Buyers’ Guide Alfa-Romeo 4C Type 960
Alfa’s 4C is an undoubted classic: an out-and-out sports car with a carbon tub and supercar pace. With prices on the rise, is now a good time to buy? And what should you be looking for? Story by Nathan Chadwick. Images by Michael Ward.
ALFA ROMEO 4C BUYERS’ GUIDE
Why you should buy a Alfa-Romeo 4C Type 960– and what to look for
ALFA 4C: WHY NOW IS YOUR MOMENT TO BUY – FULL GUIDE INSIDE
The tale of Alfa Romeo in the decade following the successful 147 launch is one full of missteps, mismanagement and unfulfilled potential. Wags at the back might point out that’s always been the way for Alfa, even in the good years, but by 2010 things were looking decidedly bleak.
The Giulietta launch had been haphazard (changing its name from Milano at the last moment) but at least it was selling well; other members of Alfa’s line-up weren’t. Despite updates to the 159, including the excellent 1.75 TBi four-cylinder turbo engine, the saloon was to disappear from sale in 2011 with no successor. Only the Giulietta and MiTo would fly the flag for Alfa.
The 4C came like a bolt from the blue. Well, red, actually – the concept car stunned the 2011 Geneva Motor Show with its satin-finish matt red paint. When the production car was unveiled two years later, some felt that the purity of Marco Tencone’s design had been lost, notably adopting controversial spider’s-eye headlights and parts bin mirrors, but it was still one of the prettiest mid-engined sports cars ever seen.
“ The 4C shines at high speeds – and it’s certainly capable of these, despite having ‘only’ four cylinders and 240hp ”
The term ‘baby supercar’ is attached to all sorts of machines, but the 4C was the real deal. There was nothing second-rate about its specification. The carbon central tub weighed just 107kg, and while Alfa Romeo quoted an overall dry weight of just 895kg for the car, a more realistic kerb weight figure was around 1100kg. Not everything was carbon: aluminium was used for the subframes front and rear, while the outer body was in composite (claimed to be 20 per cent lighter than steel).
The 4C got its name from its four-cylinder engine, derived from the 1.75-litre turbo lump that had debuted in the 159, but mounted centrally and driving the rear wheels. It had more power (240hp) and was 22kg lighter, too, using all-aluminium construction (in contrast to the early iron-block Giulietta Cloverleaf unit).
Much to the chagrin of hardcore three-pedal loving enthusiasts, theAlfa-Romeo 4C Type 960was resolutely paddleshift only, using the same TCT dual dry-clutch transmission as the Giulietta. Alfa’s familiar ‘DNA’ multi-mode system had an extra Race mode added. All-weather and Normal modes kept most of the driving assists active, while Dynamic mode slackened them off for a bit of slip, while Race mode (activated after a five-second button press) turned them off completely.
The suspension was double wishbones up front and MacPherson struts at the rear, while the brakes came from Brembo. The ‘power’ steering was just how tuned-up your biceps were – there was no extra assistance here, which might come as a shock the first time you park the car.
At launch, UK buyers could choose a special Launch Edition, which included open intakes on the front bumper, an ‘LE’ badge on the centre console, leather seats with microfibre inserts, red or white stitching and red or white door pulls. You also got carbonfibre for the rear spoiler, headlight nacelles, gear selector buttons and mirror covers. The grey forged teledial wheels were larger, too (18in front and 19in rear versus the regular 17in/18in cast aluminium items), while the LE also had a racier exhaust and recalibrated suspension.
Otherwise, options for the standard car included an Akrapovic exhaust system, which at over £3k was an expensive (and rare) option. The popular Racing pack added 18in/19in wheels, retuned springs and dampers, thicker anti-roll bar and sports exhaust. In 2015 rear parking sensors became a no-cost option, as did cruise control. Paint protection film was initially a cost option (£1200) but became standard on UK cars post-2017.
2015 also saw the launch of the 4C Spider with its removable cloth roof. The Spider had chassis tweaks to strengthen it (adding 45kg to weight), upgrades to the audio system and transmission cooling, plus the option of yellow paint. Curiously, the original headlight design from the 2011 concept made a return on the open-top car.
Special editions included the 50th Anniversary Spider, 50 of which were released in 2016 to celebrate 50 years of the Duetto Spider. This had a race exhaust, dark 18in/19in wheels, seats in red or black with contrasting stitching, lots of carbon trim and red, white or yellow paint.
