Alfa Romeo 4C Launch Edition 2016 new car review

Concocted of the finest carbon fibre, aluminium, and steel, the 4C is hand-built by artisan craftsmen.

Robert Barry
Robert Barry
Expert reviewer | Auto Media Group

Concocted of the finest carbon fibre, aluminium, and steel, the 4C is hand-built by artisan craftsmen in the Maserati production facility in Modena, Italy - the spiritual home of the Italian sports car.

Exterior full starfull starfull starfull starempty star

4

Drive full starfull starfull starfull starhalf star

4.5

Safety full starfull starfull starfull starfull star

5

Value full starfull starfull starhalf starempty star

3.5

Overall score 4.3 / 5

The good
  • Gorgeous design
  • Loud, fast, fun, and frugal
The not-so-good
  • Limited rear vision and hard ride quality
  • Road noise on chip seal
  • Not good for six foot plus drivers

Therein lies the key to owning an Alfa Romeo, it’s a car with soul, heritage, and often much like the Ford Mustang GT has a mystique greater than the sum of its parts.

So far more than eight 4C coupes and five Spyder convertibles have been registered, which not only explains the car's exclusivity, but also the reason it captures so much attention from folks when on the road and most especially when parked.

Left outside our office building in an off-street parking bay, I returned to the car to find completely random people snapping away at the 4C with their smartphones!

Launch Edition

This sexy beast in Alfa Red is the 'Launch Edition' of the 4C coupe which comes with the red brake calipers, carbon fibre headlight surrounds, as well as carbon fibre wing mirror covers and rear spoiler.

Buyers also receive an Alfa Romeo car cover with 4C logo in red. Inside there are sports seats in mixed leather and microfibre fabric with contrast stitching.

The 4C wears 18/19-inch (front/rear) 5-disc alloy wheels with shadow finish, shod with Pirelli racing tyres, and it’s equipped with racing suspension, and a sports racing exhaust system.

Climbing in and out of the 4C with its wide door sill and low stance won’t suit everybody. The incredibly low to the ground front valance negates the car using parking buildings and driveways with sharply angled camber on their ramps and crossovers.

There are some other characteristics of the 4C that will either delight or annoy; this car isn’t for everyone, but that said it’s a lot of fun and looks just as good when sitting still, as when it's howling around a circuit such as Hampton Downs.

Momma Mia

Angry doesn’t quite describe the engine note and noise created by the 4C. Underneath those shapely haunches lies a 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine which we are told is derived from the unit found in the Alfa-Romeo Giulietta QV hatchback.

This is some derivation; Alfa has managed to squeeze 177kW of power and 350Nm of torque from the humble 1.8, and it’s not only quick, from zero to 100kph in 4.5 secs but it's LOUD baby.

Forget snap, crackle, pop - the exhaust note is a thunderous roar accompanied by the wastegate whistle of the turbocharger that lifts the hairs on the back of your neck.

It's intoxicating yet deafening at the same time, as the 4C catapults down the motorway on ramp, with the twin-clutch transmission manfully sending all that power and torque to the rear wheels.

I loved every minute of it, but be mindful that with all that power and torque comes the ability to exceed the legal speed limit without trying. Brushing the gas pedal, even in sixth gear, will see the 4C racing off to the horizon while you grip the beautifully tactile leather and alcantara-clad flat-bottomed steering wheel.

The six-speed twin-clutch transmission comes with automatic and manual modes, manual allowing the driver to shift up and down using the flappy paddles on either side of the steering wheel.The car reverts to auto each time the engine starts, and the transmission won’t let you change up a gear if it deems the revs aren’t high enough, or vice versa.

Crawling around the city, I overrode the transmission, manually selecting second gear which the 4C seemed happy to allow me to do.

Weekend warrior

The 4C is not an ideal daily driver thanks to the almost complete lack of rear vision (a reversing camera in addition to the rear parking sonar would be a good idea Alfa Romeo), but it's one of those cars you want to hop in and head out of town to discover its dynamic envelope.

My six-foot-four husband didn’t fit comfortably into the passenger seat. Chris was jammed into the cabin like a sardine with his knees wedged under the console, and naturally after a short drive in the car from city to home decided that a ninety-minute road trip was off the table.

Word of warning: the luggage capacity of the 4C is minimal. I managed to fit a camera bag and a small leather overnight bag in the boot space, which was shared by the tyre inflator kit and the small tool kit provided by Alfa Romeo for vehicle recovery, lest the tyre damage be irreparable and a flat deck rescue service truck is called.

Cruise control

Being a pared back track day focussed sports car, with the exception of the traction control system and anti-lock brakes, and the Alfa DNA dynamic control, the 4C only offers manual air-conditioning, an Alpine Bluetooth audio system (for use under 100kph only) and thankfully cruise control.

I’m not ashamed to say that setting the cruise control on State Highway 1 not only saved my driver’s license from confiscation, but the 4C can be quite frugal for such a performance orientated car. We managed to get as low as 8L/100km.

Filling rattler

There is always a trade-off for a car that offers rip-snorting performance coupled with limpet-like cornering ability. The suspension package in the 4C is so taut, that quite literally it will rattle your fillings, particularly when travelling down rural state highways and lesser rural roads with chip sealed surfaces.

Despite being firmly tied down, the 4C can feel a bit skittish, very much so when the roads are wet, and engaging the All Season drive setting is recommended.

You are left in no doubt about the road surface, as the bumps and tremors are also communicated through the 4C’s steering wheel, at times it can feel quite jiggly, concentration is required to keep the tiller steady and the Alfa in a straight line.

On smooth tarmac, this behaviour disappears, completely. And this shows the true purpose of the 4C; it’s a road legal track and circuit car for the gentleman or lady racer, who has the wherewithal to enjoy their passion without feeling guilty for not buying something more practical.

Conclusion

There is always a compromise with any car design, and sadly the 4C won’t be everyone’s glass of Chianti or cup of short black. Living with this car on a daily basis would be tiring, especially in tight urban spaces, but for weekends or after work enjoyment, it ticks all the boxes and more.

People looking for a daily driver with performance and handling (but far less soul) will be better off in a Porsche Cayman or a Jaguar F-Type coupe which are far more practical for life in the urban crawl.

Note: this was reviewed as a new vehicle.

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Robert Barry
Robert Barry
Expert reviewer | Auto Media Group

I've been reviewing cars, vans, utes, trucks, and almost any other contraption with wheels and an engine since 2003. My dream car is a classic W123 series Mercedes-Benz 280CE.

Opinions are my own and not those of Trade Me.