2. Alfa Romeo 4C
Model class and body style: Two-seat midengine sports car
Last full redesign: New model
Base price range: $55,195-$69,695
Styled like a supercar but priced like an entry-level Porsche, the midengine 4C is a budget exotic. Its debut marks the true return of one of Italy’s most storied automakers to the U.S. after decades away. Alfa Romeo’s comeback is courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the newish multinational that controls Fiat and Alfa, plus the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram truck brands.
The 4C is a two-seat coupe about the size and weight of a Mazda MX-5 Miata. At less than 2,500 pounds it’s some 600 pounds lighter than the midengine, two-passenger Porsche Cayman coupe. Mass-minimizing materials are employed throughout, including a carbon-fiber structure and aluminum subframes. The body shell, with its classic Alfa grille and huge haunches pierced by engine-cooling ducts, is plastic-like sheet-molded compound.
The less-is-more theme continues with the engine, an all-aluminum four-cylinder displacing just 1.7-liters but turbocharged to 237 horsepower and 258-pound-feet of torque. It drives the rear wheels through the only available transmission, a dual-clutch six-speed automated manual controlled by steering-wheel-paddle shifters. The steering is unassisted, the suspension nonadjustable.
Minimalism is the byword inside, too, where the cabin contains virtually nothing that isn’t essential to fast driving. The seats are thin-shell pads, there’s little sound insulation, no armrests, no glovebox. Cargo is relegated to a rollie-bag-sized compartment behind the engine. Comfort-seekers shop elsewhere; this is a pure performance car.
The ride is rock-hard, noise levels extreme (a $500 racing-exhaust option deletes the muffler), handling scalpel sharp. Acceleration is startling: 4.0-seconds 0-60 mph, 12.8 at 108 mph in the quarter mile. Nothing else as quick or “affordable” comes close to the 4C’s 28-mpg city-highway combined fuel-economy rating. Filtering into fewer than 90 dealers starting in late 2014, Alfa says the 4C is the vanguard of an eight-model lineup that’ll be available through 300 retailers by 2018.