I drove the 4C from San Francisco to Sonoma Raceway, for the best taste yet of Alfa’s latest. With training wheels put on its tougher corners--seriously, a whole downhill passage of car-rotating esses cut from the program--Sonoma still found a way to pan for the 4C's handling gold, and a little of the accompanying dust.
The 4C has some incredibly talented challengers in its price class in the Porsche Cayman, the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, even the Chevy Corvette and Jaguar F-Type. It's a murderer's row.
The Alfa carves out its own niche with a body closer than any of those to supercar standards. The body is wrapped around a tub made from carbon fiber, slow-baked sheets instead of fibers molded into resin. No big thing, but that's kind of how they make the LaFerrari.
Power comes from a direct-injected and turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. There's a lot of racket to be spooled up here--a leafblower thrum about a foot behind and to the left of your ear that honestly sounds a lot better from the outside of the car. Also, that may not seem like a lot, but each of those horses has just 10.3 pounds to carry, derived from its final curb weight of about 2,495 pounds--heavier than Euro-spec thanks to standard air conditioning and airbags.
Launch control mode is accessed through the six-speed twin-clutch's shift paddles, but at this weight and size, every launch feels like it needs some control. Rip out of the pits, nip off the edge of the left-hander under the bridge, and even uphill, the little Alfa's 0-60 times pegged at four and a half seconds feel easily within reach. It kicks out a raucous howl when the Race Exhaust option kicks off the muffler, letting its bratty side run wild. Alfa Romeo boasts about the engine's ‘scavenging control system’ that it says eradicates any turbo lag, but it doesn't act that way. The lag's still there, on the street and on Sonoma's tighter corners, basically anywhere it's not wound out in a way that would attract calls to 911.
The rear-drive 4C comes only with a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. If you’re missing a true stick shift, you’re missing the point—the 4C’s dual-clutch works really well on this track and on the street, where a manual would erase the little bit of room available in the pedal box. The cockpit would be a festival of flying elbows. The twin-clutch is almost perfect--and picks up the shift pace via a “DNA” switch that alters its ego and gauge colors from dynamic (red), to natural (grey), to all-weather (blue) shift and throttle settings.There's also the yellow-screen Race mode that turns off the stability control, but that’s not a great idea on a fast track with a mid-engine car on oversized tires.
I do it anyway for a couple of laps. The Alfa's ride and handling are meant for times and places like this, where the lightweight aluminum suspension and tires have room to work and play. The setup features double wishbones in front and MacPherson struts in the back--a Dodge Dart suspension flipped 180 degrees is conceptually similar, but the Alfa's stiffer aluminum pieces and substantially different geometry don't feel like distant cousins. Even over the Golden Gate Bridge's juddery expansion joints, the 4C's ride was more than tolerable.
Outfitted with the Track package's stiffer anti-roll bars and shocks, the 4C just sits and sticks through Sonoma's small half-carousels. It only feints a breakaway when the weight's transferring all up front and you're for some reason still into the brakes. Which you shouldn't be. I write that one on my cortex, for future reference.The manual steering is a workout. It lightens up beautifully at speed, but in low-speed corners, it takes a lot of muscle and more wheel turning to screw into a corner properly. The 15.7:1-ratio steering is no darty piece like an Exige. You can brace an elbow on a door panel to keep the line around Sonoma's widest, longest right-hander.
The brakes are made by Brembo, four-pistoned and vented in front. The tires are staggered; stocks are Pirelli P Zero ARs, 205/45ZR-17 front, 235/40ZR-18 rear--a three-season setup, winter not welcome--or 205/40ZR-18 fronts, 235-35ZR-19s in back, the standard setup on Launch Edition 4Cs. The stopping power is ferocious, but on the street and on Sonoma, the 4C's brake pedal felt hard and a little tough to modulate, not a lot of travel to it.
Those are minor flaws, forgivable ones. After a few laps, you can’t help but get hot and heavy with this car. It’s an intimate relationship for sure—though it’s also one that’s really hard to keep on the down low.