My new Alfa 4C, a previous Elise owner's (long) review
As many of you know I used to own a very heavily modified 2006 Elise that went through many different iterations, till it ended being an incredible Honda K/itb powered monster. It was recently sold to a great buyer and I quickly went on a search for a replacement that was going to be more street based than track based. My requirements were around needing a "more normal" car with working ac, the ability to hold a conversation without yelling, and a car without solid bushings and more compliant engine mounts (I changed all mine out to solid and stiffer). My Elise was just incredible, but it was a weapon for Sundays and the track and not geared toward being a car for the normal road (which I used to do early on).
My list of cars was a wide spectrum from the latest Viper, Evora 400, Porsche GT4, Porsche Spyder, Nissan GTR, used Gallardo, Corvette ZR1, Dodge Hellcat, the new Ford Focus RS, the latest STi, and a used NSX. That's quite a range of cars but any of them would have made me a happy owner, they are all driver's cars in one aspect or another. I got close to getting a GT4 or Spyder (both are amazing) but in the end I couldn't justify the dealer markups and price tag when compared to other cars in the price category. The DTLA Porsche dealer had a $30K market adjustment pushing the GT4 into used MP4C territory, I understand they are sold out but that's a bit much.
I had seen the Alfa 4C at last year's LA Auto Show and was deeply unimpressed. When Shinoo at Sector got theirs I didn't even give it second glance. It seemed neutered, under-powered, there was no stance to the car, and I had been there and done that with my 2006 Elise. After visiting all the above dealers I ventured online again to do some research on the 4C to see how the after market was developing and found a treasure trove of advancements since the car had been out in Europe for quite some time. What convinced me was the fact that tuners had created easy to implement upgrades to the factory turbo system, and all of it kept the street-able nature of the car intact. After finding out about all the engine, suspension, brake mods that are available for the car it was an easy decision to go look for a 4C as it ticks all my boxes.
I purchased the car from a dealer in South Carolina, completely through email (easiest purchase I've ever done) and it arrived via transport a couple weeks later. I even found a good forum with many previous/current Lotus owners that are on this site - that was comforting. Here's what I modded first on the car, DRS did the work and will maintain my car like they did on my Elise:
intake filter, boost pressure hoses
EuroCompulsion ECU (new map 300whp/300ft lbs)
Braid wheels / Advan Neova AD08 R
Bilstein B16 2 way adjustables
Sector exhaust (kills drone)
Sector 2 piece Girodiscs and pads
RLS mirrors (wider view)
paint correction and Opti Coat
now, that list above is pretty identical to what I did for my Elise when I took delivery with the exception that there were no easy to implement power mods to the Toyota block. I became the second person (after Frank) to install a custom supercharger in LA and that began a very long arduous journey of seeking reliable power in the car. It's easy now as you can go Honda or turbo or supercharger but even then lots of the bits like the transmission etc. are still weak or missing links. The 4C has a factory intercooler, a factory turbo, it's direct injected, etc. all things that make it very easy to get power, you aren't reinventing the wheel or putting things on the car that weren't there before, I can't stress enough how easy that is (it's reminds me of how easy it is to get an STI to insane power levels). I also recall how stiff and bumpy my Elise was with the track pack - it tramlined and hunted around and was just a terrible ride - this was all solved easily once I got the Nitrons on.
So what does it feel like to drive? Pretty incredible. I have to say with the very easy to install mods...the car is beyond my expectations from what I have read and seen from the review circuit. Similarly to the Elise, I don't think you can judge either platform correctly till you modify the things you know you want control over. The easiest way to describe it is, it's an Elise with about 10 years of technology advancements. It has paddle shifters, it has a carbon tub, the suspension does all the work as the chassis is just incredibly stiff. There is not one creak or rattle or stray sound to be found. The stock ride quality was shockingly good (again coming from my Elise anything is comfortable). The stock alignment had too much negative toe in the front causing a very darty feel on the highway - it's probably awesome on the track but for normal use it was a bit much. This is the aspect that most reviewers note and it's easily solved with an alignment, which I assume everyone will do on whatever fast car they drive.
