1. Introduction and design
Earlier this month Alfa Romeo invited us to Milan to drive the new 4C Spider, the most exciting and important car the company have produced in years. Well, we could hardly turn down that opportunity, could we?
Alfa Romeo has a long and proud race heritage, dating back to 1910 when Alexandre Darracq and Ugo Stella founded the company.
Before the 4C, Alfa only offered the MiTo and Giulietta, two B and C-Class cars which, although were good, don't exactly set hearts pounding like an Alfa should.
The 4C, and the 4C Spider are the beginning of a revival for the company, starting with the 4C last year, and going on to introduce the Giulia and a sporty cross-over in the future.
Has Alfa Romeo managed to design a truly desirable car? Of course it has, just look at it!
The image above was taken on a banked turn at Monza, that's the stuff bedroom posters are made of. The aggressive curves and short, squat body make it look like a shrunken down super car (that's not the parallels that can be drawn with more expensive cars, but more on that later).
The shape isn't just beautiful, it's also functional, born out of the company's Turin-based Centro Stile, and refined after many hours in the wind tunnel. It has both negative lift at speed and an impressive Cd of 0.35.
We think it's safe to say, the design of the 4C is absolutely on point.
2. Driving lesson
If you were born after 1990 and have never driven a car older than twenty years old, getting into the Alfa is quite a surprise.
We had to have a little refreshing driving lesson with the Alfa Romeo Museum's curator before we hit the public road.
You see, at slow speeds (below 2 miles an hour) the car is a bit of a pig to manoeuvre. That's because the car doesn't feature electrically assisted steering, which every modern car now includes. Assisted steering does bring many benefits, namely efficiency and ease of use, but it also introduces some negative points...
3. You can throw it around corners and feel everything
The biggest problem with assisted steering is that it creates a disconnected feeling between your hands, the steering wheel, and road, it numbs and deadens everything. In some modern cars, the front tyres aren't even physically connected to the steering wheel - they're steered 'by wire'.
If you drive over a pothole in the 4C, it tries to yank the steering wheel from your grip. This can be unsettling at first, but it lets you know exactly what's happening beneath the car, and how much grip you have to play with.
The all-independent suspension, and extremely rigid carbon fibre tub which weights just 73kg, also aid handling. This light, wide and rigid structure provides a low centre of gravity, making the 4C's road holding and ride quality quite amazing.
The carbon tub puts the 4C Spider on a level with McLaren or Ferrari, which is quite something considering it only costs around £45,000, under half the price.
The ride is firm, but well damped, making it comfortable on the Italian roads (we'll let you know how it handles on the all-round more bumpy British roads at a later date).
Chopping the roof of the 4C Coupé does mean Alfa have had to include some strengthening tweaks to the chassis, which adds 45 kg to it's weight, making it 940 kg overall (dry).
4. 4C Spider on the test track
The first thing that hits you about the 4C Spider is the acceleration, with launch control the vehicle is capable of accelerating from 0-62 in 4.5 seconds.
It picks up instantly thanks to its light weight, and continues to accelerate up to 160 mph.
The quick acceleration is even more impressive considering the car uses a small 1.7 litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
Despite being diminutive in size, the engine produces 240bhp, plus 258lb ft of torque between 2200rpm and 4250rpm. It has a power-to-weight ratio of 259bhp per tonne is really something very special indeed.
Also helping that quick acceleration is the Dual-clutch transmission, which is quick and smooth (and up to 30 per cent quicker in race mode).
5. It stops like nothing we've experienced before
What's perhaps even more impressive than the 4C's acceleration is the way is stops.
The car sports vented steel disk-brakes from Brembo, but they have been coated in a special mixture to enhance the grip.
We first experienced hard braking on the test track and thought they were carbon ceramics, but the low weight of the 4C means that they weren't necessary.
The 4C can stop from 63 mph in just 36 metres, a figure that most heavy super cars can't match.
6. A weight saving interior
Inside the car has a sporty, competition race feel about it. There's plenty of bare carbon fibre tub left undisguised, and the switch gear is a rather understated matt black.
The dials are made from a hard, cheap feeling plastic, but all of this is in the name of weight saving, giving you the feeling of sitting in a racing car, rather than a road car, which makes the whole experience very exciting.
The steering wheel is a great, compact size, although slightly chunky, and the driving position is nice a low, almost as if you're sitting on the car floor.
The hard leather seats in the 4C are surprisingly comfortable, but they also keep you locked in place during tight cornering (just don't lose anything underneath them, as it's a pain to get back).
7. A virtual tachometer
Because the Alfa Romeo 4C is so focused, it doesn't feature much technology, there's no keyless entry and start, no self-driving aids, and no large touchscreen embedded in the dashboard.
There is however electric windows, air con, a USB for your smartphone, and most importantly of all, a large virtual speedometer behind the wheel.
This shows speed, revs, what gear you're in, and if you're in Race Mode, the screen will also include a G metre, which is a very nifty feature.
So what's our verdict on the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider? Well it's impossible not to like it.
Despite some flaws, and more sensible rivals, the 4C is such a joy to drive you'd want to take on journeys you could easily walk, just because it would put a smile on your face.
If you've got the money, and are after something that really stands out, you can't go wrong with the 4C Spider, you defintely won't be disappointed.
- We've got more we want to say on the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, check back soon for the updated article