- The Porsche 718 Boxster S and the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider are two of the best sports cars to ever emerge from Europe.
- Both the Porsche and the Alfa are powered by turbocharged, four-cylinder engines located behind the driver.
- The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider costs about $US74,000 while our Porsche 718 Boxster S carried a price tag of just under $US90,000.
- The Alfa Romeo delivered a more raw and evocative driving experience than the Porsche.
- But, we found the Porsche to be an all-around better car.
There are few things as evocative in western society as the convertible sports car. With the top down, it’s the automotive embodiment of fun, freedom, and the open road. Pretty much all the good parts of driving. Cliche? Absolutely. But get behind the wheel of a great sports car and you’ll find out very quickly that there is a whole lot truth behind the cliche.
The Porsche 718 is the latest in the company’s highly successful Boxster line of mid-engine sports cars. For years, it was seen as the 911’s adorable little brother. But lately, Porsche has loosened the reigns on its entry-level sports car with the addition of turbocharging and a host of performance goodies.
The Alfa Romeo 4C paved the way for the brand’s return to the US market back in 2014. Now, Alfa Romeo is powering forward with a lineup led by its stunning Giulia sports sedan and Stelvio crossover SUV. The 4C is a bit of an odd-duck. There’s really nothing else like it in the world. It’s part pint-sized Ferrari, part Italian Lotus. And it’s 100% fun.
So the question must be asked? Which one is better? The raucous Italian or Stuttgart’s finest?
First up is the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. Our Alfa 4C Spider test car started at $US64,000, but after $US10,000 worth of options, ended up with an as-tested price of around $US74,000. Since our test, the 4C Spider’s based price has gone up to $US65,000.
The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is unique. Not since the departure of Alfa’s front-engine Spider a quarter century ago have we had a small, nimble, pure-bred Italian sports car on offer in the US.
Aesthetically, the 4C is stylish, but not quite classically beautiful. Its mousy front-end is juxtaposed to its overall muscular proportions.
Open up the lightweight driver’s door and you’ll find the 4C’s big secret. It’s built around a carbon-fibre tub. This is an expensive but weight-saving construction method reserved for high-priced supercars and hypercars.
Once inside, the Alfa’s cockpit is best described as basic, but attractive. There aren’t too many frivolities like infotainment or sound insolation.
It does, however, have an Alpine stereo system. Very 1990s. Overall, interior fit and finish is subpar. Especially for a car of its price. It feels like Alfa could have spent more money here. Squeaks and rattles abound. There’s a difference between minimalist and not very well made. This is the latter.
There is a nifty seven-inch digital gauge cluster as well.
Also, if you’re any more than six feet tall. It will be a tight squeeze trying to fit in the cabin. Fortunately, this wasn’t an issue for me. As Grand Tour host Richard Hammond once said, “Some of us don’t need legroom.”
Under the hood is where the 4C begins to redeem itself. The Alfa is powered by a 1.7 litre, 237 horsepower, inline-four-cylinder engine that drives the rear wheels through a six-speed twin-clutch gearbox.
According to Alfa, the 2,500-ish pound 4C Spider can hit 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds and reach a top speed of 160 mph.
What’s it like to drive?
When the sun is shining and the weather is warm and you’ve come across a twisty mountain road. The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is nothing short of sublime. This is what God intended driving to feel like. The sweet music made by the turbo four is intoxicating. At the same time, the engine/gearbox combo works effortlessly together. Acceleration happens with great immediacy with little to no hint of turbo lag.
And then there’s the handling. It’s not just good. It’s great. The 4C is old school, it doesn’t have power steering. It’s a pain when you’re trying to parallel park, but on a winding piece of tarmac, the unassisted hydraulic steering is almost telepathic. The Alfa attacks each and every corner with poise and purpose.
All in all, the 4C Spider is one of the best handling sports cars in the world.
Next up is the Porsche 718 Boxster S. Our Boxster S tester started at more than $US68,000. With options, the price rose to $US89,690. Since our initial road test, the base price of the Boxster S has risen to $US71,400.
The current generation Boxster launched in 2016 and is the descendant of the original Boxster that debuted in 1997. As a result, the styling of the Porsche is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It still pretty much looks like a Boxster.
See the resemblance. This is a 1999 Boxster, model code 986.
Inside, the Boxster is an exercise in Teutonic design and efficiency. The cabin is surprisingly roomy. A six foot, seven-inch tall individual was able to fit inside with the top up.
In front of the driver is an old-fashioned analogue gauge cluster. As with all Porsches, the tachometer is front and center.
The Boxster comes with a version of the company’s Porsche Communication Management infotainment system. There’s also Apple CarPlay integration.
There’s even a backup camera. Something sorely lacking in the Alfa.
Overall, the Porsche’s material and build quality are world class. Everything felt solid and well screwed together. The leathers felt soft to the touch while the metallic accents and switches were well weighted.
Boxster also has surprisingly adequate storage space.
Behind the engine is a 4.4 cubic foot trunk.
There’s also a 5.2 cubic foot frunk that’s large enough to swallow up a suitcase.
This time around, Porsche made the biggest change to the Boxster since its inception. It got a new name and a new engine. The 718 designation is in reference to the four-cylinder 718 race cars the company campaigned in the late 1950s.
Thus, for the first time ever, the Boxster would have four-cylinders. Our Boxster S was powered by a 2.5 litre, 350 horsepower, turbocharged, flat-four-cylinder engine. So what’s the turbo four Boxster like to drive?
Like the Alfa, it’s also magnificent. But it’s a very different animal. While the Alfa felt like a road-going go-cart, the Porsche felt much more polished and refined.
With that said, the Boxster S remains a capable performer. According to Porsche, our manual-transmission test car can hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 177. Not that long ago, this was 911 territory.
Around the corners, the Porsche felt confident and steady. Our Boxster never lost its cool, even when the roads were cold, wet, and twisty. But it wasn’t nearly as pure and communicative of an experience as the Alfa. In addition, the Boxster’s turbo four doesn’t sound very good. Its dull, Subaru WRX-esque rumble feels lacking especially when compared to the Alfa’s screaming turbo four that sounds like a mini Ferrari V8.
And the winner is…The Porsche 718 Boxster S.
Yes, Alfa is a lot cheaper than the Porsche. And yes, the Alfa was also an absolute blast to drive on the mountain roads in upstate New York. But the reality is, the car was a pain in just about every other driving condition. Our 4C was a blast during our jaunt through the mountains, but getting there from suburban New Jersey proved to be a loud and uncomfortable experience. The lack of power steering made it extraordinarily difficult to park while the lack of a backup camera only exacerbated the 4C Spider’s glaring blind spots.
The Porsche, on the one hand, delivered a similarly evocative driving experience. While not as raw as the Alfa, the Porsche was more than enough to put a smile on your face. And that smile remains on your trip home because it’s also a comfortable and refined daily driver.
In addition, the Porsche’s built quality and craftsmanship is truly impressive. Its combination of tech, luxury, and performance make it well worth the price premium.
Overall, both proved to be great sports cars. But the Porsche proved to be an all-around great car.
One more thing…
You shouldn’t sleep on the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. It’s the perfect sports car for a very specific group of consumers. Those who want purity of the driving experience and nothing else. If that’s what you’re looking for, then this is the mid-engine, turbocharged, carbon fibre, Italian speed machine for you.
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