Alfa Romeo 4C Spider review - better than the coupe, but Alfa's sportster is still flawed
Removeable roof and styling tweaks add a new layer to the 4C's appeal, but the Spider is still a flawed sports car
The Alfa Romeo 4C had a tough introduction to market, it must be said. Heralded as a return of the small, lightweight and relatively affordable sports car, with stunning supercar-in-minature styling underpinned by a carbonfibre-tub chassis and clever powertrain it was everything the enthusiast wanted. It went so far as to be compared to the Lotus Elise, with assistance-free steering and a sub-1000kg kerb weight, but oh how it went so incredibly wrong.
The original 4C coupe, despite all the right ingredients, was so poorly executed that it couldn't hope but be ripped to pieces by both the motoring media and prospective buyers alike. The Spider was Alfa's rebuttal, a heavily revised update that not only partially removed the roof, but also fix the issues many felt made the coupe so disappointing.
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: in detail
- Performance and 0-60 time > Open roof does little to trim the 4C Coupe's brisk performance, though the hot-hatch exhaust note is at odds with the styling.
- Engine and gearbox > Giulietta QV four-pot is retuned for its mid-engined application, features a fruity exhaust and a dual-clutch 'box.
- Ride and handling > Revised settings benefit the Spider's fluidity, but still shares many of the 4C Coupe's foibles.
- Prices, specs and rivals > A price tag £8000 more than the Coupe raises the 4C into Exige S Roadster and Boxster Spyder territory.
- Interior and tech > Simple cabin, but vibrant trim shades and removable roof do improve the ambience.
- Design > Simple changes, including rear buttresses and less bug-eyed headlamps, make the 4C even more visually appealing.
Prices, specs and rivals
The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider starts at £59,500 on the road, which is £8000 more than the coupe. The difference can be accounted for not only in the Spider’s roof arrangement but also the subtle visual changes and the extra equipment inside. Mechanically though it’s identical to the coupe, retaining the turbocharged, 1742cc four-cylinder with its 237bhp and 258lb ft power and torque outputs and six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
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While this layout provides plenty of performance, some buyers might be disappointed that it’s not particularly exotic – £60,459 buys the new Porsche Boxster Spyder with a 3.8-litre, six-cylinder engine that’s more becoming of the price tag.
While the Boxster is heavier than a 4C, its extra 133bhp and 52lb ft of torque ensure it springs to 62mph in the same 4.5sec as the 4C Spider (only with a more mellifluous exhaust note, courtesy of natural aspiration and the extra pair of cylinders) and reaches 180mph.
Another alternative is the brilliant Lotus Exige Sport 350. It’s even more focused than the carbonfibre-tubbed Alfa, but it's a more satisfying drive, even quicker (3.7sec to 60mph, 170mph) and less expensive too, at £55,900. Depending on your level of dedication, you might be less inclined to use it every day (though the 4C’s busy chassis doesn’t make daily driving easy and the Sport 350 is even better than its Exige S forebare), but it ultimately succeeds where the 4C fails.
Early signs are positive that the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is an improvement over the less than impressive 4C Coupe we’ve reviewed previously. Detail changes to the steering and suspension and a change in weight distribution mean that, in standard specification at least, the Spider experience is lighter, less corrupted and more flowing than its coupe equivalent.
It’s still not perfect however, becoming unsettled as the road becomes cambered or the surface broken and vexing with its tardy, boosty throttle response and slow reactions to tugs on the gearshift paddles. The parpy exhaust note is entertaining in moderation, if not as cultured as those of six-cylinder rivals from Porsche (Boxster Spyder) and Lotus (Exige Sport 350), and the styling will always be a highlight.
The Spider’s extra cost over the coupe might deter you, but it’s so far the best version of the 4C we’ve tried. It's just a pity it's not even better.
Avoid the Racing chassis option. For a start, eschewing the upgraded suspension, rear anti-roll bar and uprated front anti-roll bar will save you £1250 (more if you also go without the £1050 racing tyres and £1350 larger alloy wheels), but it’ll also make the 4C just a little more fluid on twisty roads. You might lack the driveway kudos of the 18in front and 19in rear alloys (the standard wheels are 17in up front and 18in at the back), but it helps you work with the chassis a little more and doesn’t punish as harshly on rougher surfaces.
‘The 4C is busy across the road. It finds cambers and ruts that just don’t trouble its rivals, so the unassisted steering tugs this way and that. There’s a responsiveness and a very real sense of rigidity in the tub, but the damping doesn’t allow the car to breathe with the road surface. You find yourself tensing up to keep the car pointing straight, fighting the chunky steering to get it turned in and trying to guess if it’ll oversteer or push on.’ – Dan Prosser, Road test editor (4C Coupe, evo 209)