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Exclusive: the Alfa Romeo 4C draws nearer

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We’ve just had an update on the Alfa 4C. It sounds like it’s
going to be even more wonderful than they first promised. Its engineers are
confident of getting the first prototype on the road for the middle of 2012,
with the final car on sale a year after that. It will be distinctly exotic, but
remarkable value. They’re still aiming for under £45,000.

I talked about the car with Mauro Pierallini, who’s head of
engineering for Fiat in Europe. The 4C project is being run by a special
quick-acting little team outside the main product-development bureaucracy, he
says, and he grins and adds he’s personally in charge.

The concept was drawn up by Alfa’s designers as more-or-less
a flight of fancy, at the request of group design chief Lorenzo Ramaciotti. The
management liked it so much they decided to get it out there ASAP as a Geneva
show car last March. The bosses also wanted a production plan. That wasn’t so
easy, and so at Geneva they said they build it but wouldn’t – couldn’t­ – say
 how.

Now they know how, and are getting on with it.

The show car used a carbon tub designed by Dallara, the
racecar manufacturer which also consulted on the KTM X-bow, Alfa 8C and Bugatti
Veyron. The production car’s structure is an in-house design by the Alfa team.
It has a carbon centre tub as before, but the front and rear frames are
aluminium. It’s cheaper and only a little heavier.

The outer panels of the concept car were carbon too. That
would be expensive and hard to do – even the McLaren MP4-12C doesn’t have
a carbon skin. Instead the production car will be skinned in SMC, a very
accurately made lightweight form of GRP.

But don’t worry. Whatever the changes to materials and build
methods, Pierallini says the car will look almost exactly like the concept.
Which is why we’re so delighted to show you those photos again – the red
car was at Geneva, and then it was re-painted mercury grey for Frankfurt in
 September.

See more pictures of the Alfa Romeo 4C concept at Geneva

The interior won’t change too much either, he says, though
we all know concept cabins always get watered down a bit. But the designers aim
to preserve the motor-bike dial pod, the separation of driver and passenger,
and the general impression of lightweight simplicity and jewel-like quality.

Pierallini says Dallara’s efforts have been applied to the
aerodynamics of the production car, and it will have downforce. That’s good for
 grip.

But it isn’t aerodynamics that’ll have most influence on the
4C’s dynamics. It’s lightness. The target remains about 900kg, partly because
the car is super-compact at 4m long – that’s closer in size to an Elise than to
a Cayman.

If the production car gains weight versus concept because
the skin isn’t carbon, well it loses it again because of a new engine. At
concept time Alfa talked of using the unit out of the Giulietta Cloverleaf. It’s
already an advanced engine, but the production car uses an aluminium-block
direct-injection turbo that’s lighter. It makes 230bhp.

It’s hooked to a twin-clutch paddleshift. Alfa’s DNA system
will let you hit sports mode for the engine response, transmission shifts,
steering and so on.

Now 230bhp in a 900kg car is great news. Even with the
driver strapped in, that’s the equivalent of Porsche 911 Carrera
power-to-weight ratio, and the torque-to-weight ratio will be better again. The
man in charge says it will get from 0-62mph in four and a half seconds.

That’s why £45,000 sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

And the best news is, this isn’t some strict limited
edition. They did the sums about build method and price on the basis of selling
18,000 of them over the lifetime of the car. That means there won’t be just one
version. A cabrio must be included in the list, as it’s easy to do when the tub
is carbon. We also know that new engine will have outputs up to 300bhp in
 future.

Alfa intends to use the 4C to make a splash as it re-enters
America with a new Giulia saloon (159 successor) and new crossover in late 2013
and early 2014.

We just hope they leave some copies of the 4C back in Europe
for the rest of us.

See more pictures of the Alfa Romeo 4C concept at Geneva

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