CARS.COM — There are few cars that fit the description of “track toy” better than the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider convertible; the low-slung mid-engine sports car is purpose-built for attacking a challenging racetrack. So when we had the opportunity to use it like some owners will — first with a 170-mile highway trip from Chicago to Elkhart Lake, Wis., and then some track time at nearby Road America — we jumped at the chance.
Related: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Review
Considering the 4C Spider’s hardcore bent, we were a little apprehensive about spending a two-and-a-half-hour highway drive in it and we learned soon enough that our concerns were justified. But did the time on the track make us forget about the car’s lack of comfort on the street?
On the Street
My lasting impression of the 4C Spider is that it’s unapologetically a machine, a view shared by Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, who reviewed the 4C coupe. While that’s an endearing quality at the track, the car’s mechanical symphony was grating on my nerves just 100 miles into the trip.
Unlike most cars — including a lot of high-performance ones — the 4C Spider doesn’t buffer what’s happening around you but instead amplifies it. You feel the contours of the road through the manual steering and hear the hiss of the turbocharger behind your head. The car seems intent on involving as many of your senses as possible, all the time. With so much engine and tire noise infiltrating the cabin, any wind noise is completely drowned out (unfortunately, the stereo is, too). Like a baby who won’t stop screaming, all the noise gets tiring.
It doesn’t take long before the 4C Spider’s high-strung personality rubs off on you; I could feel my body tensing up as the trip progressed and I had to focus on staying relaxed. Even so, I arrived in Elkhart Lake with a sore neck and upper back.
The 4C Spider’s harsh, unrelentingly firm ride was unbearable on certain roads where it had the unfortunate quality of making small pavement cracks feel like giant potholes. Our test car was equipped with the optional Track Package, which likely exacerbated the firm ride. The package includes larger front and rear stabilizer bars and different shock absorbers, among other features.
The car’s unforgiving personality carries over to the cabin. While roomy (if difficult to enter and exit because of the car’s extremely low ride height), it leaves you with the feeling that Alfa Romeo wasn’t all that concerned with driver and passenger comfort. Some hard trim pieces aside, there’s no place to rest your arms, the driver’s seat isn’t height-adjustable and the stereo controls seem designed to confound. Plus, the tiny 3.7-cubic-foot trunk isn’t practical for a weekend trip to the track; I had to buckle my small rolling suitcase into the passenger seat for the drive.
On the Track
Road America is a four-mile, 14-turn racetrack with a knack for making high-performance street cars look inadequate. With just 237 horsepower from its turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine, the 4C Spider might seem destined to suffer that fate, but it comes into its own once you leave the street behind.
An extremely low curb weight of around 2,500 pounds lets the 4C’s small engine shine; Alfa Romeo says the 4C Spider can go from zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and it pulled strongly coming out of corners at Road America. The manual steering remains a little vague on-center but it’s light, lively and fun when taking a corner.
Road America’s smooth asphalt made the ride quality issues I’d experienced on the street disappear, and Senior Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek noted that although the brake pedal felt touchy on the street, it felt natural at track speeds. The car was in its element, finally.
The 4C Spider was great fun on the track but I wouldn’t want to repeat the trip there; the various discomforts on the street were just too much. Bruzek thought he could put up with a 45-minute drive to a racetrack and that seems about right to me, too, but he also thought owners should think bigger and build a garage right at the track. It’s where this car belongs.