Photography by: ©2015 Toni Avery

Elise and 4C

My love affair with Alfa Romeo started before I even knew what one was. My mom learned to shift on one, my dad raced them and I cleaned the wheels when that was all I could reach.

A GTV6, 164 S, Montreal and others graced our garages with their unmistakable Italian charm until just before I could legally drive. My final memory of our last remaining Alfa was of it being driven away and me running after through tear swelled eyes. I was never fortunate enough to drive one of these pieces of Italian rolling sculpture…until now.

4C keys

Last year at an event with the Motor Press Guild, I had two slightly underwhelming laps in the 4C as my first introduction to the brand after their long absence from the US. The reason I say underwhelming as opposed to exhilarating was simply because I had such limited time in a vehicle I anticipated driving so highly and came to the realization that it might be my only opportunity for some time. I was graciously handed the keys to the gleaming white beauty and took some pretty incredible photos, which made up for most of the disappointment.

Now that I’ve actually been able to drive, breath in and touch the 4C for several days I feel as though my missed opportunity as a kid has been erased.

4C engine

The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is equipped with a 1.7 L Turbo 4 producing 237 HP @6000 RPM and 258 lb-ft of torque with 80% available at 1700 RPM mated to a 6-speed twin-clutch transmission sprinting from 0-60 in just 4.1 seconds.

Simply put the 4C is, wow. It’s like a mini Italian rocket that loves to be driven hard and makes some unusual, intoxicating sounds. This car is fitted with the optional racing exhaust that adds some additional noise. What I love most about the exhaust note is that Alfa has embraced the sound of the turbo rather than hiding it, creating one of the coolest sounds you’ll ever hear. It’s abrupt upshifts and gurgley downshifts make for one of the best sound tracks out there on the road today.

The manual steering present on the 4C brings you closer to the road. Your connection with the car is real where you steer and it follows causing not only a more raw feel but a greater appreciation for proper driving skills. The adjustable steering column also adds some additional customization to your desired height and distance preference.

4C exhaust

Each drive mode provides the driver with a different personality depending on which you choose. Normal is, well normal while Dynamic is probably the most fun you’ll have without turning on race mode for a spirited canyon run. All-weather mode is helpful in rainy conditions, changing the display to a blue color (it did not rain during my time with the car as a result, did not use this mode). Dynamic mode changes the screen display and shows boost while also appearing in a warm orange color. Race mode turns traction control off and displays a G-meter in a bright green color.

I kept the car in Dynamic and manual mode the entire time I had it. Manual mode is as opposed to automatic mode where the car shifts for you. With the lack of a manual transmission I felt manual mode was the most satisfying providing the ability to change gears higher in the rev range.

4C rear 3 quarter

The shell of the 4C is beyond stunning. From the distinct Alfa grill to the exaggerated and curvaceous rear, the entire car is a work of art.

Even if you collect vintage Alfa’s you’d still be able to tell this modern beauty is from the same family. The classic Alfa grill is just the right touch of Alfa charm while the rest of the car is seemingly new.

Being away from the US as long as they were, it’s hard to remember just how the last Alfa’s even looked; they sure didn’t look like this one. The car’s best angles are its profile and rear and with 0-60 in just 4.1 seconds the rear is probably all you’ll see.

4C overall interior

©2015 Ron Avery

Inside the 4C is a comfortable and tight ride. Considering how low it is to the ground the ride quality isn’t too objectionable. The seats are comfortable enough but could use a little more side bolstering to hold in the driver more snug. And this will be the only girly thing I’ll mention. The seats in the 4C are the only ones I’ve come across that make wearing a ponytail actually comfortable!

The coolest part of the interior is the exposed carbon fiber tub. This not only adds a unique textural element to the car’s interior, but also makes one feel as though they are in something a lot more expensive, hand-made.

This particular car had no interior upgrades to speak of, which left a blank slate to work with and a lot of exposed plastic. There are many options in terms of interiors for the car and if you can only afford one option, the exhaust would be my pick. For a standard interior it isn’t bad it’s just a little on the plastic side.

4C steering wheel

There really isn’t much storage room to speak of with no glove box or side nets to place your personal items. The small trunk will fit possibly one over night bag and a small purse for quick weekend getaways.

