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alfa 4c action frontWhile the 4C's looks caused a sensation and marked a revival of the brand as a thoroughbred sports car manufacturer, the reality is that this Alfa doesn't deliver the kind of driver involvement and engagement that a pure-bred Italian sports car should serve. There's a lack of powertrain and chassis refinement, and the car's performance is hampered by the slow-witted gearbox and laggy turbo power delivery, which the edgy chassis set-up struggles to cope with. That means the 4C is less fun to drive than similarly priced rivals such as the Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and Lotus Elise, while the car's edgy nature means it never feels settled, whether you're popping to the shops or cruising on the motorway.

Alfa Romeo's mainstream line-up is restricted to the ageing MiTo and Giulietta hatchbacks until the Giulia saloon arrives, but the 4C is something for fans of the brand to get excited about. It's a scaled-down supercar and features a mid-mounted 237bhp 1.75-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a twin-clutch automatic gearbox. But as the coupe weighs less than 900kg, thanks to a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis, the engine delivers explosive performance.

Alfa Romeo has a long history of sporting models, dating all the way back to the A.L.F.A. 24hp that competed in the 1911 Targa Florio race. With decades of Grand Prix, F1, Touring Car races and rallies under its belt since then, the firm seemed to lose is mojo in recent years. Enthusiasts pined for the excitement and glamour of cars like the 1966 Alfa Spider sports car – a car so loved, that amazingly it survived in production right through until the early 1990s. The 4C is part of the Fiat group’s plan to bring that old Alfa magic back.

alfa 4c action header

Italy is home to all three giants, as it is to a few more affordable manufacturers, such as Fiat, Alfa Romeo or Lancia, that have been an integral part of the European car heritage for over a century.

Engines, performance and drive

The 4C is quick, but the chassis, steering and power delivery all lack refinement
From the moment you clamber across the thick sill and slide into the driving seat, you’re aware that the 4C is designed as a proper drivers' car. You sit low and forward in the chassis, the pedals are perfectly placed and there’s a wide range of steering wheel adjustment. The racing car-style monocoque chassis weighs just 65kg, and the coupe tips the scales at only 895kg without fuel and passengers on board. The Spider is marginally heavier at 940kg, but that's hardly bloated. Alfa has even reduced the thickness of the glass by 15 per cent to shave off precious kilos. In context, the Alfa takes a very different approach to the civilised Porsche Cayman which is its most prominent rival – it has more in common with the stripped back Lotus Elise.

For £3,000 you can buy a Racing Pack, which adds sports suspension (including revised damping and springs, plus thicker anti-roll bars), as well as a fruity sounding sports exhaust and 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels. However, we'd stick with the standard chassis and smaller wheels, which make the driving experience a touch more civilised.

However you spec the car, the end result is a hard and raw driving experience. At idle, the exhaust sounds very purposeful, like a sixties racing Alfa, but on the move, there’s so much engine and road noise that long journeys are punishing – you can forget the radio, although Alfa does fit the 4C with a pretty puny Alpine aftermarket stereo. The unrelentingly firm ride quality becomes quite tiring, too.

The 4C’s unassisted steering is also a mixed bag. While it’s heavy at parking speeds, the weighting is fine on the move, and the rack is fast enough for rapid and accurate turn-in. But it doesn’t deliver the undiluted feel you’d expect. In fact, there’s little sense of what the front end is doing. What you do get is plenty of unpleasant kickback as the wheel fights and wriggles in your hands. On bumpy and cambered roads the overactive steering and stiff suspension make the Alfa dart around, keeping you on the alert to maintain a forward heading as the car constanly bucks and dives for the edge of the road.

The 4C is a proper sports car – there’s no body roll, plenty of grip, serious performance and lots of character. But it’s too hard-edged for realistic everyday use and never offers the fingertip feel, adjustability and composure you find in a Porsche.

alfa 4c seats

Engines

There’s only one powerplant available in the 4C, but as a result of the car’s low weight that 237bhp 1.75-litre aluminium turbocharged engine has enough oomph to push the 4C coupe from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. That’s extremely rapid off the line - and can be fully exploited using the car's launch control function. The Alfa also has 350Nm at 2,200rpm so in-gear pace is plentiful as well.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

In spite of its fierce performance, the Alfa 4C should be relatively cheap to own
With a price tag of £51,500 the 4C coupe is around £2,000 more than a Cayman S, while the 4C Spider carries an £8,000 premium over the coupe. That's a pretty big step when you consider the Porsche 718 Boxster S is only about £1,000 more than a Cayman S. It also means the Alfa 4C is pricier than a lot of accomplished rivals, such as the Lotus Elise, the aforementioned Porsches and models such as the Jaguar F-Type V6 and the entire Caterham Seven range.

Emissions of 157g/km are superb for a 160mph sports car, and make the Alfa a cost-effective choice for company-car drivers. It’s the result of low overall weight and a small four-cylinder engine, and it means that a higher-band earner will pay just £4,119 a year in company car tax – £644 less than for a manual Porsche Cayman.

Road tax will be a very reasonable £175. Alfa hasn’t confirmed servicing costs, but while only eleven specialist retailers will be able to sell you a 4C, all 46 UK dealers are able to service it.

Accident repairs could be a different story, as the carbon tub and aluminium space frames will be potentially very expensive to fix after a major incident.