It’s got the speed and razor-sharp reflexes of a racecar with just enough leather and luxuries to live with. It talks loudly and carries a big heart, blogs Dan Scanlan. 

A.L.F.A. began in 1910 as “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili in Milan. When Nicola Romeo took over, the name changed in 1920 to Alfa Romeo. Now it’s part of FCA – Fiat Chrysler Alliance – and the first Alfa to hit our shores since the 1990s is a baby exotic like nothing Alfa has made before.

Revealed in 2011 as a Concept, then as a production coupe in 2013, this baby Supercar hit American shores a year ago in a very limited (500) launch edition, followed with the 4C Spider.Think Italian supercar that shrunk in the wash!

The 4C Spider has brio – liveliness, verve, vivacity or just plain spirit. It also has a pure simplicity accompanied by a visceral rawness. Mounted midway in the carbon fiber chassis is an all-aluminum 1.7-liter dual intercooled, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, below, paired to an Alfa TCT (twin-clutch transmission) and DNA selector with four drive modes. Our 2,337-pound car had the optional racing exhaust, which keeps catalytic converter, removes the muffler and ends in dual exhaust tips. It barks on start-up and snarls, even at low revs. I set off a new Mustang car alarm when I started up next to it! The Alfa sounds best on  twisting roads with up-and downshifts sweetened by the exhaust snarl and crackle and turbo whistle. 

DNA stands for the Dynamic, Natural or All-weather modes that the engine and TCT can be set to. The gearshifts are designed to become most aggressive in the Dynamic and Race modes, as quick as 130 milliseconds at full throttle. The clutch acts like a manual, holding you in place until you add gas. It has a two-second hill-holder for easier starts on an incline.

All-weather sets up gentler accelerator input and engine. It still spins fast to its 6,500-rpm redline with lightning-quick up-shifts accompanied by an exhaust “blaat!,” then a neat throttle blip on clean downshifts. Switch to Natural, and more engine comes on line as exhaust snarls more. Dynamic is a more aggressive powertrain calibration with a bit less stability/traction control and even faster shifts in the boost as well as a serious snarl. It also adds a turbo boost and oil pressure display to the red-tinged digital dashboard. It’s quick – 60-mph in 4.9 seconds and 100-mph in 10.9 seconds. Play hard like we did, and 20-mpg is it – only about 200 miles range, so we had to fill up on premium a few times.

For real emotion, hold the alloy DNA switch for five seconds and it’s in Race mode. Stability and anti-slip regulation are de-activated as the driver has to paddle shift. Launch control can be activated – left-foot-brake as you gas it to a bit over 3,500-rpm, then tap the left paddle shift and release as the engine hits 5,600-rpm. That gave us 60-mph in a neck-snapping 4.1 seconds, the rears leaving twin rubber stripes before hooking with a wail/whistle/whoomp from exhaust and turbo at each razor-fast shift. Alfa says this little coupe delivers 1.1-g of lateral acceleration and 1.25-g of maximum braking deceleration. Some notes – the paddle shifters are tiny and a bit bendy at the tips. And in stop-and-go driving, clutch take-up can be a bit jerky.

The 4C rides on a front double wishbone suspension, with a rear MacPherson set-up. For North America, stiffer springs, larger front and rear sway bars and re-tuned shock absorbers. The result is a very firm feel that gets a bit jittery on bad pavement. Rebound is short and very quick, almost harsh at the limit. This really isn’t a relaxed commuter. It’s very precise steering rack requires attention on bumpy pavement. The 4C Spider follows every groove on a highway as well as asphalt patch edges. But there’s great feedback on a smooth road. The entire structure was stiff and creak-free.

With a 41/59 weight balance, engine in the middle, low center of gravity and Pirelli P-Zeros with 3,000 miles on them all-round, our 4C Spider grabbed each corner, played with it and eagerly headed to the next. The car corners flat, front tires talking when we pushed hard in the skid pad, but never going wide. Add gas as you exit a turn and it just pulls its way out, the tail kicking out just a tad, then a quick flick of the wheel and a minute gas adjustment naturally tucks it into line. The car loved to be thrown around and asked for more.