Getting in is easier than you might think, if falling gracefully is something you’ve practiced. I found that sitting on the sill and sliding back into the seat then swinging my legs over into the car worked well for me.

The digital gauge cluster adds a more sophisticated and racy look while the head unit is easy enough to navigate. I honestly never used the stereo system simply because I had the best stereo system on the market right behind my head.

Elise engine

This Lotus is equipped with a 1.8 L 4 producing 190 HP @7800 RPM and 138 lb-ft of torque @6800 RPM mated to a 6-speed manual gear-box sprinting from 0-60 in 4.9 seconds. The engine was a joint venture between Yamaha and Toyota (the transmission was also Toyota sourced) while Lotus retuned the ECU helping them to gain some horsepower and make the engine suit the car better.

The Elise is widely known as one of the best sports cars ever made and when the 4C came out many thought it to be a direct competitor to the Elise. They are similar in many ways but brothers, they are not.

Elise gear shift

Also equipped with manual steering, the Elise offers that pure sports car connection. It’s a lot more raw than the Alfa resulting in an even greater driver/car relationship. The 6-speed manual transmission isn’t the best but it’s a wonderful setup and beats almost any dual-clutch trans in terms of pure driver enjoyment.

While it may not be as quick as the Alfa, it sure feels fast thanks to its 1960 lb. curb weight compared to the Alfa’s 2465 lb. It’s also larger than the Elise in most dimensions while they look quite similar. Both cars also have a similar staggered wheel setup for optimal handling.

Elise profile 1

On the exterior, the Lotus gives off a more aggressive edge with exaggerated curves and lines, black plastic accents and a super low stance. Being 10-years old the Elise still holds its own next to the 4C but does look less high-end than the 4C and a little more toy like.

Both cars look similar in many ways including dimensions, yet styling and material advancements in a 10 year span has resulted in the 4C’s ability to look classic and modern all at the same time while the Elise seems to adapt to the times.

Elise interior

The interior is where these two are really set apart. The Elise boasts a much more high-end look thanks to its leather and Alcantara coverings throughout. Other than the steering wheel, dash and center console (all done after market with everything other than the steering wheel done by the Lotus trim shop right after delivery), the interior of the Elise is stock (Touring Package). There isn’t much plastic to speak of and there is actually significant storage space for such a small car, much more than the 4C.

The head units on the two cars couldn’t be more different. The Elise is very minimalist with Bluetooth needing to be added while the 4Cs even offers a map feature when connected to a cellular provider.

A tad more difficult to get into, the Lotus’ sill is lower than the 4C making falling in (as described above) more difficult, but the leather seats help in the additional sliding measure needed when swinging your legs over.

Comparing these two is tough, a lot tougher than I originally anticipated. They shouldn’t be considered rival brothers, rather rival second cousins. There are similarities in both and differences that can’t be tied to a familial similarity.

Both cars are geared towards the hardcore enthusiast. The Elise is perfect for canyon romps and the inevitable track day while the 4C makes a comfortable daily driver and can be easily placed into a professional competitive race series.

Each car has a certain amount of character that is unmistakable to collectors and owners. The Elise always seems to be smiling and just eats up every single hard-driving thing you do to it while the Alfa is inherently charming and emotional with the 4C being a modern-day extension of that.

The biggest and most stark difference between the two is the transmission. Unfortunately for Alfa, it can’t win. It finally return to the US, finally, and for its comeback it chooses a twin-clutch transmission. I don’t fault Alfa for this decision. If Alfa came back after all this time with a manual only car, most of the American buyers would ask “why not a twin-clutch?” and as it has already brought a twin-clutch I’ve heard the question “why not a stick?” Because Alfa can’t win. No matter the decision the automaker would have made or the one it did make, there will always be those that want the opposite. Alfa has to do what’s best for the company and what would sell most in the US market.

These reasons and more are why giving the 4C it’s rating was the hardest I’ve had to do up until this point. It’s hard to take emotion out of a decision like this because cars are an emotional thing. Cars are an extension of the person driving them. If you don’t look back after you park it, you’ve purchased the wrong car.

For all the reasons I listed above and more I want to first thank Alfa Romeo for finally fulfilling my biggest childhood dream and for doing it with such a stellar piece of machinery.

GirlsDriveFastToo gives the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe an overall rating of (out of 5 total):

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