You won’t understand the magic of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider until you lever your body in the seat shell and plant your foot to the floor. Sure the 4C Spider’s looks suck up street attention like a Dyson vacuum, but it’s only after you are at the wheel that this little Italian sports car reveals the reason for its creation.
Let’s not beat around the bush. The 4C Spider is a gorgeous little crimson scalpel made for the track, first and then second, the most sinuous stretches of tarmac you can find.
It’s not meant to be a boulevard cruiser or some little swoopy Italian conversation-starter at the neighbourhood pub and grub. It’s a pure, extremely focused tool for slicing away time over challenging tarmac and dicing to the death with fellow challengers through curves, both public and private. Arrive with your 4C Spider at a new boutique country club-style track and your fellow members will know you’re not there for the socialising. Consider the gauntlet officially thrown down.
The minuscule 4C Spider projects more personality and bravura per square inch than any car twice its price. It begs to be used as intended and respected for what it delivers for its cost. In the balance The Spider could not care less that it lacks in common utility; you’ll need to wait for the sensuous and rapid Giulia for that… for now, the 4C Spider invites you to escape from a hard and emasculated world.
But just as freedom isn’t free, the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider demands that to enjoy its exhilarating virtues, you must tolerate its limitations.
We say fair enough.
The Spider’s body swoops and flows, foretelling an Italian-accented performance story through crisp lines and emotional curves.
Proportionally, it seems three times as wide as it is tall. Its body appears tautly stretched over its mechanicals, rather than naturally styled. The Alfa engineers worked hard to wring every ounce of weight from the Spider, knowing that lighter was faster and more nimble. You’ll find yourself staring at each bit of mesh, every stylised slot and vent. You’ll also spend time looking up at everything surrounding you in that traffic. The Spider sits very low; it will feel as though you are looking into other car’s exhausts. But you will be the centre of every other driver’s attention.
Deal with it.
New, more traditional headlights have replaced the bug-eyed ones from the coupe, while new center-mounted exhaust pipes give the rear end a sportier look. The wheels are now an open spoke design that better reveals the red callipers and slotted discs.
Unless you keep your Spider garaged at a track or limit its running to your favourite stretch of pavement only on weekends, this svelte mid-engined beauty will spend more of its days in a city, sitting in traffic, and attracting more attention than believed from the surrounding drivers and onlookers. If you would rather pass on the questions and interest, you should perhaps rethink your purchase.
You wear this car like an F3 monoposto. Alfa Romeo could make a killing with add-on fitness courses designed to help the pilote either loose weight or increase flexibility. That’s no complaint as the rewards of finding a comfortable position in the leather seat are immense. It’s just that you must first fit before you can fly.
Visibility is F1-like. You have more blind spots than imaginable. The windshield might induce claustrophobia for some. Backing out of a parking space in America is a life changing action. You either embrace the vagaries of fate or develop neck strain trying to watch every possible direction for an ignorant (as in non-observant) driver. The high sides and the tiny rear window will cause eye strain. Being deep in the seat also is no aid trying to slip backwards into a parallel parking space. Prepare to have visions of your 10th-grade driver’s ed. Still, accepting that this small instrument of extreme “go fast” is meant for the track and not the grocery store should limit your exploration of suburbia.
With the 4C Spider’s Italian design heritage comes its faults. It’s hard to enter, even more to exit. Your driving position is nearly set; you’ll wish the seat had more angle and the seat back had one or two more clicks of rear recline, but you’ll also appreciate how you’ll sit “up-on-the-wheel, with plenty of leverage and good sight lines; you will need both. Still, prepare to take time finding a position that gives a proper view of the speedometer and tachometer. Thankfully, the Spider’s steering wheel has a flat bottom to clear your thighs, and the red double-line stitching brings a proper Italian brio to the black dash and doors, but it’s the weave of the carbon fibre in the tub that is the “hero” element. Want to appreciate it even more? Rap it with your knuckles. Solidity. No vibrations. It is automotive sexiness of the highest level, your own bit of Pagani Huyara-like “incredo-carbon-tech” aesthetic just an arm’s length away.
The engine giveth and taketh away. As long as you keep the 237 hp turbo-four above 4,000 RPM, you’ll have power. Let the revs drop, and the magic disappears. At 2,504-lbs. the lightweight Spider bursts from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2-seconds, and will touch 155 on a long straight. Despite being an automatic, the dual-clutch six-speed gearbox is perfectly matched to the engine’s narrow power band, and ample use of the shift paddles means prodigious acceleration is just a snap away. You will also use the gearbox for the multi-step start procedure. You’ll pull a paddle or press the “1” button on the console. You then continue in automatic mode; to activate the shift paddles, you’ll then need to push the A/M switch.
Once on the move, the Spider’s unassisted steering lightens turning into corners still requires more shoulders than expected. The suspension feeds your fingertips, hands and tailbone clear picture of the surface grip, the width of a crack, and the height of a pavement heave. You’ll quickly develop your program for changing direction. Mine was to trail the extremely communicative brakes into the corner, induce a bit of trailing throttle oversteer and then add power as I felt the outside rear load to the limit. With the Alfa Romeo–spec Pirelli P Zeros giving close to 1.0g lateral grip, it’s a dance you’ll enjoy, although you’ll occasionally feel the wheel kickback in your hands. Just stay the course.
Properly warmed up, you’ll find the 4C telling you everything you need to know. Set up. Point and squirt. Repeat.
Think long and hard about removing the roof panel. The time involved is the time that would be better spent wailing through your precious series of switchbacks.
Taking off the top is not a simple push-the-button-and-done exercise. You’ll need to lower the windows. Release two latches over the driver side door, and then repeat that step over the passenger side door. Unscrew two bolts located over the rearview mirror. Open the trunk. Roll up the top. Slip it in the Alfa Romeo supplied bag and place it in the tiny trunk. Slap forehead when you realise the trunk is full of your camera bag.
Replacing it is even more taxing since there are bits that must fit correctly or you’ll need to go back to square one to make sure every latch can be set. At the end of an evening’s drive, I struggled in the fading light to fit the edge of the roof under a small lip on the leading edge of the top of the windshield. The fact that a Florida rain shower was rushing closer spoiled a bit of the euphoric mood of the drive. You might consider keeping your 4C topless and tucked away in your garage until your inner Senna beckons or you’ll find your patience tested instead of your driving skill.
You’ll need to plan any shopping run like it’s a trip to the Moon. There really isn’t any room for parcels in the trunk and the passenger’s seat fills up rapidly. Save yourself the mental beating and try to use another conveyance; the Giulia is due this fall.
When you accept the Spider’s limitations, it’s a very seductive partner for flat out fun. All you need is the right frame of mind, miles of corners and you’ll spend the day or weekend slicing and dicing with a smile on your face.
Isn’t that why you buy a SPORTS car?