The TCT would sometimes upshift into a turn, or downshift out when I’d rather it stay put, so I’d tap it into manual to hold the gear. Manual steering fits in with the lightweight, simple nature, quick at a 15.7:1 ratio. But it’s a workout parallel parking. This is a car that asks for both hands on the wheel at speed. The four self-ventilating perforated discs with Brembo four-piston aluminum calipers in front stopped us time and time again short and straight with no fade and immediate brake engagement.

Alfa Romeos old and new have been identified by one design – the “Trilobo” grill. The 4C Spider has the most modern interpretation – a black mesh-filled triangle with hood lines that flow off the triangle’s edges and wide-mouthed intakes to cool the radiator. Those rising flared rear fenders join the flowing buttresses off the targa bar to give this mid-engine exotic a serious dose of Italian supercar.

Low-profile Pirelli P-Zero rubber lives on all four corners – P205/40ZR18-inch in front and P235/35ZR19-inch in back, living on 10-spoke dark graphite gray alloy wheels. Cross-drilled vented disc brakes with red “Alfa Romeo” calipers are easy to see. There’s a carbon fiber air intake on the driver’s-side sill to cool the gearbox. The sweptback windshield frame is carbon fiber for added stiffness in the topless Spider vs. the coupe’s alloy frame. 

A taut black cloth targa-style center section is water-tight. It rolls up and fits in the 3.7-cubic-foot trunk, filling half of it. Alfa says the Spider is about 20 pounds heavier than the Coupe, just as stiff and with the same body shape bar some changes. While the whole shape consciously echoes one of Alfa’s most beautiful cars – the ‘67 Tipo 33 Stradale – the round taillights with twin LED rings and that lip spoiler are the most direct styling cue to that rare (only 18 made) racecar. The belly of this bambino is clad for smooth underbody airflow.

The 4C gets a racecar-like hand-laid carbon fiber monocoque chassis that weighs 236 pounds with aluminum suspension and engine supports fore and aft. You step over wide glossy carbon fiber door sills, duck and drop down into composite-framed, thinly-padded high-back red leather buckets that are supportive and comfortable enough. More carbon fiber flows up the center console, rear bulkhead and door sills. 

Alfa’s 4C Spider gets lots of leather with double red stitching on the dash and doors, even a classic leather door pull. More stitching frames the Alpine stereo with just enough power out of four speakers to be heard over wind noise and engine snarl. There is a USB and MP3 audio input cable tucked into the pocket that passes for a glove box under the passenger dash. There are no armrests, but two slitted leather boxes outboard of the seats hold a smartphone.

It’s a tight cockpit, my driver’s seat pushed all the way back so I had leg room. There’s less leg room for the passenger and no seat height adjustment for either. The flat-bottom, fat-rimmed, leather-clad steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but never got high enough to see the top of the seven-inch color digital driver information display in a carbon fiber pod. It has a digital speedometer and a 7,000-rpm (6,500-rpm redline) tach ringing it.

The slim center console hosts the gear selector – neutral, first, reverse or manual/automatic shifting – as well as the DNA drive mode select switch. Top on and windows up, we heard some wind noise from the mirrors and roof. Top off and windows down, wind buffeting was livable and the engine was always heard with wind noise. Rear vision is a slit. The tiny trunk gets a bit warm aft of the engine, and is tiny – there’s a tire repair kit because there’s no room for a spare.

The Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe starts at $53,900, while the Launch Edition starts at $68,400. Our white 4C Spider started at $63,900 with a $1,300 convenience group; $2,500 dark gray 18-inch front/19-inch rear alloy wheels, $1,000 Xenon headlights, $500 racing exhaust, $300 carbon fiber instrument bezel and $300 red brake calipers, for a total $71,895. Alfa’s 4C Spider is a go-kart for adults with the speed and razor-sharp reflexes of a racer, plus leather and luxury. It’s one helluva ride!

For more information on the latest sports cars from Alfa Romeo, please visit https://www.alfaromeousa.com/