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Review: Alfa Romeo 4C’s faults make for endearing ride

Larry Printz
Tribune News Service

Want to buy a new car that’s both exclusive and a bargain?

To create the ultra-lightweight architecture needed for maximum performance and dynamic efficiency, Alfa Romeo 4C engineers looked to Formula 1 and only the most advanced supercars for state-of-the-art materials. The result is a monocoque made entirely of carbon fiber that delivers extraordinary stiffness and strength.

Alfa Romeo has your answer: the 4C Spider.

Where else can you buy a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car built with a carbon fiber monocoque tub for less than six figures? And, oh yeah, it’s powered by a direct-injected, intercooled, turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine that’s paired to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Weighing less than 2,500 pounds, this little roadster scoots to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. And it certainly sounds fast, with its evil snarl barking and rasping its evil intent. The problem is there’s no way to calm it, which can be a nuisance to your neighbors when you’re leaving your cul-de-sac at 6 a.m. Just remember, you were warned.

Available as a coupe or convertible, the Alfa Romeo 4C was not bred to be boring.

It also looks unlike most cars on the road. It’s not some overfed, bulky suburban crossover. Nor is it some sleek sedan trying its best to look sporty rather than the sedate slug that it is. Instead, the 4C looks exotic and it is.

The Spider was not bred to be boring. It is a performance machine, one that’s filled with issues that turn off the majority of car buyers.

For openers, just try getting into the car. It’s low. And while falling into the seat is the easy part, getting out is much trickier, especially for those with long legs. Once inside, you’re greeted by firmly bolstered-but-flat bucket seats sheathed in beautiful leather. The instrument panel is as well, although the plastics used are surprisingly flimsy. It’s too easy to activate the turn signal when all you want to do is turn on the high beams.

At the front of the center console are four transmission buttons: first gear, neutral, reverse and one for switching between automatic and manual mode. There is no park gear; just put the car in neutral and set the enormous parking brake lever. There are also two cup holders that are best used for holding smaller items as there is no glove box, only a small cubby near the driver’s right shoulder.

You’ll find other things absent as well. There’s no automatic climate control, or infotainment screen with navigation, or cruise control, or driver assistance electronic safety nannies, or rear backup camera, or power seats, or power steering.

Yes, you read that right: no power steering. This makes maneuvering the car either excessively challenging or the best upper body workout you’ll get outside of a gym. The trick, of course, is to get the car rolling before you gave to turn the wheel.

The 4C is driven by an all-aluminum 1750 cc turbocharged and intercooled engine with dual (intake and exhaust) continuous variable-valve timing (VVT) that delivers 237 horsepower.

The 4C Spider also lacks a muffler, and its cabin lacks carpet or any other form or sound insulation, ensuring you won’t hear the Alpine sound system. It’s just as well. It doesn’t sound very good anyway and features impossibly Lilliputian buttons and a USB connector that loosely dangles down from under the instrument panel.

This may sound dreadful, but it’s the 4C’s imperfections that make it so endearing.

This welterweight is one big mess of hysterically fun immediacy, with razor quick steering, a torquey powerplant and short gear ratios that burp out the shifts instantaneously. Clearly this is a car that demands driver involvement. Its suspension — double-wishbones up front with rear struts and a rear aluminum subframe — keep the car flat in corners, although it will wander off on it own as it follows a crowned road surface. This might call for some corrective measures, but it merely adds to the joy of driving this alert, alive sports car. Similarly, the brakes require some heft to actuate and pedal travel is short, but they work splendidly.

Working less splendidly was the soft top, which leaked a massive flow of air through the header, making the cabin that much noisier while proving the effectiveness of the climate control system.

The 4C’s instrument panel is sheathed in beautiful leather.

The snug driving pit amplifies every sensation, making you feel as if you’re strapping on a car and readying to take off. And in fact, you are.

It’s relatively easy to find a sports car that’s safely sanitized of sensations, polished to an illusionary sheen of performance. What’s harder is to find one that truly tests and challenges the driver, drawing them into the act of driving while delivering an experience that reminds you of why you enjoying driving cars in the first place. It frees your mind and spirit, rendering that psychiatrist you visit unnecessary.

Available as a coupe or convertible, the Alfa Romeo 4C is not just a car, it’s therapy, and way less expensive than a lifetime of medical bills, not to mention a lot more fun.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Base prices: $55,900-$65,900

Engines: 1.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Horsepower: 237

Torque: 258 pound-feet

Fuel type: Premium

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 24 mpg/34 mpg

Wheelbase: 93.7 inches

Length: 157 inches

Cargo capacity: 3.7 cubic feet

Curb weight: 2,465-2,487 pounds