Hands-on: Alfa Romeo 4C review
You would think more car events would happen in the Isle of Man. For a start, out of the towns and villages, the speed limit is derestricted. That doesn't mean 60mph, it means there is no limit. The Isle of Man loves motor vehicles though, and the craziness of the Manx TT superbike street race proves that. But among the journalists on this trip to drive the Alfa Romeo 4C most of us hadn't been to the Isle of Man before, and even fewer had been invited there to test a car.
On the agenda for us was having a play in the 2014 updates for the Alfa MiTo and the Giulietta. And then a trip to an airfield where we would get 25-minutes to drive around a track in one of two left-hand-drive, Italian-registered 4Cs. With reaction from the motoring press largely very positive, we were very keen indeed to get in this tiny car and see what kind of grand things it could do.
The drive up to the airfield was fun in itself. A tight schedule meant that we had to be there on time, for 2pm, or lose our slot. As the 1.3-litre diesel in the MiTo pounded along the mountain road, and the fog closed in, we were feeling the pressure. A couple of wrong turns had made us later than we wanted to be, and while the Isle of Man isn't large, we really didn't have many minutes to spare. Eventually, and with mounting nerves we approached the airfield. Alfa signs directed us where to park, and as we did so two red 4Cs emerged from the previous laps to greet our little diesel.
We leapt out of the MiTo, not locking it in the excitement and ran over to the 4C to start snapping photos. The Alfa team stood by smiling. They're proud of this car, and as one of the Italian team told us, this changes cars for Alfa Romeo and, maybe, every other manufacturer.
Its carbon fibre construction and mid-engine makes it somewhat unusual, especially at this £45,000 price point. It's basic inside, but you're not buying a car like this for luxury, you're buying it because you love cars and want to drive a nice one. But the no-frills approach means its lighter and more cost-effective.
But no-frills in this case means that it looks a bit bare inside. The radio is perhaps not one you'd choose yourself and there's no power steering or climate control. But none of this is a problem. For a start, power steering isn't necessary. It's not really "necessary" in any car - it's helpful, granted, but the first two cars we owned were unpowered and at age 17 we still managed. There is air conditioning on board, or you can open the window too.
Getting into the car is as difficult as most small sports cars and the Alfa 4C is rather low to the ground. The carbon fibre tub makes getting out hard; hard to look dignified at least. We were pleased not to be wearing a skirt too - we reserve that for Saturdays - because the Alfa team would have got a nasty look at things you don't want to see on a cold airstrip.
Then we had a lap with the trained instructor. He showed us how the course was laid out, what to aim for and generally talked us through the car. It was pretty obvious our instructor had said those same words quite a bit over the two days, but he was an excellent teacher and enormously patient when we came within millimetres of clipping a cone.
Also explained was the launch control. This enormously simple system simply requires you put your left foot on the brake pedal and then floor the accelerator. The car holds the revs at 3000 and when you release your foot from the brake it propels you forward with the best possible use of power. We had a go with this later and it was, quite simply, epic fun.
In terms of performance, the Alfa 4C is not the quickest car in the world, but it feels fantastic. The lack of power steering is an asset more than a hindrance because you feel very connected to the road. At low speeds it's heavy, but not unmanageable, as the car weighs less than tonne after all.
The engine is also reasonably modest at 1.7-litres. It has four cylinders which is another step towards fast cars that can also be driven with incredible economy - Alfa claims up to 45mpg. Car tax shouldn't be too ruinous either at £175 per year.
From a driving perspective, those used to big-engine supercars might not love the experience, but we did. The engine sound is very different in the car to how it is outside. It's more throaty if you're outside as an on-looker. When driving it's about the right volume - not so loud as to drive you mad, but with enough voice to make driving it rewarding. You can hear the whine of the turbocharger too which gives the car a futuristic kind of noise that we were rather taken with.
Once we'd tried the car out, had a go with the launch control and been given some driving tips it was time for the expert to give us a lap. This was optional, but we wanted to feel how the car performed when driven by an expert. And it feels amazing. Tight in the corners and with plenty of power it's a rough ride thanks to the sports suspension, but one that is jam-packed full of excitement.
Now £45,000 might not be cheap, but the 4C earns its crust, and it makes you feel like a superstar. If we had the money, our name would be on a waiting list somewhere right now.
As we stepped out of the 4C and back into our 1.3-litre diesel MiTo the excitement stayed with us as we made our way across the mountain. Oh to have taken the 4C firing around those mountain roads. Now that would have been a dream. A dangerous one, but a dream nonetheless.