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2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Review by Larry Nutson +VIDEO

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2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

When the opportunity comes along to drive a performance car the usual scenario is that I have to feel it out on public roads. That needs to be done, of course, safely and without risk to anyone. Not to mention, the desire to not get a ticket for violating a traffic law.

As it played out when it came to driving the Alfa 4C, I first drove this car on two different road race circuits before ever experiencing it on the public roads. One of my track stints was at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and the other at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois. Both of these track opportunities came my way via membership in the Midwest Automotive Media Association and participation in their Spring and Fall Rallys.

The Alfa 4C is available as a coupe and an open-air spider, a convertible. The 4C Spider is what showed up for my early November drive week. And, good fortune brought clear, dry and warm fall weather in the Chicago area to allow for some top-off driving.

It’s a hi-tech race car and the fun it brings doesn’t come cheap. The 4C coupe is priced starting at $53,900 and the Spider is ten-grand more at $63,900.

The mid-engine Alfa 4C is small and lightweight. Running on a 93.7 inch wheelbase, the overall length is only 157 inches and dry weight is just 2,337 pounds. Weight distribution is 41/59 percent front/rear.

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The center tub or chassis is all monocoque carbon fiber construction and weighs only 236 pounds. Front- and rear-chassis structures and an engine-mounting frame are made from lightweight aluminum. Exotic stuff! l

Due to the monocoque’s inherent rigidity, Alfa was able to minimize structural differences between the 4C Spider and 4C Coupe. For windshield header strength and to keep the center of gravity low, the 4C Spider features a unilateral carbon fiber windshield frame that is adhered and bolted to the monocoque chassis. In addition, a specially contoured aluminum roll bar sits underneath the black or carbon fiber “halo” and provides mounting points for the Spider’s rear decklid.

The bodywork is entirely of sheet molded compound SMC, a low-density, high-strength composite material that is 20 percent lighter and dimensionally more rigid than steel. Engineers even optimized the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider’s windshield and side windows by using 10 percent thinner glass to reduce weight by up to 15 percent.

Two sport seats feature a carbon fiber and fiberglass reinforced-composite structure to provide the strength and seating position needed for performance driving.

Moving the strong and lightweight Alfa 4C is an all-aluminum 1750 cc turbocharged and intercooled engine with dual continuous variable-valve timing that delivers 237 horsepower. So we’re looking at 136 HP/liter and 9.86 pounds per horsepower. Hang on for the ride.

Now I know lots of purists will argue for a manual transmission and will want three pedals on the floor. But the 4C’s twin-clutch six-speed transmission is, to me, more exhilarating. The rev-matching paddle shifts and precise gear changes as quick as 130 milliseconds at full throttle are something to experience.

The transmission software adjusts in progressively more aggressive steps with the Alfa DNA selector system. With four modes…all-weather, natural dynamic and race, the Alfa DNA selector can optimize the engine, transmission, Alfa Electronic Q2 differential and electronic stability control (ESC) calibrations to different levels.

All this provides a top speed of 160mph, 0-to-60 mph acceleration blasts in an estimated 4.1-seconds, 1.1 g of lateral acceleration and 1.25 g of maximum braking deceleration.

Adding to the fun is the aural sensation of the exhaust sound. The Spider is offered with a choice of three different exhaust systems including an all-new Akrapovic dual-mode exhaust system. The 4C Spider I drove was fitted with the optional ($500) racing exhaust that removes the muffler, and instead integrates a uniquely designed asymmetric Y-shape system after the catalyst.

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Believe me the temptation to get into the throttle to hear the exhaust and the crisp shifts occurred almost all the time. The exhaust note alone turned lots of heads echoing among high rise buildings.

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Keeping the Alfa connected to the road are Pirelli P-Zero performance tires – 205/40s up front on 18 x 7inch wheels and 235/35 in the rear on 19 x 8.5 inch wheels. Getting it stopped comes from four self-ventilating perforated discs and Brembo four-piston aluminum calipers up front.

On the inside is what I would call a fairly minimalist interior. The aluminum brake is hinged at the bottom and rises up vertically from the floor. The transmission is actuated by push buttons. The Alpine stereo audio head looks like something I had in my car twenty-five years ago. Actually, the interior is appropriately basic, somewhat cool and kind of retro.

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There’s room for two people and not much more. Some people will not fit in the Alfa 4C. Ingress and egress is a slight challenge lifting your leg over the wide side rail doorsill. There is basically no interior storage to speak of. As for a trunk, there is none up front and in the rear a 3.7cuft well under the engine cover is large enough for one carry-on. Weekend trips for two will require very light packing.

All of this is somehow justified since, after all, the car is all about performance. On the road there is no lacking in any performance characteristic. At first the 4C seems a little twitchy on straightaways, in part due to its short wheelbase. I quickly adjusted to that as I “learned” the feel of the quick-ratio manual steering. Yes manual, which makes for a bit of an effort when parking.

The Spider’s center-section softtop takes a few minutes to remove and install. It’s stowed in the rear trunk well, provided not much else is there. Open air driving is what it is. Wind flows through your hair and there’s lots of outside noise. At highway speed with the softtop section in place there is noticeable air flow noise. The topping material is supplied by Haartz, a major supplier to almost all soft-top convertibles made today. Haartz is known for its high quality and durable material. A carbon fiber hardtop is optional. Air condition IS standard for those blazingly hot or high-humidity days.

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All said, the Alfa 4C Spider is a really fun car to drive. It handles roads really well. With a 4.4 inch ground clearance you do have to be careful exiting driveway ramps and to avoid things like raised manhole covers. It has outstanding track capabilities. My time on the track with my half-way decent skill level didn’t prove challenging or make feel nervous. The 4C is predictable, forgiving and easy to drive fast.

Consider that an option is a battery tender. So yes, the Alfa is not necessarily intended to be driven all the time. Even if you live in a mild-climate part of the country the Alfa 4C is for a weekend day trip. Or, get yourself a membership in a local race-track based car club and have at it.

Remember: the difference between the men and the boys is the price of the toys. Visit for more info and tech specs.

2015 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy