Car review: New Alfa Romeo 4C lets you to feel every fibre of its being

The new Alfa Romeo 4C is a car that allows you to feel every fibre of its being

Alfa Romeo's outlandish 4C could well be the least insulated car in the world.

You detect every metallic note of its engine, which seems like it is sited right behind your ears. You hear the whoosh of the wind, the roar of the road. You feel every pockmark on the pavement - via the seat of your pants as well as through the car's direct and unassisted steering.

But mostly, you hear that turbocharged engine in all its unfiltered glory. Its raspy, mechanical roar gives way to a glass-shattering howl each time the tacho heads towards 6,000rpm.

Along the way, you can almost make out the spinning crankshaft and you imagine the heated piston rings making sub-atomic acquaintance with the cylinder walls. That is, if your eardrums are still intact and your nerves are not completely frayed.

Yes, the 4C is loud. So loud, in fact, that it makes the thunderous Jaguar F-Type sound like a pussycat meowing for milk.

Because of its complete disregard for insulation of any form, the 4C is also one of the most engaging cars around.

You feel the change in g-forces as you swing the car around a sharp bend and every twitch on the steering translates into something surprising (even frightening). And you sense speed like you have never sensed it.

The car is quick, taking just 4.5 seconds to hit the century mark. For a 1.7-litre machine, that is some kind of a record. The magical thing is, it feels even faster.

It is hard to explain, but seated low down in its carbon-fibre tub cabin that is so close to the tarmac, and with the aural assault you are constantly exposed to, acceleration simply feels more brutal. Without looking at the paper specifications, you would swear the car hits the 100kmh mark in under three seconds.

And that is without activating the car's Launch Control, which is accessible in its most extreme Race, traction- control-off drive mode.

In the real world, Dynamic mode is more than what most drivers and roads can deal with, and Natural (normal) mode is enough to raise goosebumps.

If you want economy or a measure of civility, the lowest All Weather mode is best.

The 4C's synaptic quickness is not just the work of its turbocharged power plant and responsive dual-clutch gearbox. The car's compactness and lightness are big contributors too.

At less than 900kg, the aluminium and carbon 4C is a featherweight in a world of bloated contenders. This gives it a giant- slaying power-to-weight ratio of 268bhp per tonne.

It is so light, it will start rolling if you merely lean on it without the parking brake fully engaged.

Its compact dimensions, with wide tracks and a road-hugging stance, make it naturally agile and confident. At the same time, the driver is more intimately connected to the road and his surroundings, for which the car's mechanical rack and pinion steering deserve special mention.

Compared with the prevalent electrically assisted systems, the 4C's steering offers unrivalled communication and connectedness. You actually feel the slightest rut and camber of the bitumen.

It is as deliciously old-fashioned as it is scary. With nothing to mitigate the dynamic forces at play between tyres and tarmac, the driver actually has to focus on inputs and correction.

A fast, tight corner becomes more thrilling, even if the surface is blemish- free. You are aware of the drivetrain, mounted just fore of the rear axle, propelling the rear wheels.

And you are immediately thankful for the car's friendly brakes, electronic differential and responsive paddle shifters.

The 4C drives like no other Alfa, even if its steering reminds you of old models. On the go, it feels like a mix of Lotus Exige, McLaren MP4 and an old, air-cooled Porsche 911.

It serves up excitement in its rawest form, with cold sweat and white knuckles being par for the course. In an age where most cars are over-managed and over- insulated, this Alfa is a breath of fresh air.

But for its price, it is unlikely to attract first-timers to the segment, most of whom will still gravitate towards a similarly priced and more luxuriously finished Porsche Cayman.

Those who already have a sports car in the garage, however, will find this rare gem of a racer somewhat irresistible.

christan@sph.com.sg