It was a happy time for American gearheads when it was announced that Alfa Romeo – the historic Italian automaker — was returning to the U.S. market after many years in self-imposed European exile. That grownup giddiness is sure to continue for anyone lucky enough to drive the 2016 version of the now iconic Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.
At the 2014 New York International Auto Show, the Turin-based automaker broke the news that it would break back into American showrooms with a single car — a machine designed for and devoted to drivers, sure to remind American car lovers of their fondness for the exotic Alfa Romeo.
The 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Coupe captured gazes the moment it arrived at NYIAS, and it’s been capturing the hearts of performance car lovers ever since. It offers all of the styling cues of any exotic model, but its compact size keeps its price tag (starting at $65,900) within reach of more passionate drivers than the Italian super cars that inspired the 4C.
Of course, this little coupe isn’t the first Alfa Romeo to wear an arachnid name tag. The 106-year-old automaker started making eight-legged, two-seated cars in the 1930s. So, choosing a name that would scare away Little Miss Muffet again in the 21st century was the perfect calling card for bringing aspirational buyers back to the brand.
The winding road that took Alfa Romeo away from the USA – and back again — would offer a perfect challenge to the 4C Spider’s four-wheeled independent suspension. After offering vehicles to a tiny, focused group of exotic import lovers into the 1990s, badly sagging sales in North America combined with bottom line troubles back in Italy killed Alfa Romeo’s stateside presence in 1995.
Shift ahead to almost two decades later, and you can probably thank another tiny, stylish Italian import for paving the way for the rejuvenated Spider. Alfa Romeo is now a part of FCA – the blending of Fiat and Chrysler. FCA had success reintroducing its compact Fiat 500 back to the American market in recent years — encouraging the Alfa Romeo’s return.
Like Alfas of old, the 4C Spider is dedicated solely to driving sensation. There is absolutely nothing practical about this vehicle, with the exception of its 24 city, 34 highway MPG numbers — respectable stats for any car meant to bite its thumb like a Montague or a Capulet at ecology-obsessed zombies.
The Spider requires a block and tackle to lower most arses into a driver’s seat positioned inches above the road. Once ensconced, the driver is strapped into a carbon fiber cocoon designed to reduce the overall weight of the car. The radio is bare bones by modern infotainment standards, and the stereo can’t compete with the savage, snarling exhaust notes. The trunk is a shoebox wedged in behind the mid-mounted engine. And, there’s no power steering, which makes turning slow speed maneuvers into an upper body workout.
Absolutely none of that means anything once you settle in behind the wheel because the Alfa Romeo engineers rendered what might be the best pure driving coupe available to buyers today. Once you find the right road away from the prying eyes of the American equivalent of the Carabinieri, hunker down and hood your gaze. It’s up to you whether you want to don leather gloves and gender vague sunglasses, but resolve to do some serious driving.
Keeping modern comfort considerations out of the car reduced curbside poundage, allowing the 4C’s turbocharged, inline four-cylinder, double overhead cam engine to make the most out of its 237 horsepower. Put your toe down hard, and you’ll hear the siren song of the turbo Alfa’s brain trust mounted right behind your head. Sure, it sounds like it might suck your ears off, but you don’t need your ears to drive.
Honoring Alfa’s racing pedigree, the old school steering is ratcheted skin tight, allowing for blink-fast response. The 4C Spider bites off corners and spits them into the faces of the lesser cars that need to get out of the way.
If there’s any criticism to be held over the car, it’s the choice of transmission. Like its bigger Italian supercar sisters, the 4C offers an automatic with a paddle shifter performance mode. A car this tight and this small begs for a manual transmission on the floor, but maybe its engineers thought this coupe was too quick for human hands to shift.
The Spider is making the introduction between Alfa Romeo and red, white and blue buyers. Soon, she’ll be joined by the Giulia sedan — a car sure to share the 4C’s allegiance to driving pleasure.
All photos courtesy Alfa Romeo.