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Alfa Romeo 4C has performance tech befitting the brand

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

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2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Red Beach Press Photo

(Photo courtesy Fiat-Chrysler)

In case you haven’t heard, Fiat-Chrysler is reintroducing Alfa Romeo to America. The brand’s first car, the Alfa Romeo 4C will be loaded with high-tech, high-performance goodies sure to give a great first impression.

A press release from Fiat-Chrysler called the car the “attainable supercar” and said it offers a “unique set of technological solutions that are authentic and fully respect the brand’s DNA and motorsport tradition.”

Alfa Romeo CEO Harald Wester said, “The all-new 4C marks the return of ‘the great Alfa Romeos` and represents the purest formation of the brand’s DNA with its supercar-levels of performance and innovation, all while focusing on making the driver an integral part and completion of the machine. With its technological solutions derived directly from Formula 1, the Alfa Romeo 4C creates an infusion of body and machine, an extension of its driver’s soul that is ready, capable and willing to respond and deliver.”

What’s in a name?

The Alfa Romeo 4C derives its name from its 1,750-cc four-cylinder engine. According to the press release, previous legendary Alfa Romeo models 8C and 6C were named for their eight- and six-cylinder engines, respectively.

That four-cylinder engine in the Alfa Romeo 4C is an all-aluminum, direct-injected, turbocharged gasoline affair that the press release said makes 237 horsepower. The release said the engine features a number of technologies that help it be equally at-home on the street or on the track, including dual (intake and exhaust) variable valve timing, a camshaft with eight counterweights, an intercooler, and the aforementioned direct gasoline injection along with intake and exhaust setups optimized for the car’s mid-engine layout.

The turbo reportedly features a pulse-converter exhaust manifold to exploit pressure waves and boost torque at low RPM, while a waste gate valve adjusts turbo pressure to improve engine efficiency. The release said advanced scavenging technology enables the Alfa Romeo 4C to maximize torque at low engine speeds and deliver more response to driver input by increasing combustion efficiency and turbine speed, all while eliminating turbo lag. All this results in peak torque of 258 ft-lbs becoming available at a low 1,700 RPM.

Two clutches are better than one?

Driving the engine’s power to the wheels of the Alfa Romeo 4C is Alfa’s Twin Clutch Transmission (TCT), which has a launch control feature that should help the car get to 60 MPH from a standstill in the “mid-4 second range,” according to the press release. The release did not specify how many gears the transmission will have, though the Wiki says six.

Call me a traditionalist, but if I have a sweet little mid-engine Italian sportscar, I’m going to prefer a six-speed manual transmission with a proper clutch pedal. That’s right, just one clutch. More clutches are not necessarily better in my opinion. But I suppose when in Italy, do as the Italians. Or in this case, when producing an Italian car that purports to be an Italian supercar, you do as the Italian supercars are doing — I’m thinking here of the way Ferrari has finally killed the manual transmission option in its cars.

You made the car out of what?

Finally, the Alfa Romeo 4C features a composite body and monocoque along with aluminum chassis structures to give the car the trim physique to match its fighter’s heart. Sheet molding compound is used in forming the body shape because it is high-strength and 20% lighter than steel while simultaneously being more dimensionally rigid than steel. Design engineers even shaved the thickness of the glass used in the Alfa Romeo 4C windshield and side windows by 10%, resulting in a weight savings of up to 15%, according to the release.

Composite-framed sport seats and thermoformed dashboard combine with the exposed carbon fiber monocoque inside to give you no doubt as soon as you open the door that engineers did the old Lotus trick of “adding lightness” at every opportunity. The mounting frame for the aluminum mid-mounted engine is likewise lightweight aluminum, so that even the interior parts you don’t see are doing their part to make the Alfa Romeo 4C svelte.

What’s your Alfa attitude today?

Perhaps the coolest part of the Alfa 4C’s performance technology is its attitude adjustment knob, A.K.A. the Alfa DNA Selector. The press release explained it this way:

With a touch of the Alfa DNA selector, the character of the Alfa Romeo 4C can be changed to (in order of increasing capability):

  • All-weather – designed to ensure maximum control under adverse weather conditions and enables gentler accelerator input and special engine and brake control logic to match road speed and prevent skidding
  • Natural – enables grand touring comfort and smooth drivability for the Alfa TCT gearbox
  • Dynamic – enables improved driving performance via a more aggressive powertrain calibration and less intrusive electronic stability control (ESC) setting
  • Race – is the most extreme performance mode, putting the driver in total control of the car under race conditions. ESC and anti-slip regulation (ASR) are deactivated to allow the driver to control traction through the accelerator pedal. The Alfa Romeo Electronic Q2 differential control system remains active for fast exits out of corners or bends.
    • In Race mode, launch control can be activated, allowing the Alfa Romeo 4C to deliver supercar-level 0-to-60 mph acceleration blasts in the mid-4 second range

For driving convenience in Dynamic, Natural or All-weather modes, the Alfa Romeo TCT gearbox can utilize an “auto” mode.

Other interior tech features include a seven-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) gauge cluster that keeps its graphics simple in order to maximize the driver’s ability to focus on driving.

A roaring return?

The Alfa Romeo 4C has all the go-fast tech and Italian good looks needed to make it a halo car for the brand’s return to America. This is what you call “putting your best foot forward,” I suppose. In addition, Fiat-Chrysler said there will be no shortage of dealers to sell the Alfa Romeo 4C — 86 at last count — so chances are good if you drive down Dealership Row in the exclusive part of your nearest metro area, you can lay eyes on this beastly little brute.

The question remains, then, if this will all be enough to keep Alfa Romeo around in America for the long haul. In our opinion, this could be Alfa’s roaring return to form. Perhaps best of all, the sexy Alfa Romeo 4C has a starting price of $54,000, yet in the words of my father, “it looks like 100 grand.” That’s hard to beat.

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