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Alfa Romeo 4C review: A snarling high-tech response to boring Silicon Valley car design

Jon Phillips | March 24, 2015
Sometime in late February, right when so many tech journalists were debating the merits of the presumptive Apple Car, I was careening through Marin County switchbacks in the Alfa Romeo 4C, and thanking the car gods for a snarling, stupid-fast Italian exotic that's actually difficult to drive.

Sometime in late February, right when so many tech journalists were debating the merits of the presumptive Apple Car, I was careening through Marin County switchbacks in the Alfa Romeo 4C, and thanking the car gods for a snarling, stupid-fast Italian exotic that's actually difficult to drive.

The 4C starts at $54,000 but looks like a $250,000 Ferrari to the untrained eye. It's 100 percent dedicated to high-performance driving, and flicks a defiant me ne frego at any thoughts of civility, sensibility, and social responsibility. It's louder than you want it to be. It's ergonomically screwed. And it fidgets over crappy road surfaces so badly, you'd think Alfa replaced the car's suspension bushings with zip ties.

But for all its impolite behavior, the Alfa Romeo 4C is also packed with technology — technology that stands in stark contrast to the battery-powered propulsion and robot driving aids so routinely hyped by today's technology press.

Sure, the nerd in me applauds the forward march of technology. But Tesla's electric motors lack soul, BMW's self-parking cars will make dumber drivers of us all, and Google's so-called driverless cars are untenable in today's legal and roadway infrastructures. And on top of this, I'm supposed to give a damn about 4G hardwired to my minivan dashboard?

So save your futurist techno-babble, Elon Musk. Take your pleasure cruiser and leave, Mercedes-Benz. None of this is car tech for people who actually love cars.

And so we have the 4C. It's a high-tech car that rejects the hottest automotive tech trends, and even flouts convention in the performance car space. It's not the car I'd buy for either public roads or track days, but its story should impress tech-minded car enthusiasts in a meaningful way.

Let carbon fiber lead the way

You can count me among the meaningfully impressed, as the 4C adopts the design philosophy of the Lotus Elise, a car in which I've logged some 100-plus driving sessions on Northern California race tracks. In 2003, I was one of those mentally unbalanced early adopters who put down a deposit for the second-generation Elise when Lotus announced it would be coming to the States. My car — the 2099th "federalized" example — finally arrived in 2005, and since that time I've been an evangelist for all the addition-via-subtraction technology that cars like the Elise and 4C embrace.

In the 4C, that tech story starts with a carbon fiber tub that weighs just 236 pounds, and helps Alfa hit a total curb weight of about 2,470 pounds for the fully optioned, $70,000 Racing pack version I tested. Carbon fiber is pricey, but it's vastly lighter than steel, and can also be vastly stiffer and stronger than steel in the right applications.

 

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