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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.
Passion, flair, temper. All are qualities that make for rather an exciting relationship … until you come home one day to find the crotch cut out from all your favourite jeans, that is. Now, that may or may not have happened to me, but it sort of sums up how I feel about the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.

Glowing praise

I was fortunate enough to drive the closed-top 4C at its local launch a few years ago. That event was held the Kyalami racetrack (the old format, of course). I left that event expressing glowing praise for the little car from Italy.

What wasn't to love? Here was a pukka carbon fibre-based sportscar with a ferocious forced-fed turbo motor driving the rear wheels. Perhaps it was Alfa Romeo's intention to keep us within the confines of SA's most famous track and not let us out onto the road.

On test

When a test unit arrived in Cape Town, all of our team members were eager to drive the car that would herald a return to sporting form for the brand we all wanted to see succeed.

After a few days, the charm wore off and we found a car that was both compromised and not as accomplished as its main rival, the Porsche Cayman. Our exact words from the test: "As compromised as it in daily running, it represents a reawakening to a brand that is desperate to rekindle its sense of passion and unapologetic flair (as well as appease its adoring fans)".

However, that little fact didn't seem to bother the Alfisti and all of the closed-top 4Cs were snapped up before even landing in South Africa.

Topless beauty

Not that long ago, Alfa's local subsidiary unveiled the 4C Spider. If anything, it is more arresting in the looks department; one of the 4Cs biggest drawcards. Gone are the inelegant compound headlamps, replaced by far more cohesive single-lamp units. WHY Alfa didn't apply the same treatment for both models is beyond me.

The Spider test unit was even more eye-catching thanks to that striking shade of yellow combined with the dark alloys; a much better combination than the frankly bland white and silver of the coupe test car. Even years after its introduction elsewhere in the world, the relative rarity of 4Cs in SA meant that the Spider drew admiring glances wherever it went.

Noise and power

Midships behind the cabin resides the same 1,75-litre inline four found in its hard-top sibling. It develops 177 kW and 350 N.m of torque, with power delivered to the rear wheels via a twin-clutch automated transmission. Tipping the scales at around 1-ton, there's a healthy power-to-mass ratio that makes the 4C Spider a rapid car by most measures.

The drivetrain is vocal, as we noted on the Coupe, and the auditory assault is heightened in the Spider, whether its fabric roof is in place or stowed away. Though the unfettered soundtrack is an anomaly in today's muted world, it can become tiring on the open road … as I found out on an extended motorway cruise.

Incidentally, removing the roof is a manual affair and, ideally, a two-person job. Once removed, you're left to roll it up and tuck it into the small boot. Or, indeed, abandon it in the garage, if the weather doesn't look threatening.

Don't hang about

In dynamic mode (there's no real point in driving it in any other), the throttle is razor-sharp and shifts are fired off with a discernible thump through the cabin. Cog swaps and throttle lifts are announced by a grin-inducing wastegate flutter that makes the Spider sound like a Group B rally refugee.

Briskly enjoying your favourite tagliatelle of tar is when the 4C shines. It is made for winding roads, ideally, with glass-smooth surfacing. In this scenario it is an absolute hoot to drive and its talents can be properly enjoyed.

In any other situation, the 4C Spider is hard work. The unassisted helm needs constant attention, the suspension set-up errs on the side of being too stiff and the noise emanating from behind becomes tiresome, precluding any form of conversation between occupants.

Verdict

The 4C has all the Latin flair and pizazz we've come to expect of Alfa Romeo. As a halo model, it is exemplary. There are moments of pure delight and enjoyment, but these are few and far between. So, as a car to own and live with, the 4C is ultimately flawed. Although not quite as flawed as a pair of crotchless jeans…

2017 Alfa Romeo Spider 4C

R899,900
Ref No: 1776535

Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Leather upholstery: Optional
  • Seats quantity: 2
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: Standard
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Traction control: Standard
  • Stability control: Standard
  • Tyre pressure sensor monitor deflation detection system: Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 2
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • Start stop button: Standard
  • Hillstart assist hillholder: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Driving mode switch eg sport comfort: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Cruise control: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • Voice control: Standard
  • CD player: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: Standard
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: Standard
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Heated exterior mirrors: Standard
  • Folding roof: removable soft-top
  • Xenon headlights: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Rear fog lamps lights: Standard
  • Park distance control PDC: rear
  • Rear spoiler: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 580 km
  • Driven wheels: rear
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Gearshift: automatic
  • Transmission type: automated dual-clutch
  • Transmission name: TCT
  • Gear shift paddles: Standard
  • Limited slipdiff: electronic
  • Front tyres: 205/45 R17 (opt 205/40 R18)
  • Reartyres: 235/40 R18 (opt 235/35 R19)
  • Length: 3990 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1868 mm
  • Height: 1189 mm
  • Wheel base: 2380 mm
  • Load volume / capacity: 110 L
  • Load volume / capacity: 110 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 999 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1220 kg
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 40l
  • Fuel consumption urban: 10.1 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption extra urban: 5.1 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption average: 6.9 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 161g/km
  • Emission control phase Euro EU level: 6
  • Power maximum: 177 kW
  • Power maximum total: 177 kW
  • Power peak revs: 6000 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 177.2 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 350 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 2200-4250 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 350 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 350.4 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 4.5s
  • Maximum top speed: 257 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: mid
  • Engine capacity: 1742 cc
  • Engine size: 1.7l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.7T
  • Engine + detail: 1.7 turbo
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Cam: dohc
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Variable camvalve timing: Standard
  • Turbocharger: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 3
  • Warranty distance (km): 100000 km
  • Maintenance plan: Standard
  • Maintenance plan time (years): 3
  • Maintenance plan distance (km): 100000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 3
  • Service interval indicator: Standard
  • Service interval (distance): 35000 km
  • Service interval (time): 2
  • Brand: Alfa Romeo
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 02089420
  • MMVariant: 4C SPIDER
  • MMintrodat: 2015-12-01
  • Introdate: 2015-12-09
  • DuoportarecordID: Alfa4C1o1

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