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
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