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Exclusive: the Alfa Romeo 4C draws nearer
Posted on: December 20th, 2011

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 $350,000, that’s Porsche Cayman and BMW 1 M territory.

 

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.

 

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 0-100kph in four and a half seconds.

 

That’s why $350,000 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 for the people who don’t drive on the wrong side of the road (i.e: us, right-hand drive).

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