Driving the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Laura Burstein

The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is the open-top counterpart to the 4C Coupé, a lively, mid-engine two-seater that earned a runner-up mention in Robb Report’s 2015 Best of the Best. The open-top version, starting at $63,900, is every bit as feisty as its fixed-roof counterpart—and then some.

Hand-built in Modena, Italy, the 4C Spider draws inspiration from the 33 Stradale, a mid-engine sports car made between 1967 and 1969 that oozed Italian flair. Thanks in part to its light carbon-fiber chassis, the 4C Spider weighs just 2,487 pounds, only 22 pounds heavier than its fixed-roof counterpart. Helped by additional bracing, the topless 4C keeps the coupé’s rigidity and its hard-edged driving dynamics.

From start-up, the 4C Spider emits a cantankerous cackle when fitted with the optional race exhaust. (A new dual-mode exhaust is also available.) The car is guided by mechanical steering and, though the lack of power assist can be irksome while navigating parking lots, the car willingly goes where you put it at speed.

The 4C Spider uses the same power train as the coupé, a 1.75-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 237 hp and 258 ft lbs of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a 6-speed, twin-clutch, automated gearbox. A fabric top comes standard and is relatively easy to remove and stow away in the (miniscule) trunk. A carbon-fiber hardtop can be added as a $3,500 option. A choice of seven paint colors includes the canary-yellow Giallo Prototipo, exclusive to the Spider.

Driving modes are controlled by what Alfa Romeo calls the “DNA selector,” which changes throttle response, shift points, and stability-control thresholds. Natural mode is sporty and comfortable. All-weather mode shifts at lower RPMs for better traction. But Dynamic mode is the best match for the car’s persona, shifting at high revs, holding the gears, and wringing the most out of the 4-cylinder engine. Race mode keeps all the parameters of Dynamic mode, but turns off dynamic stability control, although we are told the stability control will still kick on in an extreme situation.

Inside, the 4C Spider gets standard leather sport seats and a choice of six interior color schemes, such as black leather with microfiber inserts and red or yellow stitching. A new Alpine radio replaces the Parrot-branded model used on early 4C Coupés. Other than Bluetooth, you will not find much in the way of extras. It is the Italian way of saying: Stop fiddling with the controls and drive.

The 4C Spider is not a daily driver, nor does it pretend to be. On coastal roads in Central California, the Spider’s Go-Kart handling makes it easy to dart around curves, and there is plenty of power to pass rubbernecking tourists. At the Laguna Seca raceway, the Spider handles even the most demanding turns with only a little wiggle from the rear end—which is only noticeable when pushed hard by an experienced driver. Alfa’s dual-clutch gearbox is so good that you do not miss a manual. Shifts are quick and come just at the right time. The brakes are superb and deliver a firm bite; after several laps we never noticed any fade. The 4C Spider cannot produce the kind of ridiculous thrust you would find with a big V-6 or V-8, but that is not a concern. Who cares if your neighbors pull away in the straightaways? You will catch them in the corners. (alfaromeousa.com