2015 Alfa Romeo 4C & 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C interior. Click image to enlarge
Review by Mark Stevenson. Photos by Mark Stevenson and courtesy Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Back in 1995, as the price of gasoline in Toronto averaged 52.4 cents a litre and Quebecers were voting whether to continue to be part of Canada, another separation was happening in the automotive world.
Our fabled Alfa Romeo was gearing up to divorce the North American market.
Following parent Fiat’s exit in 1983, Alfa Romeo was sustaining heavy losses due to lacklustre sales. Only 523 Alfas were sold in the US in 1994, just 23 more than the number of 4C Launch Edition units the company plans to sell for the 2015 model year.
Yet, here we are, some 19 years later (four years after Fiat made its return to North America) and we are about to welcome the first wave of new generation Alfa Romeos into our collective petrol-obsessed hearts.
Not that it’s been a smooth road getting here. Except for the incredibly exotic 8C, Alfa Romeo has put off our first date for quite a while. She’s been a bit of a tease. And yet, if this 4C is as good as we experienced last week at Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds, it will most certainly be worth the wait.
You can go as far back as 2000 to find statements from Fiat about Alfa Romeo’s return to North America; the first saying the brand would phoenix in 2003.
Then, in 2001, Fiat announced they would sell Alfa Romeos though Cadillac and Saab dealers starting in 2005. It pushed that date back to 2007, then cancelled the plan altogether, before stating it could, again, come back in 2007.
Once the calendar had flipped to 2006, and there was no evidence of the planned 2007 return, Fiat said Alfa could sell three volume models in the US by 2010 or 2011. They revised that date with an aggressive 2008 launch. We did get the 8C Competizione in 2008, but only in extremely limited quantities.
After the 8C, Alfa Romeo’s promises to come back to us were more akin to receiving letters from an estranged father in “the military.”
With Fiat’s return to North America through their acquisition of Chrysler, it was only a matter of time before Alfa Romeo would also make the trip across the Atlantic. But, after the ultra-exclusive 8C, what would Alfa choose to raise the sporting Italian flag in the New World?
Chrysler, in dire need of smaller cars, could have easily used the Alfa Romeo MiTo in its showrooms, though the Giulietta would have been a better fit given its larger size.
But, instead of bringing us economical fun, Alfa Romeo had other plans, developed by their Skunkworks team armed with carbon fibre and turbochargers.
Enter the 4C, an alphanumeric play on Alfa Romeo heritage, with a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis and a 1.75L four-cylinder engine boosted to within a thousandth of an inch of its life.
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. Click image to enlarge
Now Let’s Talk About The Car Already
The return of Alfa Romeo has been 12 years in the making. Now, with an extremely capable sports car that has no natural predators in North America, the Italian brand can carve out its own progressive performance niche.
At the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, Alfa Romeo rolled out the 4C Concept. The sports car had the proportions of a Lotus Elise with style that was more Milan than Manchester. Described as a “poor man’s 8C Competizione”, the 4C had all the distinctive appearance of its bigger brother Italian exotic in a new, decidedly more affordable sports car wrapper.