So this week I had an affair with a petit redhead Italian with curves in all the right places who had all testosterone-laden men panting at the sight of her. She elicited wolf whistles everywhere she strutted her stuff. She is a feisty number, usually hard-edged and uncompromising when the mood takes her.
Interestingly, instead of whispering sweet nothings in my ear, she preferred barking her intentions and, fortunately, I could control her temperament, caressing her heart with my right foot. While that sounds like the opening to a love story, I am in fact referring to the Alfa Romeo 4C — 4 denotes the number of engine cylinders and C is for Competizione — that has spent a few days with the Ignition Live team.
Taking its design inspiration from the 33 Stradale from the 1960s and, most recently, the 8C supercar, the 4C is styled to be pleasing to the eye and has all the design elements that only the Italian marque can execute so eloquently. Featuring a carbon fibre tub monocoque and nothing much more than an engine, transmission and a few strut braces to hold things together, the vehicle weighs just over a ton, although without the aircon and radio which are standard equipment on models destined for SA, the car weighs a paltry 895kg.
The interior is bereft of things such as door handles (using leather straps instead), while the steering wheel has no power assistance in the interest of weight saving and having more direct feedback from the helm. A digital speedometer takes centre stage through the flat bottomed, two-spoke steering wheel. It relays information to the driver, including a swooping, digital rev counter. Even the two pedals are floor mounted in the style of a racecar, while the exposed carbon fibre tub is tastefully done.
Powered by a mid-mounted, 1,750cc turbocharged engine from the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde, the motor has been slightly massaged to push out an additional 4kW and 10Nm to a total of 177kW and 350Nm. These are figures that would not look out of place in a hot hatch, but when taking the light weight of the vehicle into consideration, those numbers offer some delectable performance stats. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a sequential, dual clutch transmission with steering mounted paddles. Fire up the engine and it barks and idles with a throaty sound as an indication of things to come before settling into a peppy idle.
It must be mentioned that due to the relatively high door seals and low seating position, both ingress and egress are manoeuvres that require some pretzel-like body contouring by the driver and passenger. Once settled in, though, the leather covered manually adjustable seats offer decent comfort and cushioning better than that found on the Lotus Elise S for instance — a car I feel shares a great deal of similarity to the 4C, at least in concept.
Engage first gear via a button on the centre tunnel and nose the vehicle onto the road. The first thing imparted to the driver is the uncompromising, almost analogue feel. As mentioned, there is no power steering here so turning the wheel requires a few arm muscles to be flexed. Once accustomed to this and on the move, you tend to get used to the setup, but you are reminded of this anomaly during parking manoeuvres or when attempting a three-point turn.
That said, this thing lusts after coiling roads where its personality and talents begin to shine. Initial turn-in presents a slight hint of understeer, but keep the throttle steady and the steering angle into the desired corner and the front begins to bite and you just squeeze the throttle and blast out of corners with the urgency of a scalded cat. The cabin has little sound deadening material, so engine, road and wind noise are the order of the day. Not that these are criticisms towards the car — in fact, it adds to its hard-edged character.
The cacophony emanating from the engine bay in the form of the turbo spooling up and the dump valve releasing excess boost is but part of the thrills on offer. Even my four-year-old daughter found herself giggling at the theatrics dished up. While dynamic mode via the DNA mapping toggle switch gives you a firm, responsive drive, holding the lever forward for five seconds engages race mode, which neuters the stability and traction control and assumes a more aggressive gear change programme, complete with high pitched bangs, pops and crackles from the exhaust side.
This a precision, purpose-built machine that prefers a racetrack to the rutted roads of Johannesburg with their barrage of speed bumps. To negotiate the latter, one needs to slow right down, engage first gear and proceed slowly over the obstacle. It does get a little tedious should you be in a hurry, though. Even so, there is a charm factor about the 4C that will have the enthusiastic driver overlook any would-be flaws and just embrace the vehicle for what it was built to do.
Then there is the price factor, with many arguing that it buys you a Porsche Cayman S, which is a brilliant sportscar that you can easily live with on a daily basis all the while remaining a hoot to drive. The thing is, there are few cars these days that offer such an unadulterated, almost analogue driving experience as the 4C.
You buy this vehicle simply for the thrills of blasting around a track or the occasional weekend breakfast run and nothing more. If this is up your alley, then it is definitely the car for you, but if you are looking for a more refined proposition at the price, then the Porsche Cayman S is a better bet. Should the introduction of the 4C be a prelude of more exciting and accessible models to come from the stable, then the Alfisti have more reason to rejoice.
Engine: 1,748cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 177kW at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 2,200r/min
0-100km/h: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 258km/h
Fuel consumption: 9.8l/100km Price: R870,000