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2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Kirk Bell June 2015

Getting into the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider requires knowledge of basic yoga techniques. Inside, it's cramped and loud, and drivers are subjected to a harsh ride and old-time manual steering that demands upper-body strength. The price of admission is also higher than most middle-class annual salaries. It's not easy to own or drive this car, but it's the most difficult car you will ever love.

A Lot Like the Coupe

The roadster version of the 4C coupe, the 4C Spider comes standard with a cloth top, and two hardtops are optional. All versions take a few minutes to remove or install. The design is very much like the coupe's, except for the top, B pillars and rear deck.

Like supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren, the 4C Spider is built on a carbon-fiber tub with the engine mounted behind the driver. The front and rear subframes are aluminum, and the body panels are composite plastic. This structure is so stiff that the Spider needs no additional bracing to retain the coupe's structural rigidity. The only notable change Alfa Romeo made was forming the windshield frame from carbon fiber to make it sturdier. All told, the Spider weighs 2,487 pounds, just 22 more than the coupe.

Pure Sports Car

The reason buyers will love the 4C Spider is its purity. The car is so basic that it doesn't even have power steering, which is a blessing and a curse. The steering is very stiff from a stop, firm but rock steady at speed and absolutely connected to the road. Enthusiasts will love the quick responses and feedback, but most drivers will find the steering too tiring for everyday use.

We piloted the 4C Spider on California's Highway 1 and on the legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The car performed like it was born for the track. It attacks corners with almost no body lean, the Brembo brakes provide right-now stopping power and the light weight allows the relatively skinny tires to provide an impressive 1.1 G's of lateral grip. When the tires do give up traction, the car simply slides sideways instead of plowing forward or overrotating, and it's easy to rein in. Electronic aids help maintain the car's path, but they prefer to let the driver do the work. When you run the DNA selector in Dynamic mode, stability control rarely intervenes (we never detected it), and Race mode shuts it off entirely.

While the handling is brilliant, the ride is not. With little suspension travel, the 4C pounds over bumps and bounces over seams on the freeway. The Track package's stiffer suspension and larger wheels only make it worse.

Small Engine, Lots of Willpower

Residing under the rear deck is a turbocharged 1.75-liter 4-cylinder that produces 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This tiny engine has lots of willpower, with more torque on tap at low rpm than expected. It also makes cool sounds, letting out a raspy note and sucking in air with a hiss during acceleration while emitting a satisfactory sound between shifts. The only flaw is noticeable turbo lag. Get the revs up, however, and this little mill is downright quick, vaulting the car from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds on its way to a top speed of 160 mph.

The lone transmission is a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Shifts are especially quick and crisp in the Dynamic or Race modes, but on the track, we found it left a few rpm on the table. In Dynamic mode, we occasionally had to manually downshift to tap into the most power when exiting turns. The alternative is to shift manually, which is quite easy through the steering-wheel paddles.

Cramped and Purposeful Cabin

The 2-passenger interior is a place made for performance driving and little else. It's easier to get into than the coupe, but it's still quite difficult. The car feels cramped due to tight shoulder room, and occupants have nowhere to put their elbows. While the seats are supportive, their light padding allows the lower seat frames to dig into occupants' hips.

The dash and door panels are wrapped in leather, creating a slightly upscale look, though this cabin is still pretty Spartan. Entertainment options are limited to a basic radio and Bluetooth connectivity. Good luck making a call, though, as engine and road noise will intrude on conversation.

Bottom Line

The 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is a better choice than the coupe because the car loses no rigidity by removing the top, and drivers can experience the joy of open-air motoring. For most buyers, a more livable sports car such as the Chevrolet Corvette or Porsche Boxster will be a better choice, but for those who truly love driving, this is the purest sports car available today.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: First Drive Review - Autotrader