I read somewhere the startling statistic that Nissan now builds more cars in Sunderland than are built in all of Italy. Whilst undoubtedly good news for the North East, it’s a damning statistic for the Italian volume car business. Certainly Ferrari seems to trade on serenely immune to the vagaries of the market but the last few years have been grim for FIAT. Things have been no better at Alfa Romeo, what should be FIATs volume premium brand. Instead of fighting it out with BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar it’s struggled, notwithstanding sucking up billions of pounds of FIAT’s money. The 159 is a fine looking car but is plagued by electrical issues. The Brera looks good too but your head touches the ceiling if you are anything over 5 foot 10. The Mito and Giulietta look underwhelming and apparently offer one of the worst buying experiences of any new car. The only bright light has been the magnificent 8C, but that was a very low volume super car which whilst useful as a halo model, was never going to save the company. All of which makes the 4C a vital car for the company.

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I first saw the 4C at the Geneva motor show in March. It was the centre piece of the Alfa Romeo stand, resplendent in its red paint and surrounded by crowds of gaping admirers. Next to the complete car was a disassembled version to show the cars main components, in particular it’s carbon fibre tub around which the rest of the car is built. This is of course similar to the McLaren MP4c -12. That’s not the only similarity to a super car either. Only a few thousand 4C’s will be built a year so they will be super car rare too. But that’s where the super car similarities end as the 4C can be had for as little as £45,000.

Early reviews if the 4C are positive praising its ride, handling and overall performance. But is this the car to save Alfa Romeo? At that price the 4C is pitched squarely against the Porsche Cayman and the Lotus Exige and Evora. The 4C is a stripped out performance car. One gets the impression that if you want a car to use every day then the Porsche will offer the better experience. It will also offer famed Porsche reliability and rock solid residuals. Similarly the Evora looks more comfortable for anything more than track work and if you want a stripped out racer the Exige probably does the job as well for a smaller price. Alfa Romeo are not known for Lotus type hard core sports cars, but comfortable sports cars and sports saloons. Is it wise for them to stray beyond what they could and should do best? But the real problem with the 4C is the way it looks. It is striking but is it pretty? I don’t think so. It looks like a startled blushing frog. Whilst it may have the edge on the Porsche and the two Lotus’ dynamically it is far uglier than all three and that is a real shame given how splendid the 8C looked. Aesthetic appearance is important as a sports car is not something you buy just for performance but also for how it makes you feel. You want to look back at it with pride every time you walk away from parking it. With the Alfa I think pride may not be the first thought that comes into your head. Maybe bewilderment?

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