First Fang: Alfa Romeo 4C Launch Edition

First fang? Hasn’t the world’s media driven the 4C umpteenth times?

Well, no. Not in Aussie production spec, not in right-hook Launch Edition spec and not out on those pockmarked and heavily policed twisties across the local landscape. Even after the foreign drive impressions and so-called ‘Aussie first drives’ in a left-hook Euro-spec base car across Avalon Airport’s aircraft hanger’s concrete floor last June, a proper impression deserves a judgmental reset.

Is it any good?

It’s… It’s… brilliant! Utterly brilliant! From how good it looks in the flesh to how it goes, the 4C is better than I’d imagined.

Hold on, Mister Enthusiasm. We’ve heard mixed reviews about. Isn’t the 4C just a mid-engine Giulietta? A Lotus with an Italian badge? A really pricey MX-5 substitute?

I presumed so. Y’know, why bother when you can have a Toyota 86 for a fraction price sort of thing. And I’ll eat humble pie on any of those preconceptions now I’ve driven for 150 kays across local hot spots.

The only rival out there I think matches the fiery featherweight experience – the vibe – of the Alfa is a Lotus Exige. And even then the Lotus feels, and is, a generation older, not nearly as exotic in construction or as nicely screwed together.

Alfa Romeo decided to build a Honey-I-Shrunk-A-Mid-Engined-Ferrari and absolutely nailed it. It really is a scaled-down and affordable supercar.

But this Launch Edition version doesn’t sit at 4C’s $89,000 entry price, does it?

No. The Launch Edition ups the price to $109,000, get a racier suspension tune in the dampers and anti-roll bars, an inch-larger wheel set (18in fronts, 19in rears) with Pirelli P Zero rubber, microfibre sports bucket seats and a raft of conspicuous natural carbonfibre details and trim pieces.

Fiat Chrysler Australia have secured 75 of the Launch Editions and has put in an order for “a few hundred” base and high-spec 4Cs it hopes to get by year’s end, though FCA admits the volume Aussie buyers will get depends on global demand for right-hookers.  

Is the $20K premium warranted if a buyer doesn’t want to wait for the base car?

Having not driven the base car the jury is out as to what exactly the Launch Edition enhancements bring to the party but. But if I was parting with my own cash, I’d have my 4C exactly in the form I’ve driven, with all its harder-core, carbon-fetish goodness.

So what makes it so brilliant?

The 4C takes all the key attributes of a true sports car experience and not only ticks all the crucial boxes, but even over-delivers in some areas. Stuff like the fizzy of the unassisted steering, the simplicity of the controls, the responsiveness of the chassis, sensation of lightness and intimate connection to the road. It feels quick, engaging and exciting, even at moderate road/track speeds. Y’know, all that 86/MX-5/Lotus Elise stuff…

On top that, there’s a real supercar feel about the package. And that extends from the cabin design and execution through to its carbonfibre-infused construction, its serious quick 0-100km/h-in-4.5sec pace and its impressive 1.1G of peak lateral cornering acceleration.

Right-o, but where’s it over-delivering on the sportscar stuff?

It’s a car that brims with sensory perception. The 177kW and 350Nm looks modest on paper, but through the race buckets it feels fused to your spine and its roar seems almost amplified through the cabin. It’s effortlessly punchy and makes a fair mockery of the car’s 1025kg dry weight.

Tied to an impressive positive-shifting six-speed twin-clutch, the 4C feels toey in any gear, downright visceral for rolling punch. There’s just far more noise, fizz, vibration and ceremony than you expect from the modern sportscar experience.

Initially, the unassisted steering feels light off-centre on the move, concrete-heavy during parking manoeuvres. But live with it a little and it makes normal ‘assisted’ steering systems, even the good ones, feel dull and lifeless.

It’s brakes, too, have that direct, clear feel you want in the heat of the battle.

Fine, but could you live with it?

The 4C, at least in Launch Edition trim, can be fatiguing – the noise, the ride quality – on the long haul. But I reckon that softening the 4C up in any way is a step backwards.

It’s so stiff that few cars feel this lively across a seriously bumpy back road, but that’s something particular drivers relish. And it’s a car for particular drivers, notably those who ‘get’ the Lotus Exige. For sun kissed grand touring, you might be better off in a softer and comfier Mazda MX-5. Even Porsche’s Boxster is a far more polite device. But if you want to climb out from an utterly engaging experience fully buzzed, the top-spec 4C is your answer.

It mightn’t suit being your only car. But as that wild second or third beast tucked in the garage for spirited weekend punts, it’s right up there as a list-topper.

So a possible contender for a PCOTY win?

Again, it remains to be seen if the base 4C can nail the mini-supercar role as confidently as the Launch Edition does, but if there was a contemporary performer capable of knocking off both (the sub-$100K) Bang For Your Bucks and PCOTY events in one year, it’s quite likely to be the 4C.

Engine: 1.75-litre turbocharged four, DOHC, 16v
Power: 177kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 2200rpm
Weight: 1025kg (dry)
0-100km/h claim: 4.5sec (claimed)
Top speed: 257km/h (claimed, limited)
Price: $89,000 (base) $109,000 (Launch Edition)

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