Alfa Romeo has often been credited with inventing the modern sport sedan. Aluminum DOHC engines replaced iron-blocks and variable valve timing became a thing. Alfa’s return to the US after 20 years has been a slow and gritty one with the 8C, but the 4C shows much promise. Can it take on Porsche and Lotus?
At 157 inches long, (6.4 inches longer than a Lotus Elise) it is every bit the consummate modern sports car. There’s a very contemporary 1.7-liter turbocharged four behind your head (center-mounted for optimal weight distribution of course). For lightness, the whole car is built around a carbon-fiber tub and clothed in SMC composite, resulting in a claimed curb weight of less than 2200 lbs for the European version tested by R&T. Even among the ranks of $300,000 supercars, a carbon chassis is rare. But the Alfa will cost about $54,000 when the federalized version arrives in the US this year. That’s quite a bargain, don’t you think? At that price it puts the Porsche Cayman and Lotus Elise firmly in its cross-hairs.
The look of the 4C is more Lotus than Porsche. It’s about performance, sport and sound. And by sound I mean no muffler of any kind – so yea, it’s loud. And angry and speedy, given the turbocharger it’s mated to is putting out 22psi of boost toward 237 hp. F1 paddles and a few different driving modes make things even more fun.
As far as the actual drive, it’s great on the track, but on a real road things seem to come apart from what I’m reading. It seems to have a mind of its own on anything less than perfectly smooth and level surfaces from a steering perspective. Bottom line: it’s scarier than the Lotus when things get frisky and a Porsche it will never be, power-assisted steering or not.
The Cayman on the other hand it like butter. It’s got a much larger steering wheel, but ones that really lets you feel what’s going on. That 325 hp engine, dial-up launch conrol, and instant power it outclasses the Alfa completely.
The Lotus’s 1.8-liter engine also employs a supercharger, delivering 217 hp, 184 lb-ft, and a radically different character from the turbocharged 4C. Where the Alfa is unashamedly boost-driven, waking up sharply when the turbo comes up to speed above 2500 rpm and maintaining that push in the back to around 5500, the Lotus is more playful. It wants you to think it has a big, naturally aspirated engine, wants you to work a bit harder for your fun.
The Lotus never feels wanting, despite its 4.8-second 60-mph sprint lagging more than half a second behind the others’. Why? Because it’s engaging. And the amount of feedback you get is astonishing. You know exactly what’s going on under the car at any given moment.
What does R&T think in summation? The Alfa can’t keep up with the Lotus and it’s simply not in the same class as the Porsche. Wish I could say I didn’t see that coming…