2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider – Unfiltered Driving At Its Best

by Lawana Perkins | Posted on Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

We exist in a world of pervasive screens and connectivity and touch interfaces. In that world, almost everything we do is intermediated, filtered and converted through layers of ones and zeros. In fact, in the not too distant future, it’s likely that many if not most of us will never actively drive a car again. Fortunately, we’re not quite at that final place yet and there remain a handful of virtually unfiltered driving experiences like the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Unless you’re a hardcore auto enthusiast, chances are pretty good you don’t know anything about the 4C and even if you do read car magazines from cover to cover every month, you’ve probably never seen one on the road. In the two years since the 4C marked the rebirth of the Alfa Romeo brand in North America, just over 1,000 examples have been sold. Fewer customers have driven off in a 4C than even the slow-selling Dodge Viper which is about to be discontinued and that’s a damn shame because I’d hate to see this spicy Italian fade away prematurely.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider (photo credit: Sam Abuelsamid)

I was fortunate enough to spend an early autumn week with a 2016 4C Spider that coincided perfectly with the end of a period of heavy rains and an upturn in the temperatures. Thus my first action was to remove the roll-up fabric roof panel and stow it away in the boot where it stayed for most of the next week.

I’ve never actually had the opportunity to drive an actual open-top Elise, but I have experienced two of its siblings, the fixed roof Exige 260S and battery-powered Tesla Roadster. While the Alfa retains the raw, minimalist nature of its English analogs, it nonetheless benefits from some of the 20 years of technology developments that came between their births. Lotus pioneered new techniques for creating automotive structures using aluminum extrusions and adhesive bonding, some of which is now in high-volume production in Ford pickup trucks.

Alfa opted for a carbon-fiber composite structure similar in nature to what you find in McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari hypercars that cost from hundreds of thousands to more than $1 million. With a starting price for a 4C coupe of just $56,000, the only other carbon fiber car that costs less than six figures is the electric BMW i3.

Like the Elise and Exige models that were exported to the U.S. market in the 2000s, the Alfa is also powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, in this case one with Fiat roots. The aluminum 1.7-liter takes advantage of the latest technologies like like continuous variable valve timing and high-pressure direct-injection. The result is 237-horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Rather than the manual gearboxes used in the Lotus cars, Alfa Romeo has paired its engine with a six-speed dual clutch transmission with paddle shifters that give this car the feel of a modern race car rather than one from the 1970s.

Note that I’ve referenced the Tesla Roadster several times in this review. Given Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s past comments about how much money is lost on every Fiat 500e sold, perhaps he should consider a new EV based on the 4C platform. Stuff about 60 kWh of lithium ion battery in place of the turbo four and a little AC motor and this could easily be the stillborn Dodge Circuit EV.  The 4C Spider starts at $66,000 and the options on my tester brought it to about $72,000. With batteries now down to about $300/kWh, a 60-kWh 4C could still come in under $100,000 making it cheaper than the Roadster was when new. Of course it would be missing stirring soundtrack of this version, but in California, an electric variant might just outsell the gas model. I’m just sayin’.

For me, I’ll continue to treasure the visceral appeal of unfiltered, manual driving for as long as I can. If I ever have any grandkids, they may never have the chance.

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