LIFT THE LID

MADE OF CAR­BON FI­BRE AND CUTE AS A BUT­TON, ALFA ROMEO’S 4C SPI­DER IS THE SWEET­EST THING UN­DER SIX FIG­URES, WRITES

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - W - STEPHEN CORBY

uying a Fer­rari is a wor­thy life goal, but with prices bump­ing half a mil­lion dol­lars it is a lofty one — which makes the idea of a Faux-rrari, such as Alfa Romeo’s beau­ti­fully Ital­ianate 4C Spi­der, very at­trac­tive in­deed.

We re­cently asked a Fer­rari de­signer what he thought of the sleek and slightly Pranc­ing Horse 4C con­vert­ible’s styling, and he looked as if he’d had his tongue tied with wasabi string, be­fore ad­mit­ting he liked it very much, even if it is “a lit­tle im­ma­ture” in its de­sign.

The con­nec­tion be­tween the two brands is un­de­ni­able, as they both sit un­der the gi­ant Fiat Chrysler um­brella, but it’s made even closer by the fact that the 4C is hand built at Fer­rari’s sis­ter com­pany Maserati’s fac­tory in Mo­dena, right in the heart of Italy’s su­per­car coun­try (see our story on page 94).

De­spite its time-con­sum­ing and no doubt ex­pen­sive con­struc­tion pro­cesses, and the fact that its chas­sis is en­tirely made of car­bon fi­bre — the diamond stan­dard of mo­tor­ing, much beloved of F1 cars and for­merly space shut­tles — Alfa Romeo is strongly tipped to bring this slightly shrunken pranc­ing Shet­land pony to mar­ket in Aus­tralia for just $99,000.

There is sim­ply no other sub-six-fig­ure car that will turn as many heads as this de­sir­able drop-top does, par­tic­u­larly on the roads in Italy, where we were pho­tographed, videoed and no doubt In­sta­grammed con­stantly by wildly grin­ning lo­cals.

De­spite us­ing an en­gine that’s smaller than a Toy­ota Corolla’s, the 4C Spi­der boasts im­pres­sive per­for­mance, with a 0-to-100km/h sprint of 4.5 sec­onds and a top speed of 275km/h. Be ad­vised, though, that at­tempt­ing this kind of speed with the roof down would leave you both deaf and sport­ing the kind of hair­style early Amer­i­can set­tlers were given by the tom­a­hawk-wield­ing in­hab­i­tants.

With the roof on, the Alfa is buzzy, barky and shouty enough; but peel the roof away from both sides, roll it up like a leath­ery rug (prefer­ably with the help of a friend) and stow it in the boot and you’re invit­ing the kind of wind rush into the cabin that makes you think wear­ing a hel­met might not be a bad idea. If you keep it be­low 80km/h, you can just about hear the strangely retro Alpine stereo sys­tem weep­ing tears of fail­ure as it at­tempts to out-shout the noise.

On the plus side, drop­ping the roof does fix one fail­ing of the orig­i­nal 4C coupe, which sounds bet­ter from the road­side than from in­side the tiny cock­pit. The Spi­der lets all that de­li­cious ex­haust bur­ble in there with you, and it re­ally sings as you pile on the revs.

This is no mean feat for a 1.75-litre en­gine, with just 177kW and 350Nm, but mak­ing a lot out of not much is this car’s party trick. A kerb weight of just 1128kg (up just 10kg from the coupe, be­cause the car­bon-fi­bre frame is so strong it re­quired very lit­tle strength­en­ing when los­ing its roof, un­like most con­vert­ibles) means this tiny power plant is more than enough to get your at­ten­tion in a straight line.

The race-car-like chas­sis, as stiff and un­bend­ing as Bron­wyn Bishop, means you’re also driv­ing some­thing that sits per­fectly flat through corners and changes of di­rec­tion. The non-power-as­sisted, old-school steer­ing di­vides opin­ions, how­ever, with many ex­perts find­ing it life­lessly light on feed­back and yet overly heavy at the same time. It’s best de­scribed as an ac­quired taste.

The 4C’s one gen­uine fail­ing, which both the coupe and Spi­der ver­sions share, is the gear­box. This would be a far more en­joy­able car with a man­ual trans­mis­sion, but sadly it’s only avail­able with the kind of flap­py­pad­dled auto that sim­ply re­fuses you down­shifts at times, and beeps at you in re­buke if you get too en­thu­si­as­tic with your driv­ing.

Like a Fer­rari, though, there is much that is unique about this sporty lit­tle Alfa, and it has many fans, with plenty of Aus­tralian 4C coupe own­ers slap­ping down the money for a Spi­der to share space in the garage. A cruel per­son would sug­gest that this is so at least one of them will be work­ing at any given time, but it is per­haps time to bury the tired old jokes about Ital­ian re­li­a­bil­ity and build qual­ity.

Watch­ing this hi-tech lit­tle won­der come down the line in Mo­dena, it seems won­der­fully anachro­nis­tic to see hu­mans rather than robots do­ing most of the work. Not far away, in Maranello, they build cars the same way, and with the same ex­otic amounts of car­bon fi­bre.

The Spi­der may not be a Fer­rari — and in­deed it wouldn’t see which way the new 488 GTB went, even on a clear day, but there’s much about it that looks and feels al­most as spe­cial. And at $99,000, that’s a gen­uine bar­gain.

The Alfa Romeo 4C Spi­der only comes with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, but it cer­tainly turns heads

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