The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
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What It's Like To Drive Across Manhattan In An Alfa 4C

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Whatever experience you are used to with a normal car — your Camry, your CR-V, your Taurus, your whatever. This Alfa 4C is the opposite of that.

So tomorrow I will be driving this Alfa Romeo up to Lime Rock Park for a track test with my coworkers. There will be beautiful tree-lined backroads leading up into the hills of Connecticut. There will be tricky turns on the race track itself. It will be the theoretically ideal environment for this little car. It will be the kind of test you would imagine for a 4C.

But before that gets to happen, the Alfa needs a garage for the night, and for that to happen, the Alfa needed to go from SoHo to the Upper West Side. That meant that the car would have to make it through the classic Manhattan driving test — through the narrow chunky streets of downtown, up the liminal side highway, and into uptown.

The Alfa 4C does not appear to be designed for this task.

The car is amazingly low. Lower than you think. I don’t mean only that the roof barely seems to come up to my waist. The 4C sits right off the ground, and the seat feels bolted directly onto the carbon fiber floor. The big sills on the side for the carbon tub mean I slide down into the car. Well, it’s more of a drop than a slide.

The interior, I should also say, is hopeless. The whole car feels like it’s made of plastic, because in a sense it is. The whole car thunks when you flip the toggle switch for locking the door. There are five toggle switches, actually, and the two closest to you do absolutely nothing. They don’t even move up or down. The aircon controls feel like they’re off a toy car, shunking from side to side with that thick, extruded kind of sound. The wheel feels nice but looks, and this is a technical term, stupid.

When I’m driving through traffic, my eye is about in line with the bumper stickers on a UPS truck. And every single lip or rise or bump in the road makes me want to dodge to the side, but I can’t because the car feels about a lane and a half wide. And you can’t see out of the back because the rear window is barely a mailbox slot and the over-the-shoulder blind spots are larger than most panel vans. At least the view out the front is perfect, and the side mirrors are actually pretty great.

Amazingly, I never feel like I’m invisible in traffic. Part of this is helped by the fact that I’m driving a bright red sports car with a super loud exhaust and styling that looks like nothing else on the road.

The transmission is bizarre as well. It’s an automatic, but it doesn’t creep. This is complicated because the pedals are firm and there’s what feels like a lot of delay when you get on the gas. It takes some determination to trundle around in traffic, or to reverse/accelerate/reverse/accelerate to get into a tight parking space. You select your gears with four little round buttons on the center console, arranged in a diamond.

All this means is you have to plan everything you’re doing, check all the areas around you constantly, and basically be on constant ‘do not fuck up’ alert.

Even turning the wheel is different from just about any other normal car. The 4C has manual steering, getting nicely firm (but never really heavy) at a standstill and at a crawl, and turning light and quick once the West Side Highway opens up to speed.

And what that means is that the car feels completely divorced from any kind of ordinary driving sensation. It’s the kind of car I might design if I was planning a car.

I won’t say it’s good, but I will say I love it.

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

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