Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Alfa Romeo 4C

Ready or not, here comes Alfa Romeo—the brand is returning to the U.S. market this year with a single model, this 4C sports car, the production version of which finally has been revealed. Combining winning attributes like a mid-engine chassis layout, rear-wheel drive, ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber construction, and looks that border on sexual, the 4C is properly exotic and oh-so Italian. Whether this is a successful recipe for a car being charged with reintroducing an automaker with a finicky reputation to American consumers remains to be seen, but enthusiasts should be excited. Because while the 4C likely won’t be everyman affordable, Alfa’s more-pedestrian-yet-still-sporty models soon will follow.

Come Si Dice “Save the Manuals” In Italiano?

The 4C first appeared in concept-car form two years ago at the Geneva auto show; the production version will debut at the same venue next month. Almost surprisingly, not much has changed in the car’s transition from show stand to showroom. The 4C’s styling is carried over from the concept seemingly untouched, and the car’s footprint is equally tiny. Alfa says the 4C stretches roughly 157.5 inches (slightly more than 13 feet) from nose to tail; the 4C is wide for its size, spanning 78.7 inches, and its roof sits a stunningly short 46.5 inches above the ground. When the 4C concept was unveiled, the Italian marque claimed a curb weight of less than 1870 pounds through the extensive use of carbon fiber in a structural capacity. Now that the car’s heading into production, Alfa may not be too far off its target weight, as the roadgoing 4C features a chassis made entirely of carbon fiber that serves a “structural function” as well.

Power comes courtesy of Alfa’s 1750 Turbo engine sourced from the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde. Output figures are forthcoming, but the turbocharged, direct-injected 1.7-liter four-cylinder makes 232 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque in the Giulietta hatchback. These figures should carry over to the 4C, although a higher-performance model could pack nearly 270 horsepower. Unfortunately, the only transmission available at launch is Alfa Romeo’s TCT six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

It’s Got Alfa DNA—No, Literally

Of course, Alfa Romeo is touting the 4C’s connection to its glorious sports cars of yore, outlining the car’s familial links to the famous 8Cs and 6Cs gone by. The 4C’s name follows past Alfa naming schemes, combining the number of pistons with the letter C for cilindro. In addition to the baked-in nomenclatural heritage, the 4C also gets the brand’s DNA drive-mode selector, which includes three drive modes: Dynamic, Natural, and All Weather. There’s also a Race mode, which joins the Alfa DNA setup for the first time in the 4C.

It might have Alfa’s genetic code woven throughout, but the 4C won’t be produced in-house, per se. The sports car instead will be assembled at (fellow Fiat-Chrysler Group member) Maserati’s production facility in Modena, Italy. Since we’re fairly positive Maserati isn’t simply clearing out its factory to build only 4Cs from here on out, it’s pretty safe to assume the Alfa won’t be built in large numbers. Leaked details from a European dealer meeting for the 4C suggests that just 2000 4Cs will be made, with the number split evenly between coupes and roadsters.

Pricing has yet to be officially released, but we expect the 4C to hit our shores with a price tag north of $55,000 later this year. That price would put the Alfa Romeo squarely into Porsche Boxster and Cayman territory, but with a much higher exclusivity quotient. Even if it somehow fails to excite with its driving dynamics—that’s a huge if—just look at the thing. The 4C is the four-wheeled equivalent of Mila Kunis draped in barely there lingerie, and we’re willing to bet the Alfa has a better exhaust note.