Alfa Romeo 4C Spider road test 18 Photos Zoom

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Road Test: A carbon heart and a pounding pulse

If the Alfa 4C driver stows the roof in the boot space and puts his foot down he can enjoy a 237 HP hurricane. Does the 4C in the open-top Spider version also have the standard convertible drawbacks?

Actually, there are nothing but drawbacks when revamping a serious sports car as a convertible. Regardless of how the chassis is reinforced: without a fixed roof the structure is softer. Plus there is the risk of leaks in the rain and in car washes.

Not forgetting the louder wind noise. Would that not be a major reason to put up with all of the drawbacks: without the roof more noise simply streams in; in the case of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider the sound waves slosh around your ears – and compete with the thunderous hurricane-like wind.

The Alfa 4C Spider'smottos is "roof down, sound on"

Even at the presentation of the hard-top version a year and a half ago, we asked ourselves how the regulatory authorities could have given the optional exhaust their seal of approval. In the open-top Spider it all seems to be even more dramatic, as there is no roof to serve as insulating material. The four-cylinder turbo growls, whistles, snorts, neighs and brawls with the limiter. Added to this is the low clearing of its throat when shifting gear under load And when taking your foot off the gas it roars at the top of its voice.

Nowadays its only possible to get more drama from a four-cylinder in a motorcycle or competition car. And the Alfa is actually reminiscent of a Rally car, sounding bigger than its 1,750 cm cylinder capacity would have you expect, mixing metallic aggression with a bassy base tone, and seemingly allows the turbo-charger to vocalise everything that a turbine with outlet valves can utter. More wouldn't be possible. OR at least you think that – until the project manager announces a titanium sports exhaust from Akrapovic at the end of the year and causes disbelieving shakes of the head - this should make the sports car even louder.

The "C" doesn't stand for "cruising"

But even so, after a short period of time the 4C Spider all those that really challenge it into some sort of state of emergency. The stress hormones cortisol and noradrenaline flood the body, the muscles tense up, the temperature increases and the heart pounds. After a few corners the sports car's restlessness gets worse; and then 4C really lays hold of you.

The open-top Spider manages this at a rate of knots, as environmental influences and acoustics impact the driver more directly on account of the lacking filter on top. At 150 km/h the wind is already shouting down the hairs in both ears. In so doing, the 4C could even manage another 100 km/h – and it feels like it could probably manage another 100 decibels. Only those who regularly attend heavy metal concerts without out ear plugs will be used to a similar noise level.

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However, it is not just the flood of sensory stimuli that makes the 4C Spider so special. It is the exchange of blows between man and machine, which has almost died out in modern cars. The technical evolution has polished down drive dynamics edges and resulted in compact cars with a sporty appearance – mind-blowingly fast, easy to drive, but nothing special. The 4C is mind-blowingly fast, not always easy to drive and very, very fast. The only place you can find something similar is at Lotus - but without this lively engine and with an aluminium chassis.

Alfa Romeo on the other hand indulges in a much more expensive monocoque chassis made from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, which at present is strongly limiting production: actual production is far from the 3,500 units per year initially hoped for. Since March 2013 there have been 2,700 orders placed for the coupé, but only 1,400 units have been delivered, 244 of which to Germany.

The weight of the car is over one tonne

On poor road surfaces in particular, only the advantages of the carbon-fibre chassis are evident. The expensive plastic is currently the only way to keep the structure light, yet stable. Whereby the dream value of less than one tonne, which Alfa Romeo states as the unladen weight, describes the vehicle without any liquids.

On-the-road, the Spider weighs well over 1,000 kilograms, 45 kilograms more than the coupé. Eight kilograms are the result of the reinforcement of the chassis, another kilo is provided by the rollover protection concealed in the window frame. The climate-control system that comes as standard in the Spider contributes 15 kg and the newly designed bixenon headlights weigh six kilos more than the much-berated alternatives in the coupé. The soft-top itself incidentally weighs seven kilograms.

Alfa 4C Spider: rigid, strong, fun, expensive

However, the advantage of the carbon technology is strikingly evident: on poor road surfaces there is no rattling, no groaning and no trace of torsion in the 4C Spider – only exciting drive performance. Every bump influences the steering, has the Alfa prowling, roaming, shifting. Anf the driver has his hands full trying to stay on course.

At least now you are part of the concept: its about the driving, nothing but the driving. And in its raw, crude and uncouth form. For there is no power-assisted steering, barely any suspension and very little noise insulation. Here there is very little between the concept and the realisation; few ideas make it onto the road in such radical form. At Alfa Romeo, the battered Fiat subsidiary they do – perhaps with a touch of 'it doesn't matter now anyway' and a great deal of 'now or never' mentality.

Because the 4C drives as radically as it looks, including the Spider version. Because it requires someone willing to really knuckle down at the steering wheel. Because unless on the perfectly level race track it requires permanent steering correction. Because when driven within the limit range it requires alert reflexes. Therefore things start to warm up pretty quickly – and not just your heart. And not just because the Northern Italian sun is shining joyfully through the open-top roof.

The only thing that will permanently cool down your relationship with the 4C Spider is the price: in Germany it is to cost 72,000 Euros.



Hans-Dieter Seufert


28 July 2015
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