Alfa Romeo, the legendary Italian sports car maker, has returned to the U.S. market after a decade’s absence with what has to be labeled a supercar. Now under FiatChrysler control, Alfa Romeo introduced the 4C for 2015, in hardtop coupe and soft-top Spider form. Wild styling enhances the roughneck nature of the mid-engine, rear-drive 4C, with a cockpit roofline that looks too low to accommodate actual passengers who aren’t ready to race. Visually, the track-ready 4C two-seater gives fresh meaning to words like flamboyant and striking. No one who prefers anonymity should even consider a 4C.

Pricing and Equipment

Base-priced at $55,900 (plus $1,595 destination charge) in coupe form and $65,900 as the soft-top Spider, the 4C unleashes a mid-mounted, turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine that whips up 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Those figures might not sound mighty, but in a car that weighs less than 2,500 pounds, they yield enough force to reach 60 mph in a scintillating 4.1 seconds. Fuel economy is surprisingly good, too: an estimated 24 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway. Far less on the race track, of course.

Each 4C has rear-wheel drive and uses a seven-speed automated-manual transmission, with four selector buttons forward on the console. Weight balance is an even 50/50.

A single trim level is offered for each body style. Standard 4C equipment includes:

  • Air conditioning
  • Aluminum pedals
  • Leather upholstery (Spider)
  • Leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel
  • Seven-speed automated-manual transmission
  • Four-mode DNA Selector: All-weather, Natural, Dynamic, and Track
  • Remote keyless entry
  • Five airbags, including driver-inflatable knee airbag
  • 7-inch color display
  • 17-inch front/18-inch rear alloy wheels

My 2015 4C Spider also had a Convenience Group (with rear park assist, cruise control, and alarm); Track Package; bi-xenon headlights; sport-tuned dual exhaust; red performance brake calipers; and 18-inch front/19-inch rear wheels. Total MSRP was $74,895.

Performance Pros

Alfa Romeo 4C
  • Acceleration is simply startling. Absolutely, defiantly, exuberantly so. No other description suffices, whether from a stop or from 50 mph or so. Even when not pushing the gas pedal fully, takeoffs and pass/merge actions are nearly breathtaking. On the highway, though, it does take a moment for the next gear to engage before the 4C vaults ahead with remarkable energy.
  • Handling could hardly be more precise and positive, befitting the 4C’s racetrack nature. That’s a given. On straightaways, it may as well be rolling down rails, with barely a millimeter’s deviation from the straight-on course. Next to no movement of the steering wheel is needed to remain centered in your lane.
  • Manual steering (no power assist) enhances the sense of supreme control of the car’s forward motion. As long as the 4C is moving at least a little, the steering wheel isn’t so hard to turn. When stopped, though, it feels like it’s firmly locked into position.

Performance Cons

  • Ride comfort. On a minimally-blemished highway, ride quality isn’t so bad, though the 4C is always tight and a bit jittery. Throughout each trip, you’re 100-percent aware of the suspension’s presence and actions. There’s a constant sense of imminent stiffness, even when the ride doesn’t feel particularly harsh.
  • Noisy? You bet. Yes, the engine quiets down somewhat on the highway, once the transmission reaches upper gears. But on the way up to speed, it’s rambunctiously raucous.
  • Transmission operation. Depending on how you feel about automated-manual shifting, the Alfa Romeo transmission could be either a plus or a minus. Once you figure out how to get into automated shifting (which isn’t intuitive), it goes up and down the gears readily. You’ll hear an unsubtle, flagrant burp between each gear, presumably stemming from rev-matching technology.

Interior Pros

  • Seats are suprisingly comfortable, lacking only a tad more cushioning.
  • Driver space. Despite the low roof, headroom is better than expected for adults of average height. Good thing the steering wheel has a flat bottom, however, so it doesn't rub against driver thighs.
  • Driving position. Legs are essentially straight out; but not really uncomfortable, at least for shorter jaunts. Longer treks might yield greater distress. Left-foot space is minimal, yet sufficient. The window sill is high, so there will be no driving with one's elbow sticking out.

Interior Cons

  • Entry/exit is definitely a challenge. Still, getting into the cockpit is workable even for older or less agile folks, by planning your route to and from the seat. Getting out is likely to be the greater ordeal, as you reach a point where a final leap is needed, and you may have to squeeze your feet past the door frame—but they don’t quite want to move that last inch.
  • Short seat bottoms. I mean, seriously short. Yet, seat comfort isn’t that bad. Lower bolsters keep you tenaciously in place; seatback bolsters, less so, as they’re rather short and unintrusive.
  • Apart from what you see in the mirrors, rear/side visibility is basically nonexistent.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Alfa Romeo 4C

Even though the 4C is intended as a track-ready vehicle, it’s surprisingly tractable in ordinary driving. Of course, only the most hardened enthusiasts might yearn to commute in one every day. Turning the steering wheel isn’t even so difficult, provided that the car is moving. If it’s at a standstill, you might need to ask your passenger for assistance. It might be prudent to pick a muscular passenger, just in case.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Controls and instruments. Gauges are unusual and difficult to read, at least initially. Controls aren’t sufficiently intuitive, either. It takes a while to get used to both.

The Bottom Line

Not only is the 4C visually startling, a stint behind the wheel isn’t merely a drive: It’s an experience. Claims that the 4C is meant for the racetrack are dead accurate. Driving a 4C every day would likely become tedious, but who wouldn’t like to have one at hand for special occasions?