Ask any car nut to name their favourite marques and the chances are Alfa Romeo will come close to the top of most lists.
Unfortunately, a lot of that is down to nostalgia and remembering past glories like the Alfasud. In truth, in recent years Alfa have lost their way, with too many bland and uninspiring designs.
Happily there are signs that Alfa Romeo are on the rebound, with a plethora of new product on the way, including the long anticipated rear wheel drive 3 Series rival, the Giulia, which unfortunately we won’t see until 2016 at the earliest.
In the meantime though, there’s hope in the form of the gorgeous 4C, a truly brilliant mid-engined car that does an inspired job of showcasing Alfa Romeo’s talents.
With styling loosely based on the larger, more expensive 8C Competizione, the 4C is a striking car on the road. A strict two seater, it’s roughly the size of a MiTo, in other words very compact.
A mid engined layout ensures perfect weight distribution and this is the first car of its type to be made mainly of carbon fibre. The result is a ridiculously low kerb weight of 895 kg, which gives the potential for electrifying performance.
I’d love to tell you that under the transparent engine cover hides a sonorous V6, but that too has been ditched in the pursuit of low weight. Instead we find a 1750cc inline four, which produces 240 bhp. This is enough for a top speed of 258 km/h and a 0-100 time of just 4.5 seconds.
It’s quite clear that the 4C is something special so when you get a chance to take one on a decent road trip, you grab the opportunity with both hands.
The premise was simple. Alfa’s 4C demonstrator had finished doing its rounds in Ireland and needed to go back to the UK. Was I interested in driving it over? It didn’t take me long to decide that I was and so I found myself on the early ferry to Holyhead one morning.
I had a chance the previous day to familiarise myself with the 4C and I was slightly disconcerted to see that it was left hand drive, being a pre-production car. Left hand drive isn’t a problem on the continent, but driving on the left is a bit of a pain.
The 4C is undoubtedly noisy, but it’s a lovely mechanical noise, made up of whirring belts, camshafts and whistling turbos. There’s little or no sound deadening and with the engine right behind your ear, you could never accuse the car of being a relaxing cruiser. The cabin, too, is basic, but you forgive that as it’s all in the cause of keeping the weight down. A radio is fitted but why would you need it? Just listen to the sweet sounds of that engine.
Leaving the ferry I took the normal route out of Holyead on the dual carriageway but further on, I turned right to go through mid-Wales. It wasn’t the quickest route, but the mountain roads would be spectacular. These are among the greatest driving roads in Europe and the 4C was the perfect tool.
Even the left hand drive wasn’t a problem as with its light weight it had the punch to hang back from a slower car and accelerate clear when safe to do so. It was easy to be in the right gear, as the standard gearbox is a six speed twin-clutch unit with steering wheel paddles. There’s no manual option.
Cornering was a delight with unassisted, pure steering. Again, Alfa Romeo took advantage of the low weight to omit power steering as it’s completely unnecessary. Yes, the steering is heavy at parking speeds but the reward is a level of road feel through the wheel unavailable in anything else.
You’d perhaps expect the ride to be harsh, given the 4C’s sporting pretensions but here again, it surprises with exemplary body control that never feels remotely uncomfortable. It proves that a well sorted chassis needn’t be rock hard.
You could drive this car hard all day and emerge in great shape at the other end. In fact, that’s what I ended up doing, driving for a solid five hours almost without a break and at the end, I felt ready to turn around and do it all again.
I’ll remember my drive through Wales ‘til my dying day. The car, the roads, everything was perfect and it would be almost impossible to replicate the experience.
Of course, once I left Wales behind, I had an unenviable slog down to London on crowded motorways but here again the 4C surprised me by being a decent cruiser. The seats were extremely comfortable and supportive and with judicious use of the passenger door mirror, visibility wasn’t too bad, even though the view out the back was almost non-existent, as you’re looking through the engine cover.
Many might argue that the 4C is a cramped, noisy car with a basic interior but that’s entirely missing the point of the car.
This is a pure performance machine and anything that adds weight gets chucked in the bin. This is a driver’s car from the old school. It reminds me for all the world of an E-Type Jaguar I was lucky enough to drive for a few days.
It’s a pure, raw driving experience and I wish a few more manufacturers would realise that there’s a market for a car like this.
€70,000 is a lot to pay for a car, but if you compare the Alfa to its competition, it’s a relative bargain.
What else will give you the purest, most fun driving experience you’ll ever get from a modern car?