Test location: Royston, Hertfordshire
GPS: 52.04810, 0.02416
Specialist addresses the many flaws of Alfa’s 4C, bringing it closer to the baby supercar we all want it to be.
Problems. The first hint that all might not be well with Alfa’s 4C came when Richard Meaden attended the car’s 2013 launch, based largely at Alfa’s flattering Balocco proving ground in northern Italy.
Doubts crystallised a month later on the Route Napoleon in the south of France. A full sport-spec 4C had been parachuted in to that year’s eCoty as a wild-card entry on the strength of its lightweight, carboncored build, Elise-eclipsing spec and knee-weakening looks, yet it came more ‘last’ than any other car in the history of the event. It flat-lined on every judge’s scorecard save for a faint blip of sympathy from one, maybe reflecting the consensus that what, on paper, should be a perfectly formed junior exotic sports car was the victim of imperfect execution. In all likelihood, it could be fixed.
By the time the 4C Spider was unveiled in the late spring of 2015, Alfa claimed to have made the necessary corrections. From what I recalled of the 4C coupe, this wouldn’t have been a small undertaking. Demonstrable point-to-point pace through lightness and lots of mechanical grip the car already had. Seeing to the jarring ride, old-fashioned turbo lag, hard-to- modulate throttle response on boost, a booming but characterless exhaust note, weirdly inconsistent steering weight and tiresome camber sensitivity possibly required more time than that which had elapsed.
I went to the Spider’s launch, again based at and around Balocco. Changes to the steering’s geometry and the suspension’s damping seemed more tweak-level than genuinely telling, suspicions confirmed when we got to drive the car back in Blighty and found the fleeting moments of brilliance overshadowed by more frequent bouts of attention deficit disorder edginess. Something a little more radical was needed.
Following the unfolding saga on an industrial estate in Royston, Herts – and only too aware of the growing dissatisfaction among its new 4C-owning customers – longestablished Alfa Romeo specialists Alfaworks had clearly come to the same conclusion. With consultative help from Simon Scleater (ex-Lotus and RML) it enterprisingly drew up plans for more invasive surgery to first effect a ‘cure’ and then establish a platform on which to develop an altogether faster and more fabulous 4C. In its most extreme, 400bhp form, this would become the true baby supercar Alfa fancifully believes the standard 4C already is. That the work was to be carried out on Alfaworks boss Jamie Porter’s own 4C would clearly keep the project stoked. And, oh… it’d be great if evo could lend a hand in the on-road development by supplying some feedback.
The modifications looked tempting: a proper root and branch revision of the suspension geometry and damping, lighter wheels, new aero comprising splitter, diffuser and rear wing (all in CNC-machined carbon/graphene composite), an extra 40bhp (to begin with) and a new, sonically sussed exhaust system sans annoying drone.
One thing shone out about the 4C while experimenting with different setups. Its super-stiff carbon chassis is extremely reactive to small changes and to different wheel/tyre combos. Nailing the basics wasn’t hard. Widening the front track and increasing the caster angle with the fitment of CNC-machined aluminium blocks, for instance, transformed the steering at a stroke, massively improving on-centre feel, precision and weighting consistency.
For Alfaworks’ 4C customers, it has become the one-stop ‘fix’ for the car’s schizophrenic front end. But, by the time I get to drive it, work on Jamie’s car has already progressed beyond this point. The self-steer characteristics Alfa dialled into the 4C’s rear wishbones have been dialled out again, and with the fitment of Öhlins Road & Track dampers there’s adjustment for compression and rebound as well as ride height. An impressive 11kg unsprung weight saving is achieved by the bespoke OZ Alleggerita HLT rims (7.5 x 17 front, 8.5 x 18 rear) wearing Toyo Proxes R888R tyres. The ECU remap has reprofiled the turbo’s boost curve, raising peak power to 280bhp with 310lb ft of torque (up from 237bhp and 258lb ft) and improved throttle response, while the Quicksilver stainless steel exhaust with Helmholtz resonator (to kill the exhaust drone) has a far more sonorous singing voice and carbonfibre pipe tips.
With the adjustable bits fitted, it’s possible to fine-tune the set to an almost ridiculous degree. I find my personal sweet spot with a spec (outlined in hardware terms above) to be sold as a complete package called the Alfaworks GT4C. It’s still a car that places more demands on nerve and reflexes than an Elise would, but the harder I concentrate, the better it behaves and the stronger the impression I’m experiencing the 4C’s true dynamic nature. The GT4C’s about-centre steering response is exceptional and gives clear feedback rich with detail. There’s also the kind of turn-in crispness the standard car sorely lacks and a much more intuitive feel if you need to apply some corrective lock post apex. Yes, the car is still camber sensitive and the steering wheel moves about in your hands like an early 911’s, but the Öhlins dampers have introduced layers of supple control that not only make the 4C more comfortable but also far easier to relax with, boosting its longhaul appeal. The engine remap is a corker, too. One up, it feels like a sub-four- second-to-sixty machine. But you can also lean on the torque and short shift and still go very quickly.
So good news, the 4C can be reformed and, who knows, maybe it really does have supercar potential. With power upgrades in the pipeline, Alfaworks intends to find out.
‘The GT4C has the kind of turn‑in crispness the standard 4C sorely lacks’
Top right: bespoke wheels contribute to reduction in unsprung weight. Right: Öhlins dampers can be manually adjusted.
+ The 4C transformed into a true driving weapon
- Still needs care Specification and commitment behind the wheel
Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1742cc, turbo CO2 n/a
Power 280bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 310lb ft @ 2200-4250rpm
0-62mph 4.0sec (est)
Top speed 165mph (est)
Weight 870kg (327bhp/ton)
Upgrade price £20,000
Above and left: GT4C package includes aero upgrades in the form of a splitter, diffuser and rear wing in carbon/ grapheme.
‘There’s a proper root and branch revision of the suspension geometry and damping’