Kyalami racetrack is a special place. One that I have been fortunate enough to drive on a few occasions over the years. The site of many hundreds of races it proved a fitting venue for the launch of a new model from a brand that also has an illustrious sporting past: Alfa Romeo.
It’s not often that the Sporting Heart launches a new model (before today it had just two models in its portfolio, the Mito and Giulietta), so when the firm hosts a new product launch at a racetrack, you know that it’s going to be special.
What is it?
The 4C is an all-new sportscar from the Italian manufacturer. Unlike many other “sportscars” it isn’t simply a rebodied model that runs on underpinnings borrowed from another member of the family. The 4C is a proper sportscar based on a carbon-fibre monocoque and boasting a mid-mount engine layout.
Driving those rear wheels is a turbocharged, 1,75-litre four-pot that develops 177 kW at 6 000 r/min and 350 N.m of torque in a plateau from 2 200 to 4 250 r/min. Drive is delivered solely to the rear wheels via a twin-clutch automated transmission, which in turn feeds a limited slip differential.
The 4C is suspended on a strut-type rear suspension and double wishbones at the front. Thanks to the carbon tub and extensive use of aluminium, it tips the scales at a quoted 895 kg, or about half that of some other exotics available today.
How does it go?
Any launch hosted at a racetrack can highlight a car’s faults pretty quickly. Road cars are, by definition, created for road and not race use, so to judge them purely on track prowess isn’t always fair. Unfortunately we weren’t afforded any time on the road with the 4C, but Alfa representatives on the launch have already confirmed that CAR’s test unit will be arriving soon.
The very first aspect that I noticed about the 4C is the noise. Naturally purists would have preferred and probably lust after a melodious, naturally aspirated V6. This force-fed four though has a soundtrack that is bristling with character.
Thankfully Alfa hasn’t muted the natural tones. It has a guttural edge that comes across as angry and mean. Each shift is punctuated by a flat brraaapp as unburnt fuel exits down the short exhaust and meets fresh air. Even more addictive is the whooshing, whistling wastegate.
Once I was accustomed to the cacophony from over my shoulders I paid closer attention to the driving experience and then started to realise how light the 4C is on its feet. One can brake really late and carry lots of mid-corner speed, more than you initially realise and enough that you will still be finding the cars limits for some time.
The platform proved really playful around the thirteen turns of Midrand blacktop, eager to pivot around a vertical axis with a turn-in that will shame a few racecars. Unlike some other mid-mount cars I’ve driven, the 4C also proved to be quite pointy. It isn’t a car that you chuck into corners but, rather, you guide it in gently and prescribe your exit trajectory with the throttle.
If you do manage to overcook the mid-corner speed, there is plenty of communication through the stiff carbon tub and your internal g-meter to warn of an impending slide (it can even happen with the electronics on), but is easily corrected by the unassisted, rack and pinion helm.
What does it cost?
Alfa Romeo quote R870 000 for the 4C, which is by far the cheapest carbon fibre-based sportscar that you can buy today. However, unless you are on a first name basis with your local Alfa dealer principal, it’s too late to buy one as the 2014 allotment of 20 cars is already spoken for as, supposedly, are the 20 cars due here next year.
Perhaps there was a cruel twist of irony hosting the ride and drive event at Kyalami as SA’s most famous racetrack faces an uncertain future in the face of new ownership. While this arena may be near its end, the 4C (hopefully) heralds the start of a new era for a brand that enjoys a die-hard following all over the world, not least of all locally.
This is a proper little junior supercar, forget the small motor as it has very little mass to lug around, the 4C provides a driving experience that few this side of real exotica will experience. Would I have one? The answer is an unequivocal yes. This is an Italian after my own Sporting Heart…