Review: 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

As predictable as car companies can be - witness the current quest to crossover-all-the-things - every once in a while they can pull a surprise or two seemingly out of thin air. The end result is sometimes polarizing (Nissan CrossCabriolet), sometimes embraced with open arms (the original Dodge Viper), but either way you have to salute the ethos that keeps some engineers and product planners working late into the night on projects that might only have a slim chance of seeing the light of day - projects like the 2017 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.

There's really nothing like the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider currently available from any other automaker - and certainly not at its eye-watering $78,495 MSRP. It's a car that no one asked for, a mid-engine roadster built around a carbon fibre tub and one of the most boisterous turbocharged 4-cylinder engines in the business. It eschews power steering assist in favour of building up your shoulder muscles every time you try to park, it requires that you somehow find a socially acceptable way to lean in over its enormously wide door sills and plop down onto its thinly-padded leather seats, and it demands that you overlook the preponderance of plastic that populates its pricey cabin.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

In a world where carefully-cured high performance experiences have replaced actual driving, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider flies headlong in the other direction.

Oh, and that removable roof panel? Forget using the 4C's miniscule trunk once you've unsnapped the fabric, rolled it up, and stuffed it behind the engine. In short, the Spider is perhaps the most demanding car at its price point should you dare to drive it every day, and one that is facing down several more affordably-priced competitors that don't ask for nearly the same level of sacrifice.

And we absolutely love it.

In a world where carefully-cured high performance experiences have replaced actual driving, the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider flies headlong in the other direction, trailing an enormous sonic wake from its muffler-less exhaust system (a very affordable option that's well worth paying for). This is not to say that the 4C Spider isn't stuffed with high tech goodies - after all, it does feature that previously-mentioned turbo engine, plus a 6-speed automated manual transmission whose dual clutches are actuated via steering wheel-mounted paddles. Rather, the focus from Alfa Romeo has been to leverage innovation so as to improve the experience behind the wheel, rather than turn in the absolute fastest lap times with a minimum of driver involvement.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

The Alfa Romeo rockets to 100 km/h in the neighbourhood of four and a half seconds.

What that means in a track environment, for which the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is ideally suited, is a strong reliance on the natural balance inherent in its mid-engine design. Although not gifted with the supernatural equilibrium of its rival the Porsche 718 Boxster, any deviance from the norm when exiting a corner is quickly corrected by way of the roadster's fantastic manual steering rack. That same leaden rotational mass that is such a burden at the mall comes into its own on a road course by communicating absolutely everything to the driver about what's happening under the front wheels.

A closed circuit is also ideal for persuading the 4C Spider's 1.75-litre motor to stay in boost, which is the best way to experience its 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Above 3,500 rpm the Alfa surges forward with authority, sucking all the air from behind your head as its turbocharger crams nearly 22 psi into the car's intake. If those power figures sound a bit light for a car that looks like a baby exotic, consider the fact that is carbon fibre construction has it weigh in at just over 1,100 kilograms. One of the lightest sports cars on the planet, the Alfa Romeo rockets to 100 km/h in the neighbourhood of four and a half seconds, and its low-mass design philosophy makes it an absolute delight when connecting one apex to the next.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Barely more than a hundred Canadians brought the coupe edition of the Alfa Romeo 4C home last year.

The 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider's race-ready bonafides well established, how does it fare the other 350 days of the year - you know, when you're stuck in traffic, or trying to stuff a load of groceries into its miniature storage cubby, or hoping to get over the speed bumps in the parking lot at work without leaving half the chassis behind on the asphalt? We would argue that the outstanding exhaust note, drop-dead gorgeous styling, and sheer rarity of the car make it an event every time you slip behind the wheel.

But we know we're in the minority here. Barely more than a hundred Canadians brought the coupe edition of the 4C home last year, and the take rate for the roadster seems destined to be similarly scarce. The number of potential buyers who care enough about the Alfa Romeo's throwback attitude towards driver involvement is small to begin with, and once you've subtracted those turned off by the distinct lack of refinement in the 4C Spider's ergonomics and interior trappings as compared to its window sticker - especially in the face of cheaper, faster, and more comfortable options from the Porsche 718 Boxster for example - you're looking at only a handful of potential garage spots for what is one of the most exciting automobiles under $100k.

And really, over-reach on the asking price aside, that says more about us than it does the car, doesn't it?

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

 

ENGINE

1.75-litre 4-cylinder turbo

OUTPUT

237 hp / 258 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION

6-speed dual-clutch automated manual

0-100 KM/H

4.5 seconds

TOP SPEED

257 km/h

FUEL ECONOMY

N/A

WEIGHT

1,120 kilograms (2,465 lbs)

SEATING CAPACITY

2

CARGO VOLUME

N/A

BASE PRICE

$78,495

AS-TESTED PRICE

$87,795

 

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