They’re both yellow, RWD, have engines nestled between the seats and the rear wheels, come in at around $100,000 and exist purely for your driving pleasure. That, however, is where the similarities end.
Indeed, the 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4 and Alfa Romeo 4C Spider are both perfectly capable of putting a stupid grin on your face. But one grin is more relaxed than the other – the latter possibly involving clenched teeth and a similarly contracted sphincter.
Pick your poison, folks. The limited edition Porsche GT4 is a Cayman brought down from the heavens (or up from hell, if you wish) that answers the prayers of those who felt this poetic Porsche could use more poke. Conversely, the Alfa 4C Spider is a diabolical little Italian hornet’s nest that just begs to be prodded with a big stick at all times. And with no lid, it’s a fantastic sensory overload of sun, wind and heroically rude exhaust noises. We’re not here to judge.
And so we set out in this pair to the hills, dales and bendy roads of pastoral Halton Hills to see what these German and Italian engineers hath wrought. There’s enough heritage in these two marques to fill a library, but Alfa Romeo is the elder statesman, dating back to 1910. Ferdinand Porsche formed his engineering firm in 1931, but most consider the 356 of 1948 to be the first production Porsche automobile.
Elder statesman or not, out here the featherweight Alfa 4C is an absolute brat when compared to the Porsche GT4. With its exotic carbon-fibre monocoque, the Italian weighs a paltry 1,128 kg (to the Porsche’s 1,340 kg). There’s no graceful way to get in or out of the 4C thanks to its wide carbon sill and narrow footwell. Once ensconced, the racing shell seats are a snug fit if you’re slim. Not so good if you’re larger of frame, however.
Twist the key and the 1.7 L turbo-four barks to life and settles into a noisy idle. Taking a cue from big brother Ferrari, the 4C is not available with a manual transmission – just a six-speed twin-clutch with steering-wheel-mounted paddles. There is a quartet of round buttons on the console: 1 (puts it in gear), R (reverse), N (neutral) and A/M (cycles between automatic and manual modes).
So I push “1” and turn the small diameter wheel. Wait… what? It doesn’t turn. Oh yeah, no power steering. That’s one way to do away with the electric- vs hydraulic-assist debate. When not rolling, much upper body strength is needed here. It’s a helluva workout, and since the 4C has a big turning circle, maneuvering the car for our photos on the narrow road was a lengthy and comical process.
Once free, I point the Alfa down the road and give it some welly. This car is bloody quick. The 1.7 L turbo kicks out 237 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft from only 2,200 rpm, barking like a wild dog while sending forth a volley of atomic farts on upshifts. FCA head honcho Sergio Marchionne famously termed this scrappy four a “wop engine”. It has bags of character and a surprisingly long and linear power delivery for a turbo. It bolts off the line and screams to the redline with equal verve.
By the Numbers: Porsche Cayman GT4 vs Alfa Romeo 4C
Equally impressive is the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It responds immediately to paddle requests and bangs off lightning-fast shifts.
For those who bemoan the fact that cars just aren’t involving anymore, a few moments behind the wheel of this little tinderbox will be the cure. “Involving” probably understates the case. More like demanding, as in “Look what I can do, mangiacake. And if you stop paying attention to what I can do, I’ll put both of us in the rhubarb before you can say mamma mia.”