First Drive: Alfa Romeo 4C

“Perhaps a little earlier on the brakes there,” calmly suggested my chaperone as I threw the new Alfa Romeo 4C off the tarmac at pretty significant speed.

I’d been invited to the Isle of Man to put the 4C through its paces, although not on the infamous Snaefell Mountain Course. Instead I was given the keys to the newly face lifted Giulietta and told to make my way to the Jurby airfield in the north-west of the island.

After warming myself up on the unrestricted roads that circle the island, I leave the family hatchback and head towards the 4C, resplendent in its traditional red paintwork.

I get there quicker than expected, the 4C being a lot smaller than pictures might lead you to believe. The roof barely rises above my beltline, while the whole car isn’t much longer than a Ford Fiesta. It’s quite a bit wider though, lending it an incredibly aggressive, purposeful stance.

Opening the doors reveals a sill to cross that’s as wide as that found on any supercar, something that starts to make clear its supercar-like construction.

The sill exists to give strength to the carbon fibre structure that sits in the middle of the car, housing you and a load of gubbins, which then has an aluminium structure bolted on at each end. Finally a hybrid steel and aluminium frame supports the 1.75-litre engine just behind the seats. The whole thing weighs in at less than 850kg, which makes even a Lotus Exige look a little plump.

Once you’ve contorted yourself in to place in the cabin you’re presented with a rather bleak dashboard with little in the way of design flair. Two round air vents, a stereo system and some dials for the air conditioning are all that adorn the untrimmed dash (and both can be deleted from the specification), while the gearstick is replaced by a series of buttons to select a drive mode from the twin-clutch automatic gearbox.

Directly ahead, however, is an elaborate digital display that shows a large rev counter surrounded by other essential information. It all changes shape and colour when you change the familiar DNA settings to the Race position.

Launch control is now active, and there’s an empty airfield in front of me.

Hold the brake, press the throttle all the way down, and then release the brake when you’re ready. The car darts forwards, the tiny engine trying hard to push your eyes back in to your head as you hit 60mph in just 4.9 seconds.

The redline approaches rapidly. Grab the paddle shifter on the right of the wheel and the DCT semi-automatic gearbox engages the next gear, and the acceleration continues. From 60 to 100, the lightweight construction allows it to gather pace as well as any of its bigger engine rivals, and even as the screen showed 130mph it was clear there was still more to come.

I couldn’t access more though, as the brake pedal needed some immediate use. The nose dives, despite the stiffer suspension that comes with the £3,000 racing pack fitted to my test model. There’s no weaving, just solid and effective retardation, lap after lap.

Turning in to the corner, the wide track and rigid chassis keeps things very much in check, with a hint of understeer that can be dialled out immediately by the smallest of movements on the throttle. Changing lines mid-corner doesn’t send the back end drifting wide; in fact it’s almost impossible to send the 4C sideways, even when trying hard.

Ride quality remained impressive too, the Alfa gliding reasonably smoothly over the occasional broken surface at Jurby, but then I probably wasn’t concentrating on the ride quite as much as I could have while throwing the 4C from one turn to the next.

In reality, all I was doing was smiling, at least until I overcooked things into the chicane. Coming in way too hot, the tyres chirruped over the rough surface as I scrubbed off as much speed as possible, before electing to ignore the second part of the turn and take to the grass. Ground clearance is a little low, but the 4C technically works off-road…

Pulling back on to the circuit, it seemed like a good excuse to have another go with the launch control. Some would argue that a true manual gearbox would add a level of interaction with the car that’s missing now, but the DCT gearbox is direct and fast acting, and undoubtedly a better option for everyday driving.

Unfortunately it’s that everyday driving area that I couldn’t test out, the 4C being restricted to airfield use during this launch event. All too soon I was thrust back in to the Giulietta, left wondering how good the 4C really is.

On a closed circuit it’s exemplary. That might just be enough for 200 buyers a year in the UK.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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