Then in 2018, 108 Competizione special editions were made available internationally in Vesuvio Grey with carbon accents. Another 108 Spider Italias were released, this time in Misano Blue with piano black accents. Coupe production wound up in 2019, with Spider construction continuing for another year.
ON THE ROAD
The 4C is a stunningly pretty car but getting into it risks revealing unpretty parts of your body to the public. The sill is wide and the gap between steering wheel and seat is tight but once in, there’s enough room for those up to 6ft 5in tall. The engine comes to life with a four-pot growl that seems at odds with the car’s silken exterior demeanour. The unassisted steering is heavy and the view out is restricted, so getting out of tight parking spaces is not the work of a moment.
The 4C shines at high speeds and it’s certainly capable of these, despite having only four cylinders and 240hp. The turbo punch puts it into genuine supercar territory: it can reach 62mph in around the same time as an Alfa 8C Competizione (4.5 seconds). This being a turbocharged unit, a little lag is expected – but once it’s spooled up, 240hp is plenty in such a lightweight package. Such is its mid-range torque that you don’t get the traditional sports car joy of wringing it out to the higher reaches of the rev range. The paddleshift is pleasingly quick and responsive.
It doesn’t have a luxuriant soundscape, though – the TBi engine is growly and boomy, and its exhaust is on the thunderclap scale of aural pleasure – think Abarth 595. The 4C can become a little tiresome on the motorway, especially with a sport exhaust fitted.
B-road journeys throw up the car’s dynamic Achilles’ heel, one that resulted in an initial roasting from the mainstream press. While the damping is fairly smooth and linear, the steering can be fidgety, there’s a tendency to tramline, and its relationship with cambers borders on the offensive. Pretty soon after launch, Alfa Romeo UK did a recall that included geometry changes, aluminium straps for the rear wing and updates to the ECU and transmission software. But by then the reputational damage had been done.
With standard suspension, it feels nervous on B-roads, a workout to keep under control. It also feels wide for British B-roads. A bit of a failure, then? Not a bit of it – the 4C is a lightning bolt of adrenaline that demands your attention from the second you step into it. It’s quicker point to point on most British roads than most supercars and you’ll be having far more fun in the 4C.
The steering is extremely positive, allowing you to place the front wheels with absolute precision. There’s excellent grip with the nose starting to edge wide in extremis, and you’d have to be pretty fruity with the loud pedal to force the rear wide. Pretty soon you’re into a rhythm with it. While there isn’t the same kind of communicativeness about what’s going on at the tyre blocks as say an Elise or Cayman, the 4C delivers excellent grip, neutrality and stability.
On track, the 4C is sublime. On the road, the 4C isn’t perfect, but luckily its foibles can be dialled out courtesy of Alfa Workshop, has become the UK’s leading specialist in 4Cs. It’s come up with a variety of packages, from suspension shim kits that iron out the steering weaknesses to adding much more power (see Auto Italia August 2019 and April 2021).
We asked Jamie Porter of Alfa Workshop what to look for and what typically goes wrong with the 4C. The good news is: not much. Forget those who bemoan Italian reliability – the engine is bulletproof. The only time an engine’s been stripped at the Alfa Workshop is to modify it, and for no other reason. It does need a cambelt every five years, but there are no reports of belts snapping. Alternator casings have been known to split in two – budget around £750 to fix the problem.
A Stage 1 engine remap (£990) will take power to 280hp and remove some of the mid-throttle surge. A Stage 2 remap (£2340) produces 300hp and includes a USB interface for further tweaking, in addition to a higher rev limit and revised launch control strategy. Go for the hybrid turbo option (£4742) and you get 330hp and a filled-in torque curve at higher revs. A twin-scroll turbocharger costs £6184.
Clutches tend to wear at around 70-80k miles if driven hard (say on track days). You’ll get your first indication that something’s awry with slip in first, third and fifth gears. It’s a big job: budget £2000 for a standard replacement, £2500 for an upgraded item. The voltage stabiliser for the hydraulic gearbox pumps has been known to fail on rare occasions, which manifests as a refusal to go into gear. The casing splits in half and pushes the plug off the control unit; budget £300-£400 to address this problem. A few instances of a cracked third gear cog have come to light, as well as the input shaft bearing which can deteriorate, causing transmission oil to leak onto the clutch.
