In the bright light of morning, the sensuous little Alfa Romeo 4C looks mostly like a midnight temptation – steeped in Italian red.
Nothing about the loud, intense, 4C seems even remotely practical, from its lack of power steering and storage space to the contortionist twists needed just to get in and out of it.
It may just be the perfect car for that impulsive, slightly insane ex-girlfriend of yours who always wanted to go camping in the Himalayas – like, this weekend.
Did I mention, incidentally, that the 4C costs $75,000 and rides worse than an empty barrel rolling down the street?
Actually, though, the tiny, tempestuous Alfa really is more than a stunning skateboard with doors – especially if you love driving.
As a mid-engine sports car with a high-tech carbon-fiber tub for a cockpit and a growling turbocharged four-banger just behind your head, it may be the closest you can get to a street-legal race-car for $75,000.
In fact, few cars of any kind can match the Alfa’s graceful violence on a curvy road.
Still, it’s probably best to savor the 4C’s finely sculpted exterior before dealing with its many, uh, quirks inside.
Squat, low and stylish, the dark-red 2018 4C I had recently did not appear capable of clearing a fat Texas grapefruit.
A fine triangle-shaped grille flanked by larger blacked-out inlets hung deftly a few inches from the street while protruding headlamps peered menacingly from atop flared front fenders.
The taut fenders wore a crisp line up high that shot across the door, forming a muscular shoulder over the Alpha’s hard-charging rear wheels.
As an Italian, of course, the Alfa needed some flourish and got it from swooping lines through the doors leading to large air-inlets molded into the rear fender.
Meanwhile, a curved top swept dramatically into a back glass that provided a glimpse of the 4C’s grumpy, grumbling turbo four.
Moreover, big round taillamps and three-inch diameter dual exhausts vied for attention in back, with everything settling tightly on gray wheels wrapped with 205/40 18-inch tires up front and 235/35 19s in the rear.
Even sitting still, the 4C looked like a potential felony.
Its edgy 1.7-liter engine has been squeezed and tweaked to twist out 237 peaky horsepower in a car weighing roughly 2,500 pounds.
Before I could experience the 4C’s considerable raspy thrust, though, I had to figure out how to get the darn thing out of the driveway – after I fought to get inside.
Three buttons on the console marked “1,”“N” and “R” control the dual-clutch, six-speed transmission, so you push “R” to back up and then punch the “1” button for first.
I preferred shifting the transmission in manual mode to tolerating the car’s clunky, irritating automatic and just got accustomed to using the paddle shifts.
The steering, however, posed another little challenge. With no power assist, wrestling even a small car like the 4C out of the driveway can be a serious upper-body workout.
It’s worth the effort, though. At around 2,000 rpm, the mighty-mite engine comes alive with a belligerent, bellowing leap forward, blasting to 60 mph in 4.3 noisy seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Likewise, the manual steering lightened with speed, dancing lightly in my hands with every bump and undulation in the road.
It truly gave new meaning to road-feel.
The same could be said, I guess, for the ride.
The 4C clunks, bounds, shakes and bangs over even small bumps, accompanied by a mechanical symphony of gasps, wheezes and growls from the hyper four, but it hurt so good. All was forgotten and forgiven with the first stretch of curvy road.
The little Alfa turns into bends with gleeful ferocity and balance, attacking them with virtually no body movement or stumbles.
I’m sure the car has limits, but I never came close to finding them on the street.
That wasn’t an issue with the Alpha’s cramped black interior, which lacked a glove compartment, map pockets or storage space of any kind.
Two supportive fine-looking bucket seats were bolted to the floor of the car’s stiff carbon-fiber tub, eight inches below the door sill.
Forget modesty. I figured the only way to get in was to attempt a dive into the driver’s seat or drop in backwards and hope for a soft landing, which I chose. Getting out was even more of a chore.
It really wasn’t such a bad place to be stuck. A spare, slightly curved dashboard swept around a basic instrument panel containing mainly one square gauge – a speedometer with numerical readout and a tachometer as a band above the speedometer.
Red stitching added a bit of color to the edge of the dashboard and the flat door panels, which offered a leather strap as the door-pull.
It nicely fit the 4C’s tiny-terrorist personality, I thought.
Clearly, kids, this is not a car for the masses. Last year, Alfa Romeo sold 407 of the 4Cs in the U.S., according to Automotive News.
For someone pining for a Lotus or a street-legal, track-focused car cheaper than a Ferrari or a Porsche, the 4C beckons – with an alluring snarl.
2018 Alfa Romeo 4C
- What I liked most: The 4C’s athletic, other-world handling and grace at speed
- What I would change: Make the car a bit more civilized without compromising its road-warrior personality – if that’s possible
- MSRP: Base price, $55,900; as equipped, $75,495
- Fuel economy: Rated at 24 miles per gallon in town, 34 on the highway and 28 mpg combined with filler on right.
- Official color: Alfa Rosso
- Odometer reading when tested: 3,196 miles
- Weight: 2,464 pounds
- Length-width-height: 157.5 inches long/73.5 inches wide/46.6 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 10.5 gallons
- Towing capacity: Not applicable
- Spare tire: None – emergency tire-repair kit instead
- 2018 Alfa Romeo 4C in a few words: A temperamental, highly distinctive sports car that can be extremely likable at times
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty
- Final assembly location: Modena, Italy
- Manufacturer’s website: www.alfaromeousa.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org