Good: beautiful design, hugely involving drive and real supercar credentials.
Not so good: over-emphasis on lightweight design results in some basic omissions.
Think of a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive Italian sports car. You'd be forgiven for not having Alfa Romeo as your first answer. But as the famous song goes, the times they are a changing, none more so than at Alfa. The 4C represents more than just an engineering folly; rather it is the sharp end of a €5 billion wedge that the Italian firm hopes will open up the market over the coming years.
Aesthetically the new 4C is a truly beautiful design that blends aerodynamic and thermal needs with the kind of curves that seem to be the preserve of Italian manufacturers. Photographs don't really do the 4C justice; in person it is lower and wider than you would expect, commanding presence in a way that isn't as in-your-face as more expensive supercars. Even those controversial headlights grow on you the more you see them. Though I'll officially go on record in saying that the original lights seen on the concept, and that will appear on the forthcoming 4C Spyder, are infinitely better looking.
The numbers on the 4C make for some very interesting reading. Its carbon fibre tub weighs just 65kg, which plays a significant contribution to the overall weight of just 895kg, making it a great deal lighter than many of its rivals. During my time with the 4C one of the things that seemed to surprise people the most was the engine, more specifically its size. The 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine might seem small to some, but the 240hp output is nigh-on perfect for a car of this weight. There's little in the way of lag from the turbo either, with it spooling up quickly, developing all of its 350Nm of torque from just 2,100rpm. And then there's the sound. I'm convinced that Alfa Romeo had the 4C's drive-by noise test done on the same day that Jaguar did the F-Type. In an age where everything is being muted, and in some cases digitised, the 4C is refreshingly raucous. And thanks to the lack of any sound insulation between the engine bay and carbon tub's interior, occupants are treated to a delightful cacophony of whistles, pops and hisses even during relatively sedate driving.
Understandably, some will find this all a bit too hardcore; personally I adored every kilometre of driving it. The dual-clutch transmission handles stop-start traffic well and should you decide to leave it in full-auto mode all the time, even during more spirited driving, it is programmed to keep up with everything right up to fast track use.
The 4C isn't overly sprung either. It does have a firm ride, as you would expect, but even on poorer road surfaces it copes well considering its brief. The damping is sufficient enough for it to almost be a feasible daily driver. Holding it back is the lack of power steering, which although fine when driving at speed, does become an annoyance when parking. You have to respect Alfa's desire and commitment to making this a true lightweight sports car, but given its already sub-900kg weight, adding a small power-steering unit wouldn't have detracted all that much from the overall experience in my opinion. In a similar vein, the omission of a gas strut for the combined boot and engine cover gets annoying if you're likely to use the 110-litre luggage space on a regular basis.
You can't help but forgive the 4C for its shortcomings when it comes to getting out on your favourite driving road. At speed the steering feels hyper-direct and the addictive engine note urges you on. The exhaust cracks and pops on the overrun, leading you to play with the gearbox more than you probably would normally. It's genuine grin-inducing stuff. The very nature of the 4C's design does see it move around a bit more than some might expect on the road, but once you know to loosen your grip on the wheel a little and let it do its thing, the Alfa rewards by the bucket load.
Out of corners the 4C demonstrates rapid acceleration, which, in combination with the low seating position and that incredible engine note, makes for the kind of raw driving experience a Porsche Cayman, for example, lacks.
It might not have that car's near perfect dynamism, but the Alfa does feel special. There are technically better cars out there, but when you look at what Alfa Romeo is putting on the table, and for the relatively little amount of money it is asking for buyers to part with, the 4C does, for those in the financial position, make for a hard car to pass over. I would certainly not grow tired of opening my front door each morning and seeing it.