Rattles from lower damper mountings have been known, but they don’t fail – it’s just annoying, needing a full damper unit replacement at £800 apiece. The lower front ball joint is the most alarming potential failure – if you hear creaking from the front suspension, get it checked out immediately. If it fails, the wheel will come off, taking the front wing with it. Unlike a conventional ball joint, which wears into the cup, the 4C’s ball joint wears through the top of the cup. Budget £300-£400 to remedy the problem – before your wheel comes off.
The paint protection film on the sills and rear wheelarches can become tatty; budget around £500 to have it rewrapped. Most later cars had a front wrap as standard, but early cars may not have it. Only unwrapped cars really suffer from gravel rash. The two aluminium crossmembers that go from the carbon tub back to the rear of the rear subframe have occasionally been known to corrode at the front. However, it’s a simple case of unbolting the old part and putting another one in.
Although the carbon tub is rust-free, the flip side is that any prang that reaches the subframe, let alone the tub itself, could well result in a write-off. If you do come across a car that’s had an interaction with something solid, pore over the details of its resurrection with great care.
Fancy curing the 4C’s steering ills? Alfa Workshop’s shims are very cheap and effective. Going further, a full Nitron R1 two-way damper set-up costs £3414 and a full race Nitron R3 three-way package is £4410.
There’s not much to the 4C’s interior, which means there’s not much to go wrong. The seat bolsters are resilient to entry and exit, which is a good job considering how tight entry and egress are passenger kick plate car come lose. Other than making sure everything works, you’re really looking for signs of nail marks and other surface damage.
A 24k-mile service is around £400, growing to around £700 at 36k miles, 72k miles and 108k miles. A cambelt and water pump service (every five years/60,000 miles) will set you back around £670 (the rest of the service will take the bill to just under £1k). A set of original brake discs and pads will set you back £627 for the fronts and £522 for the rear. Pads are £207 front and £162 rear, but upgrading to Ferodo pads is £288 front and £267 rear. A full Ferodo disc/pad set-up costs £708 (front) and £627 (rear).
Rear tyres tend to last a maximum of 8000 miles. Choose between Michelin Pilot Super Sports or Pirelli P Zero/Zero AR Racing. Michelins don’t come in the exact size, so you have to go slightly wider, but owners report they are more comfortable and avoid tramlining better, while Pirellis have better turn-in for track work.
At launch, the 4C cost £51,265 new. For a while you could pick up a used one from as little as £32,000 but the 4C has now begun to ascend in value as a modern classic. The cheapest we could find was £38k but the majority of UK cars are in the £40k-£50k range. Always buy the version you really want with all the right kit right from the off, because upgrades such as carbon items can be expensive – carbon mirrors cost £1k apiece, for example.
Thanks to 4C owner Ben Sparkes, plus Jamie Porter and all at Alfa Workshop (01763 244441, www.alfaworkshop.co.uk) for their help with this feature
- 2018 Coupe 14k miles, black, £37,995
- 2016 Spider 14k miles, yellow, £42,995
- 2017 Coupe 19k miles, red, £45,990
- 2017 Spider 50th Anniv 5k miles, white, £47,495
- 2017 Spider 50th Anniv 10k miles, red, £48,950
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS ALFA ROMEO 4C
- ENGINE: 1742cc 4-cyl DOHC turbo
- MAX POWER: 240bhp at 6000rpm
- MAX TORQUE: 350Nm (258lb ft) at 2100-3750rpm
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed semi-auto, rear-wheel drive
- DIMENSIONS: 3989mm (L), 1864mm (W), 1183mm (H)
- KERB WEIGHT: 1100kg
- MAX SPEED: 160mph
- 0-62MPH: 4.5sec
Light weight is what makes the 4C such a supercar slayer, mostly thanks to its exotic carbon chassis.
Coupe and Spider worth about the same. Special editions are sought after. Non-standard black roof (above) looks good.
If front ball joints are creaking, investigate immediately. If they fail, you can lose a wheel
Early 4Cs suffered from condensation and mouldy boots. Later versions have a boot lid liner.
Carbon tub does have some metal elements in it. Check very carefully for any signs of accident damage. Alternators can suffer from water ingress, resulting in seizure or even the casings splitting in two.
Rear chassis components car can sometimes corrode. Luckily these are easy straight replacements.
Clutch replacement is a big job. If gearbox refuses to engage a gear, it’s likely to be the hydraulic pump.