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2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.

2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive
One of the most confusing cars we’ve driven for a while, the largely excellent 4C is undone by its steering.

 



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Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: Looks, lightweight build ethos, surprisingly appealing four-cylinder engine, performance

Not so good: Bizarre steering dominates the entire driving experience, expensive

Key Facts

Model tested: Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
Price: 4C range starts from £52,505; Spider from £59,820, car as tested £65,470
Engine: 1.75-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, six-speed TCT twin-clutch automatic
Body style: two-door roadster
CO2 emissions: 157g/km (£500 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 41.5mpg
Top speed: 160mph
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Power: 240hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 2,200- to 4,250rpm

Our view:

Ah, what a difference a day makes! Or, rather, what a difference a road surface and a location can make. When boss man Shane drove the Alfa 4C on the international launch, he said it was sensational. A delight. A car to finally revive the then-flagging Alfa Romeo brand. Bravissimo!

Fast-forward 18 months or so, and t'other boss man Kyle drove the 4C in the UK... and he was, well, less than complimentary about the 4C, let's put it that way. Chiefly because of hyperactive steering that, he said, dominated the driving experience so totally that it undermined any other strengths the 4C might have had. Ah. Bugger.

Two years later, and yours truly fancied having another go at the 4C, tested by us as a collective whole for the first time as a Spider, to see if I could find some middle ground. And, if I was to cut to the chase, that's precisely what I found: the middle ground between Shane's five-star rating and Kyle's two-star opinion. Couched in terms of the fact we all now know that Alfa Romeo truly is resurgent, thanks to the edifying brilliance of the Giulia and Stelvio products (especially both of these in their rip-snorting Quadrifoglio guises), then the 4C's failings feel less pivotal to the future success of the brand. There also feels like there is some hope that the 4C could be rectified by the same geniuses responsible for the magnificent 510hp Quadrifoglio cars, which suffer none of the dynamic shortcomings of the 4C Spider. Indeed, Alfa says a programme of improvements for the 4C is due in 2018, so we'll wait to see what can be conjured up there.

No doubting one thing, though: Kyle was spot on the money with his observation about the steering of the 4C Spider. It utterly overshadows the Alfa's driving experience from mile one. Nervous, fidgety, with a desire to go dancing off in the wrong direction with every naughty camber it meets, you need every single one of your wits about you when driving the feisty 4C. Don't think even for a second about steering one-handed, trying to look cool as you cruise along; do that, and you're likely to suddenly veer into another lane, or - even worse - oncoming traffic as the front tyres hit anything less than a pristine, smooth road surface.

Given the steering really is the primary interface for every single car in the world (until Level 5 autonomy comes into play), such a fundamental flaw ought to catastrophically sink the 4C below the waterline. And yet I simply can't bring myself to hate the 4C Spider; it's too special in too many other ways for that. The 1.75-litre turbocharged four-pot engine, so 'meh' in other Alfas, is a hoot here, loud and raucous in entirely a good way, and teamed to a pop-pop-bang-bang exhaust that makes for a truly great soundtrack. The performance, too, is blistering and Alfa is to be heartily commended for sticking so rigidly to the lightweight ethos (the Spider clocks in at just 940kg) that has served Lotus so well for decades.

The ride is even good; firm, obviously, and the 4C is no supple long-distance cruiser, but the comfort levels are adequate enough for most situations and the suspension doesn't particularly exacerbate the steering's ADHD. The handling is also superb, if you can sift through the crazy messages the unassisted steering rack is jabbering at you, and it's almost needless to say that the 4C Spider, especially in Alfa Yellow with contrast black detailing, is an absolute stunner.

Shorn of the fussy headlights of the Coupe, the open-top is just a beautiful car in a way a Porsche 718 Boxster could only dream of. OK, the Alfa's interior is less successful, a bit cramped and saddled with both a cheap-looking aftermarket head unit for the stereo and a stupid, flat-bottomed steering wheel whose lower half looks like a sinister clown's mouth, but we like the seats, we like the yellow stitching and highlights, and we love the exposed carbon fibre of the tub.

The reality is that every one of the 277 miles I did in Alfa UK's 4C Spider was very special, even if some moments were cathartically special at having once more dodged the Reaper's scythe thanks to a sudden, unexpected jolt from the steering. But, ultimately, we come back to this: there's so much good in the 4C package that we have to hope the 2018 amendments do their stuff in transforming this Alfa from an over-priced, flawed motor into a true mid-engined gem. Part of the problem might be a too-aggressive diff on the rear axle, which only heightens the madness of the steering, but with a change of negative camber at the front, slightly less firm dampers, wider tyres on the leading wheels and some of the Quadrifoglio know-how sprinkled into the mix, who knows? Maybe this time next year, we'll all be leaning towards Shane's five-star summation, rather than wondering what might have been with the splendid but scary Alfa 4C...

Alternatives:

Audi TTS Roadster: There's a wealth of talented, premium, performance roadsters about, and the TTS, while not the most potent of the Audi line-up, is a better-resolved car than the 4C.

Lotus Elise Sprint 220: This is how you do a lightweight, mid-engined sports car. The Elise might have been around since Noah began building his wooden animal transportation vessel, but it's sublime nonetheless.

Porsche 718 Boxster S: Another midships motor that embarrasses the 4C. The drop to four cylinders has robbed the 718 Boxster of some character, but absolutely none of its glittering handling prowess.


Matt Robinson - 30 Jul 2017









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2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.

2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.2017 Alfa 4C Spider drive. Image by Matt Robinson.








 

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