If you want to dive deep into the lunatic fringe, strike up a conversation with a hardcore sports car geek. This particular species dedicates every last ounce of mental energy towards the attainment of—and inevitable failure to find—perfection. Within this weird microcosm, creature comforts take a back seat to outright performance, which makes every road car a sort of compromise. Fortunately for Alfa Romeo, the brand’s two decade-old absence from the US market is being spearheaded by a spunky two-seater that should tantalize everyone, from casual dabblers to hardened enthusiasts.
Despite romantic images of a young Dustin Hoffman zipping through The Graduate in a Spider, Alfa eventually abandoned the U.S. market, dogged by slow sales and dodgy reliability. Fast-forward to 2014, and the first Alfa in 20 years comes on strong as a purist-appeasing machine that just happens to be incredibly good looking. Beneath the complex curves of its skin is construction you’d just as soon find in a race car: a carbon fiber and aluminum chassis minimize weight, and power comes from a howling, mid-mounted engine—essentially, the goods to please both hemispheres of the brain.
Though it’s equipped with a sports exhaust and a few options which would be standard on any plusher vehicle (like cruise control), the $68,400 Italian screamer still feels spare on the inside, with a low-to-the-ground view through the windshield that’s not marred by modern distractions like a navigation screen. If this description does nothing for you, imagine accelerating and stopping like you’ve been strapped to a giant rubber band, cornering and careening in the automotive equivalent of two-seat amusement park ride.
My time spent traversing Mulholland Highway in the 4C made it feel hopelessly adhered to tarmac, able to negotiate the squiggly twists and turns with the agility of a featherweight boxer. The non-power steering communicated every nuance of the pavement, darting and dancing dramatically when traversing bumpy bits. Small, lean, and mercilessly focused on pleasing the purest of enthusiasts while turning the heads of casual passersby, the new Alfa Romeo 4C is far from being everything to everybody. In fact, it is so focused on performance that it begs the question of how Alfa can make a meaningful impact on our nation’s millions of middle-of-the-road car buyers. But if you’re the sort who feels a Porsche is simply too cushy and clinical, Alfa Romeo’s re-entry into the U.S. market offers the perfect Italian antidote for run-of-the-mill sports cars.