It may not constitute as a driving impression, but with the Alfa Romeo 4C being built in limited numbers only, being a passenger in one is as close as you’d get. For now…

A while back I was lucky enough to join a couple of journalists testing the 4C. I was not allowed to drive the car (for obvious reasons), but I was allowed in it. Walking up to the car I was engulfed by its insect-like design. It’s not ugly and it’s not overtly pretty either, but what it is is an overload of beauty; a jaw-dropping, spine-tingling, toe-curling specimen of a car that encapsulates dreams and desires. It’s a welcome reminder of the Alfa’s of old, before the brand became “main stream”.

From the nose to the tail, from the grille to the exhaust, from those spider eyes-inspired headlights to the lip on the boot: the 4C oozes and drips of sex appeal. In fact, if humans could marry cars, this would probably top many lists.

What is evident from the outside, however, is how low the car sits from the ground, and it made me wonder whether or not entering and exiting the car would be accompanied by back breakers and groans of discomfort. It was, alas, a nightmare come true. If you’re on the taller side of life, the 4C does not reward the process of climbing into its cabin. It’s uncomfortable, sore, tiring, etc. And it does not get any better from there, though.

Viewing the dash and seeing the minimalistic approach Alfa took is rather sad. There is more ‘available’ space in the cabin than in outer space. Heck, the cabin has more empty space compared to the EP-Kings’ defensive lines. And the cause is not aided by the fact that the radio seems like an afterthought just before the car had to be delivered for its first media test. The contrasts between the outer design of the 4C and its interior could not be more vast. It’s sad, actually, that the same passion that was responsible for the body of the car was not carried over into the cabin.

To satisfy the boy-racer, a look at the engine was the next thing to do. The hood-release is not where you’d “usually” find it next to your right knee. It’s not even next to the passenger’s left knee like in some Renault models. No, it’s in the door arch next to the driver. Save yourself some time and embarrassment and make a mental note of this design strategy. It’s really difficult trying to figure out whether form followed function, or vice versa, when they decided to attach the boot release to the doorsill.

The engine is situated at the rear of the car and glares at its viewer from behind the glass cover. It’s a sight to behold. It’s enticing and exciting at the same time. It thrills the senses. It would have been helpful if the little Alfa came with a sticker saying: “Warning: do not leave boot in mid-air. No hydraulic suspension.”

At nearly R900k the little Alfa seems poorly thought-out. Was the carbon-fibre chassis so expensive that there was no money to have even a single hydraulic arm bolted onto the boot instead of the piece steel usually associated with budget cars? This will probably not bother the 20 lucky owners of the 4C, but in the end it is the small detail that makes for the biggest impressions.

The awaited invite came for me to hop inside the little 4C: it’s time for my ride. The 1,8-litre engine roars to life with a menacing little grunt. A feeling of eagerness and anticipation fills the cabin. Seatbelt strapped on and we’re about to set off. To put the feeling from pull-off into perspective: forget all the above mentioned comments!

The mountain pass where we found ourselves had nothing on the 4C. Weighing in at little over 800 kg (1 000 kg fully fueled), the car launched itself towards every bend, devouring the straights with menacing intent and all the while the exhaust clutters and screams “bloody murder!” as the revs are charged up all the way to eleven. 177 kW in something this small and this light is really not to be chuffed at and the emotions evoked from the passenger seat leaves nothing less than a burning desire to forever chase up the pass and never having to stop.

I suddenly – thank the Lord – understood the minimalist approach Alfa took when developing this car: the lightness aids nimbleness and nimbleness promotes nippiness. I understood why the cabin was so empty and voided of all fancy buttons and unnecessary panels. This car is fun personified. It is the poster on your bedside wall, the car you dream of and vehicle you would want to be seen in. Little too few cars will be able to match the Alfa Romeo for sheer fun and explicitness, and many high profile supercars won’t be able to match this car on any given Sunday.

Pitted against the highly rated BMW M3 on the mountain pass, the Alfa manages to stick on the tail of the M3 and when it leads, manages to keep the M3 behind it.

The 4C really came into its own on the mountain pass and it does reward its driver tenfold. There is absolutely no doubt that this is one of the better products Alfa Romeo has produced in a very long time. It may not be perfect, in fact, it’s far from it, but for Alfa Romeo to have produced a carbon fibre-built car and selling it below a million rand is a feat in its own. Supercars making use of carbon fibre usually costs 4 or 5 times more than the 4C.

There is, and should be, little doubt over the capabilities of the 4C. It is not ideal for every day commuting or quickly rushing to your local supermarket, but for driving the crap out of the road in front of you it fits the bill perfectly.