First Drive: Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione
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Less than a year out from its return to the U.S., Alfa Romeo has developed a new flagship whose launch will coincide with the revival of the Biscione shield in the world’s largest car market. Development of a high-end niche model like the new 8C Competizione is a risky move for any carmaker, let alone a rejuvenated brand like Alfa Romeo, but with order books filled up and a general consensus that the new 8C is one of the most stunning vehicles in production, it appears Alfa’s gamble has paid off.
Despite being called the ‘Competizione,’ the new Alfa Romeo coupe is more of a grand tourer than an extreme sports car capable of keeping up with the likes of Ferrari and Porsche around a track. Beneath its beautiful carbon-fiber body - its lines evoking memories of Alfa’s glorious race cars of the past - lies a mechanical package borrowed from Maserati’s own GranTurismo coupe. This means there’s a front-mounted V8 engine sending drive to the rear wheels via a two-piece driveshaft and a self-locking rear differential, a set-up that’s sure to satisfy those who love an engaging drive but will undeniably give up some comfort when driving around town.Interior and Styling
As exciting as the car is to drive, the 8C Competition provokes just as many emotions when standing still. Its gorgeous body, penned by designers at the Alfa Romeo Style Centre, gives the new coupe an instant classic feel and ensures it will remain one of the most beautiful cars on the planet for some time to come. Like the exterior, the cabin is the epitome of refinement and style. Premium materials like leather, aluminum and carbon-fiber are scattered throughout the cabin and constitute a good mix between elegance and athleticism.
Two carbon-fiber buckets covered in sumptuous red leather provide plenty of support but are adjustable only with manual controls. Mounted to the steering column are two sizeable aluminum paddles used for shifting gears, while on the center dash lie buttons for reverse, auto and sport modes.
Despite its performance car credentials, the 8C always remains very practical. The only limit to its usability is the less than average visibility, both up front and in the rear. The car’s low seating position and long hood makes it difficult to know where exactly its snout ends, while the slanted rear window severely limits the visibility out back.Technical
Under the carbon-fiber front hood lays an aluminum V8 engine sourced from Maserati, a similar unit to the one found in the GranTurismo. Like the Maserati bent-eight, the new engine is also based on an original Ferrari design, but its displacement is bumped up from 4.2L to 4.7L. Output rises from 400hp to 450hp at 7,000rpm and peak torque rises from 460Nm at 4,250rpm in the Maser to 470Nm in the new Alfa supercar. Continuous variable valve timing on the intake camshafts and optimization of the combustion chamber and engine calibration means that 80% of this torque is available from as low as 2000rpm. The engine’s distinct sound, meanwhile, is courtesy of the electronically controlled exhaust system, which features small valves that modify the flow of gases.
Alfa engineers have stuck with the familiar transaxle mounted gearbox, giving the car a well-balanced feel. By installing the gearbox up back, the engine could be mounted closer to the firewall and in turn improves weight distribution. Shift times for the six-speed semi-automatic gearbox can be customized using a pair of levers mounted behind the steering wheel.
For the suspension, designers went with a double wishbone layout with forged aluminum components. The lightweight metal is also used for the brake calipers and 20in alloy wheels, with chunky perforated and ventilated discs used to bring the coupe to a stop.On the track
The sound of the engine is very determined and involving, and after pressing the ‘Sport’ button, it evokes a rumble that can rival even the noblest V8s from Maranello. Power delivery is very progressive, with prompt throttle response offered from the get-go. Shift up a gear and the engine lets off a bark before the motor engages and you’re shoved back into the soft leather, the low-end torque doing its job superbly.
The engine’s flexibility allows us to concentrate more on the handling of the car, which benefits from the fast response of our steering inputs. Our only gripe is the light feel of the steering, once again adding to the sense that this is more of a comfortable GT rather than a hardcore track special. The chassis’ superb balance keeps the car in line around curves but ease of the throttle too much and the coupe will begin to understeer. Alfa Romeo’s VDC stability control will cut in when things get too rough but we were surprised at just how hard we could push it before the nanny system steps in.
Firm suspension ensures minimal pitch and roll around corners and, despite this, ride comfort was pleasant although we were only able to test it over the test circuit’s smooth tarmac and not the pockmarked surfaces of the surrounding roads. There’s plenty of grip from the 285mm tires but getting them to slide, even with traction control turned on, doesn’t take much effort.First impressions
To express a definitive judgment on the new Alfa super-coupe after just an initial drive on Fiat’s test track would be unjust but our initial feeling is that it’s not too dissimilar to the sporting GTs from Maserati. The car is still blisteringly quick, no doubt quicker than any Alfa model in recent history, but it’s more attuned to easy driving than being a race winner.
Only 500 coupes are scheduled to enter production and already there are more than 1,200 orders in Alfa’s books, so, unless you’ve already got a deposit down, your chances of getting one into your garage are next to nil.First drive: Alfa Romeo 8c