Alfa Romeo’s beautiful 4C has lost its head, but will that make us lose ours?
Talk among the Alfisti in recent months has centred on the upcoming Giulia, especially in high-performance AWD Quadrifoglio guise. With all the excitement surrounding that car, however, it’s easy to forget the pukka sportscar within Alfa’s line-up – the beautiful 4C. We tested the Coupé variant more than two years ago and jumped at the chance to have another go in this rare but flawed Italian. Could this topless version convince us that there was a role for it beyond being essentially a weekend fun car?
The 4C Spider, of course, shares its core DNA with the hard-top version. It utilises the same carbon-fibre monocoque and also boasts a mid-engine/rear-wheel-drive layout. Aside from the removable fabric roof – its black hue providing a pleasant contrast to the Giallo Prototipo body colour – the headlamps are the most noticeable point of difference from the Coupé. Critics (us included) of its insect eye-like, compound headlamps will be happy to see that the Spider has adopted unadorned (xenon) units. The Spider is 50 kg heavier than its sibling, a penalty paid for the pleasure of open-top motoring despite the stiff underpinnings provided by the solid “tub”.
Removing the roof is a manual affair and, if you are tall enough and can reach across the car, a one-person job. You unlatch two spring-loaded clips above each window, undo two quick-release screws on the edge of the windscreen frame and apply sunblock. Be warned, though: storing the roof in the already tiny boot severely compromises packing space.
Sliding in and out of a 4C is never an elegant move due to the wide side sills, but with the roof gone, you don’t have to dip as low to enter the cabin. Inside, you’re greeted by swathes of exposed, polished carbon-fibre juxtaposed with cheap-feeling plastics everywhere else.
Straight ahead is a chunky, flat-bottomed steering wheel, with enough adjustment to allow even the tallest member of our test team to find a comfortable driving position. However, the wheel obscures the top section of the digital instrumentation if you’re lanky. Insert the key into the ignition barrel – all very old-tech – and firing up the direct-injection four-pot always jolts.
Those who grew up in an era of silky smooth V6 Alfa powerplants might be disappointed, as the noises emanating from the engine room are purposeful rather than melodic. Setting off is just a matter of clicking a steering wheel-mounted paddle that signals the automated twin-clutch transmission. A complete anachronism in an era of insipid electrically assisted steering actions, the 4C’s unit is unaided and, at low speeds, this makes wheel twirling a chore. Once moving, though, the heft is alleviated and, while it may require constant inputs on the move, a lack of feedback is one criticism that you certainly can’t level at it.
Left to its own devices, the transmission is smooth, if laggy; it uses the wide band of torque dished up by the motor to keep engine speeds low when possible, but it does have a tendency to hunt around between gears and low-speed manoeuvring is a clunky affair.
Being a sportscar, we spent as little time as possible in the normal and all-weather modes of the DNA drivetrain-select system, preferring instead to use dynamic mode. With muscles tensed in this setting, the turbocharged four is even more vocal, a whistling wastegate punctuating the roar that constantly pours into the cabin.
Despite punching out just 177 kW, low mass means that the 4C Spider feels electric. Against our VBOX testing equipment, the roofless derivative turned in acceleration times near identical to those of its Coupé sibling.
Fully committed on glass-smooth, twisting blacktop, the 4C Spider shines. If the road isn’t smooth, however, you’re in for a rough ride. The 4C is on a constant quest to hammer the surface smooth rather than flow serenely over it. All the while, the twitch-quick steering tries to wrestle itself free from your palms. On the wrong road, the 4C Spider is a compromised, exhausting car to drive.