2017 Fiat 124 Spider vs. Alfa Romeo 4C Spider On-Track – Which Is Better?
This past week at Monticello Motor Club, the International Motor Press Association (IMPA) held its annual test days. The hottest car at the track may well have been the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. Alfa Romeo brought three, and the list to get seat time was the longest at the event. Torque News was fortunate enough to drive this amazing car back to back with the 4C Spider’s cousin, the all-new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth 6MT. We would like to offer our track impressions and want to be clear this in not a win-lose comparison. This is one driver’s thoughts on why these are two of the best fun-cars one can buy.
Alfa 4C Spider – On-Track
Having been fortunate enough to drive the 4C Spider for a week, I can attest to its bi-polar personality. On the one hand, it is gorgeous, and people get whiplash turning to get a look as it goes by. On the other hand, it lacks almost all amenities, and its seats are hard to live with. The audio is old-school Alpine head unit that is nobody seriously considers infotainment. All these small issues mean nothing on the track.
The 4C’s turbocharged engine is more of an on-off switch than most modern cars. Around town, its manual-automatic transmission isn’t easy to use, but on-track the engine and automated-manual transmission are absolutely perfect. I opted to use automatic mode and concentrate on steering the car rather than paddle shift it and I’m glad I did.
The 4C thrives when flogged. Floor it and the exhaust note barks and fires off blatts like a race car, which is what this is in case we have not made that clear. Thrust is strong, and the car tips back a bit when it accelerates since it is rear-mid engine. One can actually feel the front lighten up and the manual steering means you sense the road like no other modern car. Accelerate out of a corner, and you can feel the front wheel’s adhesion lessen. Brake and turn and you can feel the front load up and grip increase. It is incredible.
The 4C sticks like glue, but to this non-pro driver, the limits are not clear. It is obvious it is going to be a quick transition from grip to no grip. Scary fun.
The car brakes like a race car too. The pedal is rock-firm, and the modulation is almost non-existent. On track this is fine because it you are doing it right, you spend a lot of time on the brakes at near-lock.
One has to muscle the 4C around the track. It is a hard thing to do, and you will love it. Plan to push your left foot firmly into the dead pedal to gain the leverage you need to turn the wheel. It is that involving. I felt like I wrestled the 4C around the track and I was jazzed for a long time after my ride was over. My arms were tired after a single lap! This is the best on-track car I have ever driven when it comes to raw excitement. (More on following pages)
Fiat 124 Spider Abarth 6MT On-Track
I had multiple runs in the 124 Spider Abarth on-track, and I was able to get used to the car and really flog it. The 124 Spider is the polar opposite of the 4C, but no less impressive. The most important difference is that the 124 Spider so clearly telegraphs its adhesion limits that anyone can test its limits and get the car to slide. The journalist ahead of me on one run had disabled traction control, and he had heated the tires to the melting point by drifting it. The car’s limits were so easy to feel on the greasy over-hated tires it almost felt slippery. However, go too fast into a corner, and the whole car rotates saving you from trouble. Understeer is minimal, and it is easy to toss the 124 Spider into a nice smooth slide to the side that can then be caught with a reverse steering motion. Let’s me assure you it is simple to do, and any non-pro driver can toss this car around with very little track experience.
The manual shifter/transmission in the 124 Spider is familiar to me since I owned the same one in my NC Miata. I love the feel of it, and though I like the new Miata’s updated 6-speed, the one in the Fiat is equally satisfying in its own way. I don’t have the practice to heel-toe every shift on a track, but I did match revs while braking a few times, and when I got it just right the car rewarded me with that zen-like feeling John Updike described in Rabbit Run when Harry sinks the perfect jump shot.
The 124 Abarth’s engine is not my choice over the Miata’s non-turbo option, but when pushed, the Abarth’s engine responds well. In its power-band, it delivers the goods and makes the car fun to drive.
Although the absolute power of the 124 Spider Abarth is relatively low, it is relatively high on a power to weight ratio basis. That means that on a track it does not feel underpowered. In fact, the open-air, low-slung design makes the car feel very fast, even at low speeds. That is the genius of this car and on-track it is amplified, not diminished. The 124 Spider Abarth is a joy to drive on-track.
My Pick – Fiat 124 Spider Abarth vs. Alfa 4C
If I were planning limited track days and many on-road days, the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth would be my pick hands-down. The Fiat has a huge fun-factor on the track and even with multiple laps, I felt I could go faster each time I took the car out. On-road it is simply brilliant, and more fun than every other car, but the Miata in my opinion (I mean that sincerely, with no price qualifications).
If I were buying a track-only car, that I would garage when I was not headed to the track, the 4C would be my pick. Only Chevy’s Camaro ZL-1 convertible gave me as much of a thrill as this car on the track, and the 4C is more fun because it scares the hell out of me. It would take me years to master this car if I ever did get to that point. For that reason, I would make it my track-day car. That said, I would never buy the 4C for a touring car because it is too elemental and on a road trip I like to be comfortable between the aggressive parts and enjoy the ride.
Author’s Note: FCA US (Chrysler) is one of the most supportive automakers in America to the press corps. While we always appreciate the vehicles we are offered to test from all manufacturers, FCA seems to try very hard to make our jobs easier. We felt they deserved a shout-out and note of thanks. See more about Monticello Motor Club and IMPA at these links.