The comparison is inevitable, so let's cut to the chase. When we behold the all-new 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C, we can't help but think of the dearly departed Lotus Elise. Like the Elise, the 4C is a tiny 2-seat sports car that weighs next to nothing and flits from apex to apex like a water bug on a pond. They both feature mid-engine designs with 4-cylinder power, and they require similar contortions to enter and exit. Even the pricing is similar, with the 4C mirroring the Elise's old $50,000-$60,000 range in base trim.
So we have to ask: Did the world really need another Elise?
Actually, yeah, it did. The Elise was taken off our shelves prematurely due to noncompliance with airbag regulations, and nothing has really come along to replace it. For some driving enthusiasts, there's no substitute for an elemental, featherweight sports car that rides just a few inches off the pavement. Now, they have a new, showroom-fresh option to consider. Indeed, it's easy to argue that the Afla 4C is a marked improvement, what with its high-tech, 7-inch thin-film-transistor (TFT) instrument cluster and ripsnorting 237-horsepower turbo four. There's borderline supercar performance here for the price of a base Porsche Boxster, and that (plus the 4C's alluring Italian looks) should clinch plenty of sales among discerning buyers.
What's New for 2015?
The 4C is an all-new 2-seat sports car.
What We Like
Superstar styling; strong turbocharged acceleration; futuristic TFT instrument panel; track-ready handling; good fuel economy
What We Don't
Negligible cargo space; difficult ingress/egress; busy ride
Every 4C has rear-wheel drive and is powered by a 1.75-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine rated at 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual with launch control.
Fuel economy is an admirable 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.
Standard Features & Options
The 2015 4C coupe is initially offered in a limited-production Launch Edition trim level (500 units only), with the base 4C arriving partway through the model year.
The base 4C ($55,195) comes standard with staggered-width alloy wheels (17-in front diameter, 18-in rear diameter), Brembo brakes, LED running lights and taillights, unassisted manual steering, dual exhaust tips, automatic headlights, air conditioning, power accessories, Alfa's D.N.A. selectable-driving-mode system, a flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum pedals, 4-way manual sport seats, cloth upholstery, and a 4-speaker audio system with USB/iPod, SD-card and Bluetooth connectivity.
The 4C Launch Edition ($69,695) adds commemorative badging, larger alloy wheels (18-in front diameter, 19-in rear diameter), red brake calipers, bi-xenon headlights, a unique front fascia with side air intakes, carbon-fiber side-mirror housings, a carbon-fiber rear spoiler, a sport exhaust, a sport-tuned suspension with special shock absorbers and sway bars, a full-leather interior, carbon-fiber interior trim and a leather storage bag.
Many of the Launch Edition's features are offered as options on the base 4C. A fitted red car cover is a stand-alone option on both trims.
Cargo capacity measures a laughable 3.7 cu ft., and here's why: In a typical mid-engine or rear-engine car (meaning the engine is located aft of the cockpit), there's a front trunk for cargo. In the mid-engine 4C, however, the nose of the car is sealed shut, so the only available storage space is under the hatchback, where the engine lives. The Alfa engineers did manage to carve out a rectangular well between the engine and the rear bumper, but it's only the size of a duffel bag. In other words, remember to pack light if you take your 4C on a road trip.
The Alfa Romeo 4C comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and five airbags (front, side, driver-knee). Rear parking sensors are optional, but the 4C offers no other electronic safety aids.
Behind the Wheel
If you're looking to stay limber, getting into and out of a 4C every day could be just the thing. The low door sills are exceptionally wide -- and slathered with expensive-looking carbon fiber, incidentally. The seats are mounted below the sills and guarded by prominent side bolsters. In short, you typically end up falling into the car. Exiting can be even harder, especially if you have long legs to extract from the deep, narrow footwell under the steering wheel. This process should sound very familiar to those who have driven an Elise, but for everyone else, it'll take some getting used to.
Once you're situated in the driver seat, the 7-in TFT instrument panel is the first thing that jumps out. It's as crisp and colorful as a video game, with a central digital speedometer flanked by auxiliary readouts and encircled by a 7,000-rpm tachometer. The D.N.A. drive-mode indicator -- Dynamic, Natural, All-Weather or the special Race mode -- is at the bottom, with a corresponding selector switch on the center console between the seats. The transmission buttons also live there, and they couldn't be simpler; just press A/M for automatic or manual shifting, and that's about it. Some of the other switchgear, such as the climate knobs, is a bit low-rent, and the stereo faceplate looks aftermarket. But the available full-leather trim certainly dresses up the place.
Driving the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is like go-karting at insane speeds. There's no body roll to speak of and hardly any turbo lag from the willing 4-cylinder engine; all you do is aim the steering wheel and squeeze the throttle, and the inherent goodness of the 4C's stiff, race-inspired chassis takes care of the rest. Around a road course or autocross loop, it's a blast. In the city or at highway speeds, it's frankly rather tiring, especially with the car's inherently limited rear visibility and the optional sport exhaust droning away like an Evinrude outboard motor. But if you're looking for supercar thrills on a budget, the 4C makes a pretty compelling case.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Corvette -- The 'Vette is obviously a lot bigger than the 4C, but it's also a lot more car in some respects. It starts at about the same price.
Porsche Cayman -- Although the Cayman is a veritable luxury coupe compared to the bare-bones 4C, its all-around talents always make it a threat to win the day.
Scion FR-S -- Don't laugh. The stock FR-S outhandles many premium rides, and if you invest in an aftermarket turbo kit, you'll have a sweet-handling, pavement-scorching sports car for far less than the 4C's price of admission.
The 4C isn't for everyone, but its blend of speed and style is arguably unmatched in this price bracket.