Thrilling corners, hairpin turns and asphalt run-offs are just some of the considerations that went into the design of Tokyo’s exciting new private racetrack
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£52,265 when new
The Alfa 4C? That’s been out ages… It has been on sale for a year in the UK now, and if you remember, we didn’t much like it when it first came out. That made some of you really quite angry (the comments under the story - yes, we do read them - contained evidence of some, er, strong opinions). It’s fair to say that Alfa Romeo wasn’t particularly delighted either, and offered to loan us a car that was in a more road-biased trim. So here we are. So what are the changes? This 4C is equipped with the Comfort chassis (no rear anti-roll bar, softer springs and dampers), plus smaller diameter wheels (17s and 18s at the front and back respectively, rather than 18s and 19s). The hope is that this will make the 4C less distracted and prone to tramlining. Also less likely to weave under braking would be good.
Hopefully, after almost a year in production, the numb brakes with the inconsistent pedal will have been sorted, not to mention the strange gearbox calibration and the overly-excitable turbo. I could go on. But I won’t. Suffice it to say there’s a reason we never took the 4C on our summer Performance Car Of The Year shootout. Does this one rectify all the bad stuff? No. Almost none of it. Sigh. I take no pleasure in writing this, because I wanted the Alfa 4C to be so good, to really stick it to the Germans, but aside from more forgiveness in the ride, slightly improved traction and a hint less sensitivity to road camber, the basics of the chassis behavior haven’t changed. It’s still an alarming thing to drive down a bumpy rutted road, as it’s the road that governs your direction of travel as much as the steering. But doesn’t that mean it’s engaging and fun? Not when the car is fighting against you rather than with you, no. No matter how spiky the car, you need to have confidence in it in order to push it, to feel like you’re getting anything out of it, but all too often the Alfa seems to be working against you, trying to trip you up. Take the McLaren P1. It’s a proper handful, a genuinely hairy hypercar, but because it communicates itself clearly through your hands and buttocks you know how much of its ability you can use, when to press on or back off. In the 4C, you don’t. What heightens the issues is that this is a short, wide, mid-engined car - if it does start to slip, it moves very quickly. Have you got anything nice to say about it? It is achingly pretty. Properly heart-stoppingly lovely. Is that really it? Hmm. The 4C is actually pretty efficient (you’ll get about 35mpg), it’s very fast, and you can boast about the carbon tub. On smooth, dry roads it’s much better behaved, and driving it is never less than an event. Plus, if you compare it to a Lotus Exige, it looks reasonably good value. And you get to tell people you drive an Alfa Romeo, which, despite the company’s efforts lately, still has cachet. But…? There are too many issues where there shouldn’t be issues. The steering wheel is horrible to hold, the curious, short-leg driving position means there’s no under-thigh support, the seat backrest barely reclines at all, the windscreen is very close to the wheel, and even after four days the stereo was still largely unfathomable. And that’s just the cabin. The brakes are unresponsive for the first inch of travel, then grabby after that, the throttle is inconsistent at the top end and the double-clutch gearbox calibration is so strange (holding on to gears some times, grabbing the next one at others), that the only option is to use the manual paddles. That’s no hardship in a raw driver’s car, but the slurry changes are still less than satisfying. Did everyone else agree with you? I asked everyone in the TG office who drove the 4C to give it a score out of ten, the answers were 3, 5, 3, 4. If the 4C was on Strictly Come Dancing, in other words, it wouldn’t have made it past week one. Quotes included ‘that car made me angry’ and I can see exactly where they were coming from, although I’d probably settle for ‘frustrated’. There is greatness locked away somewhere inside the 4C, and I think its unlockable. The question is whether Alfa Romeo realises it’s not good enough and is prepared to invest in changing it. Hang on, aren’t we missing the key factor here? Character? Flaws can give cars more character, but those flaws can’t be a fundamental component of the car, or at least if they are, other components need to be brilliant to make up for it. Like the engine, ideally. The 1.7 turbo is certainly effective, but, with only 895kg to shift, the surging mid-range comes on so strong that it seems to outpace the chassis. It also means there’s no reason to hold on for high revs - there’s no top end crescendo of power or noise to get excited about. It’s less exciting to listen to than an Audi TT. Really? Genuinely. Look, last time people accused me of not getting the 4C, of trying to compare it with Caymans and TTs when it’s not that sort of car, it’s not an everyday motor. To me that’s a missed opportunity, because I think there’s a note there it could have struck as a purer, but still acceptably refined, sports car, but the compromises it demands make it a pure weekend warrior. This should be a car I love: I used to run a long term Radical SR3 SL, I have a Mk1 Lotus Elise of my own, but I still find the Alfa Romeo 4C disappointing. Sorry.
£44,790 – £75,348
The base engines are gruff, but the handling is as sweet as ever. Very few sports cars are this complete
£60,020 – £101,020
One of the most focused yet compliant track-minded road cars you can get. Utter witchcraft
£66,075 – £75,375
The M3 coupe's changed name and gained not only two turbos, but one of the most aggressive driving experiences on sale