfa telegraphs each one of these straight to your increasingly white knuckles. Some may not dig that, others will argue that it’s what makes a true track car great — it gives you a fright every now and then, but always emerges in the clear. Again, that’s not what most people are really looking for these days, and they can have what they want in plenty of other options. We’ll gladly take the Italian. She’s a feisty, fun date, even if we wouldn’t really want to bring her home to mother.