The drive modes are useful...it's great to putt around in the normal mode in automatic, like in traffic. It quiets down, you can be lazy. When you want to hot foot it the dynamic mode (with the new ecu) pretty much eliminates turbo lag and there is just an immense surge in torque when lightly tapping the gas. With the Sector exhaust pretty much all you hear when cruising around is tire and wind noise...to the outside world it's a very loud car, but inside it's pretty quiet. So of course I'd love a great 6 speed in this car, but really there's so much going on I kind of like the paddles on this car and honestly don't miss the clutch and stick at all. Straight line acceleration is clearly faster than my Honda powered Elise. It has to easily be sub 4 second using launch control. In stock form it's pretty quick, but the additional 60hp you get from the ecu just transforms the car and I never had 300ft/lbs in my Elise and that is a lot for a light car. I don't know how it does it, probably the combination of weight, torque and very tight gearing, but it's seriously as quick as the GTR I tested in terms of below 100mph acceleration, I'm still quite shocked at how fast it gets to a 100.
Dynamically it feels a little different than the Elise. Nothing will feel like a Lotus, nothing. My Elise felt like you were bonded to the front wheels and you knew exactly what the car was doing at any given moment...I think Lotus has "road feel" locked up as a magic power. The 4C actually turns in much faster than the Elise, but the front geometry has something there that I can't quite pin down, might be caster. I would describe the drive experience to be exactly between an Elise and a Cayman. You are just that more slightly removed from what's going on...you just have an overwhelming sense of grip, and sophisticated chassis (stock and the new Bilsteins), and exit grip. The car is very well damped, and again feels more Porsche than Lotus in that it doesn't crash when hitting bumps and potholes and the like, the chassis is super stiff and the shock and springs do their job. I would avoid the track suspension and go for the stock one or change to aftermarket, but I was quite happy with the stock suspension it just didn't allow for ride and height and wasn't adjustable.
Should you get one? I think it fits a narrow profile for a previous Lotus owner...and the Evora 400 will fight hard for your attention. If the new V6 Exige was imported into the US I think I wouldn't have hesitated a moment and went and bought one...but barring that car here I think this is the closest you will get to that Elise-feel if you need a more modern car with airbags in the doors, ac that works, interior noise levels that are more livable (it's still very loud, just...I used to have to wear ear plugs in my Elise), etc. The vague steering feel is not exactly what you read in the reviews, I think that has to do with setup and suspension - but there is something slightly more numb compared to a bare bones Elise, again I don't think anything will feel like save for a 211. If you are more track based stick with your Lotus platform as they are lighter and we have all that down to a science on how to go very fast on the track, you can beat them up and the used cars are so cheap now.
It's simply gorgeous now that it has proper wheel and rubber and some stance. It's very wide, the front doesn't scrape for me around LA but I'm pretty careful as my Elise was much lower. The paint clear coat is water based as most cars are now, and I have to say the paint softness and ability to get scratched from detailing is the worst I have ever seen. My Elise when it had Solar Yellow was pretty durable, when it got repainted it had a ridiculous amount of clear, this is the opposite. You will need paint correction to remove all the swirls for when the dealer cleaned the car on delivery, and then either go full on 3M or do OptiCoat (or whatever coating you want). I went with a mixture, the front and sides are clear filmed and the rest is Opti Coated.
I miss the K20/24 engine in my Elise mostly, that thing was just inspiring in its sound and delivery. But as a package, if you want an updated version of your Elise/Exige and will do the usual mods I can't recommend the 4C enough. I read the factory takes quite a loss on each one sold as they were made as the reintroduction to the brand...but when you watch that How It's Made episode this is literally a hand built carbon fiber tub-ed small supercar made in Modena at the Maserati factory. It can't be cheap to do what they do. I think I read the car ends production in 2017, who knows what will happen but this is extremely low volume. Very happy with it, it certainly feels like we all did back in 2005/6 when we got our Lotus deliveries and most people have never seen one before on the road. Thanks for reading happy to answer questions...I'd love to have both this and my Elise, that would be the perfect combination.
2006 Elise : JFG | Nitrons | 2bular 8" Single | IMRP aero | TWRD carbon | K20/24 NA | DRS EFI/Cosworth dash and tuning
Last edited by kaz; 12-11-2015 at 01:43 AM.