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Alfa Romeo 4C will get major updates, but not what enthusiasts really want

2018 Alfa Romeo 4C
With an attractive shape and lightweight carbon fiber chassis, the Alfa Romeo 4C seems to have a lot going for it. But the response to Alfa’s svelte sports car has been decidedly mixed. Alfa will try to address some of the issues in an upcoming refresh, but it won’t add one item sure to please enthusiasts: A manual transmission.

An updated 4C will appear in fall 2018 and go on sale in January 2019, Alfa Romeo and Maserati engineering boss Roberto Fedeli said in an interview with Autocar. The updates will include changes to the suspension and steering, and possibly a new engine, but will not include a manual transmission option.

The 4C was designed around driver engagement, so Alfa’s decision to offer it only with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission has always seemed at odds with the car’s mission. Alfa was so committed to creating an old-school feel that it ditched power steering completely, in order to provide the purest sensation. The 4C also features a carbon fiber monocoque chassis similar to what you expect to find in high-end supercars. That, and a lack of creature comforts, keeps the curb weight of a U.S.-spec 4C coupe at an impressively low 2,465 pounds.

In an age where automotive journalists routinely complain about numb electric power steering and the bloat caused by modern convenience features, the 4C initially seemed like a godsend. But reviews have been mixed, with many citing twitchy steering, a rough ride, and a cramped cabin. With a base price of $55,900, the 4C also isn’t cheap.

Even if a manual transmission isn’t on the table, a new engine could be a big help. The current 4C uses a turbocharged 1.7-liter four-cylinder, which produces 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That is more than adequate in such a light car (the 4C will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, according to Alfa). But a boost in performance might make buyers more likely to overlook the car’s spartan nature.

Not only will the 4C not get a manual transmission, but neither will any other future high-performance, Alfa, Maserati, or Ferrari models, Alfa/Maserati engineering boss Fedeli said. That’s already pretty much the case with the three conjoined Italian automakers; Ferrari hasn’t sold a manual-transmission car in years.

The manual transmission’s demise is due to lack of customer demand, Fedeli said. After spending millions to develop a manual option for the California roadster, how many cars do you think Ferrari sold with that transmission. Just two, according to Fedeli.

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