Is the Alfa Romeo 4C half as good as the glorious 8C Competizione? Size-wise, it’s certainly a dinky little thing, measuring barely four metres in length, with a stance on the road that’s very Lotus Elise-like. And although we’re well used to the idea of downsizing, it still seems a little odd that Alfa’s new pocket supercar is only packing 1.7 litres and four cylinders of heat.
On the other hand, it’s arguably twice as clever as its older brother, a suspicion Alfa was keen to ram home as it threw open the doors of the 4C production line and let TopGear.com have a good poke around. If, like us, you sometimes wish fast cars could be smaller and lighter rather than bigger and more powerful, then this one’s definitely for you. Alfa claims a total dry weight of just 895kg for the 4C, which is seriously impressive for a modern car in the modern world of full-on safety legislation, lardy air con units and hefty multi-media systems. Yes, the romance of a V6 - especially in an Alfa - is undeniable, but stick the 4C’s 240bhp and 895kg in a mathematical blender and you’ll get 268bhp-per-tonne, and that’ll do for starters.
The big selling point, naturally, is the 4C’s ‘pre-preg’ carbon tub, and checking it out in the flesh suggests that this little Alfa really could be the tipping point for this vaunted technology. ‘We plan to make up to 3500 cars per year,’ Alfa Romeo’s boss Louis-Carl Vignon tells me, ‘which will make us the biggest manufacturer of a carbon chassis-ed car.’ That said, the 4C is actually 38 per cent aluminium, 23 per cent steel and 10 per cent carbon fibre, although the latter makes up a quarter of the car’s total volume.
The 4C’s monocoque is made by Alfa’s tech partner Adler Plastic - near Naples, for some reason, despite the Modena area’s long established rep for carbon expertise - before being brought to Alfa’s production facility 500 miles up north. Which is round the back of the Maserati factory. (Yes, Fiat Group synergies abound in the 4C.)
At which point the manufacturing process takes on a distinctly hand-crafted dimension, and lots of artisans - mostly rather hirsute twentysomething Italian men, as far as I could tell - get to work with their socket sets and adhesives, adding the front and rear crash-boxes, windscreen frame and roof. The body-in-white isthen subjected to 400 rigorous measurement tests. We see a slide that talks proudly of ‘the annihilation of defects’.
Strangely, partially finished 4Cs leave the Maserati plant at this point to be painted, before being disassembled on their return and completed on eight separate workstations, each overseen by a dedicated operator. Some other random stats: the 4C consists of 864 separate components, and each car has to pass 351 different tests in the approval area at the end of the line. The finished 4C is also given a 40km road test, and at full tilt 12 cars per day will be manufactured. The upshot is a car that is philosophically smart, uses state-of-the-art tech, then brings it all together in a way that is still satisfyingly old-school. Nevertheless, Alfa - no stranger to rescuing defeat from the jaws of victory - is not going to mess this one up.
‘Does the 4C have a competitor?’ Louis-Carl Vignon says. ‘Honestly, no. There is simply nothing else on the market as innovative or that uses this technology and that is available at this price [approx £50k]. This is a laboratory car for us, andthere is no doubt that we will see an extension of what we learn here into other Alfa Romeos. The best part of driving is finding a series of curves. I respect the Bugatti Veyron, but I doubt that a Veyron driver would be able to keep pace with the 4C on a good mountain road.’
We’ll be able to verify that in September.