Alfa Romeo’s new game

The Alfa Romeo 4C is one of the most hotly anticipated cars of the 21st century. Billed as a return to Alfa’s roots, it wowed the public when it debuted as a concept at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. Alfa promised a breathtakingly beautiful compact supercar, built with the latest technology to inspire driving excitement for less than £50,000. It was a bold move. But there remained a question on every fan’s lips: would it be a true Alfa?

It definitely was for Chris Byrne. He’s been an Alfa Romeo fan since childhood, and when the 4C was first unveiled, he fell for it instantly. An engineer by trade, Chris appreciated the car for more than just the beauty and speed it promised; radical design choices in the car’s development make it more supercar than sports car and appeal to the technically-minded.

Chris placed his order with Johnsons Alfa Romeo immediately. Hundreds were waiting to get their hands on the first 4Cs in the UK, but Johnsons chose Chris for his fiery passion for the brand. Just as well – he had to wait for a year after he ordered his car as the 4C underwent further development at the Alfa factory as more weight-saving efforts and design changes delayed the order. The company wanted to make their first production sports car in decades perfect before delivering it the public.

Chris took delivery of one of only 60 launch edition 4Cs sent to the UK, and one of the most remarkable cars on the road today. Other customers will have to wait a few more months to get their hands on the regular production series cars.

They must be nearly as excited as Chris. The 4C is a game-changing car with features that no other company has yet approached. Splitting the difference between the hardcore Lotus Elise and road-focused Porsche Cayman, the 4C’s construction and statistics are revolutionary.

Weighing in at just 895kg without fuel (about as much as a small city car) the 4C is packed with clever ways to save weight. This matters for engineers and drivers: lighter cars accelerate and stop faster, tend to have better handling (as there’s less weight to change direction) and get better mileage. The most impressive aspect of the car is the carbon-fibre tub that surrounds the driver and forms the backbone of the car. At just 52kg, it’s incredibly light and gives the car great rigidity and strength. It also makes Alfa Romeo one of the largest-scale carbon fibre car manufacturers in the world.

It’s not all futuristic materials though. The door pulls are made of leather, and the pedals of aluminium. There’s very little trim in the cabin – just exposed carbon fibre. The entire car is an exercise in weight-cutting. There’s not even any power steering – just a straight manual rack. The engine is mounted in the middle for balanced weight distribution.

That engine is smaller and lighter than you might expect. The 4C hardly needs a bellowing V8 to get up to license-losing speeds as it already weighs so little; instead Alfa fitted an all-new version of their 1750cc turbo four. Switching the engine block from cast iron to aluminium saved another 22kg. Now fitted with direct injection, variable valve timing and a huge 1.5 bar of boost from the turbo, the engine pumps out a lunatic 240bhp at its peak. It’s especially urgent in the midrange, taking the 4C from 0 to 60 in just 4.5 seconds. It works through a 6-speed double-clutch gearbox that in some cases will shift faster than a Ferrari 458.

Yet despite the supercar thrills, the 4C only costs sports car bills. Thanks to low weight and a small engine, it achieves 41.5mpg and emits only 159g/km of CO2. Most impressively of all, at £45,000 it’s a performance bargain. With stunning looks, rapid pace through corners and straights, a totally unique chassis and a better power-to-weight ratio than a Porsche Cayman S it’s little wonder Chris was so pleased to take delivery of his. It’s a proper Alfa.

Keep your eyes peeled around Swindon for his car – sitting low to the ground in Satin White it’s hard to miss. Still more will be coming to Johnsons Alfa Romeo Swindon soon – perhaps you’d like one in classic Alfa Red.