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CNET On Cars: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C: Anatomy of a mini supercar (CNET On Cars, Episode 60)
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CNET On Cars: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C: Anatomy of a mini supercar (CNET On Cars, Episode 60)

18:39 /

Alfa's undistilled little 4C isn't quite like anything else on the market, a look at the little-known bible that rules all cars in the U.S. and the top 5 ways electronics have made cars better.

You give the car an input 100% of that turns into a precise output. Alfa's back in a serious way and we're gonna bring you the proof. The bible of car tips determines how cars look and work. And my top five car electronic heroes. Time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love them on the road and under the hood. But also check the tech, and are known for telling it like it is. Ugly is included at no extra cost. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNet on cars. [MUSIC] Welcome to CNet on cars, the show all about high tech cars and modern driving. I'm Brian Cooley. We get a lot of cars in around here. Occasionally, they are all new models to our shores in the U.S.. But very rarely do they also herald the return of a car maker. That's exactly what the Alfa 4 C is doing. The first volume production car from Alfa Romeo to come to America in 20 years. It also set the table for the Alfas to come. Let's drive this little red wonder and check the tech. [NOISE] This is how Alfa is setting the table for its US comeback. With a mint super car. This dead manual. Dual rack and pinion steering. You almost never find that anymore. Let's drive the Alfa 4C. Check the tank out. [MUSIC] Okay, anatomy of a super car x. In the middle is a carbon fiber tub. That's where you sit. On either end are aluminum sub frames, That's what connects you to the rest of the car. Behind you is the engine. Behind that, you're gonna find a very small and the only trunk. It's a warm place. You wouldnt take a Lemon Meringue Pie to the track back there. You've got to put that on the passenger seat. the front looks like a trunk, it's not, there's just apparatus in there. It only comes off with tools, 2 people no plus 2. Now while Four C is little it's body seal is not. getting across that thing is like taking a trip across the country, but once you're in. It's snug, but not tight. You've got an LCD and rather compact instrument panel up there. It's kinda gaudily rendered, but it gets the information across. The head unit is an afterthought. In fact, it's after market. That's a Parrot Asteroid. Antwon reviewed one of those years. Years ago, it's got a little bit of app support but it's kind of a weird little outlier. Opposite at the point of the car, the drive controls are, you've got asymmetrical paddles, down-shift left, up-shift is on the right. Here is your transmission drive control for your dual clutch automated manual. One is the same as drive. Puts you in first gear. There is no. Park, neutral, reverse, than your automatic or manual switchover mode. And like many other cars, if you grab a shift while you are in automatic, it holds for a few seconds in manual mode and drops back to auto. This is an interesting control down here. You can tell someone at Alpha was in love with the ideal of having a control called, DNA. And what it does is control the cars drive mode. It's DNA- D is going to be dynamic mode. N, down one more gets you into what they call natural mode and how do you make A work? What is that? It's kind of tortured. It's all weather mode. Go up to dynamic though, hang on to that guy for like five seconds, and there's the Easter egg. You get into race mode. Now your ABS and your stability control were both turned off. You better know your car well first. [NOISE] Huge part of the story on the 4C of course, lies back here in the engine bay. Mid-engined car. Rear wheel drive. One choice on the transmission, it's a six speed dual clutch automated manual. Now the engine itself, 1750cc in-line four, turbo charged of course. It's also got direct injection and multiport fuel injection. The idea is that each of those is better at different parts of the RPM range. And driving load range so the car will alternate back and forth as land them. The numbers. 237 horse, 258 pound feet of torque. Gets this car that weighs about 2500 pounds up to 60 in around 4.5 seconds. Now note that if you're one of our European or rest of the world viewers. Your 4C weighs a lot less, over 350 pounds less. Because in the US we have a lot of crash standard apparatus, especially at the front and rear ends, and of course we're loaded up with air conditioning and other niceties that you can strip out in other markets. In a car like this that matters, a lot. The fuel economy, if you car, is 24 city, 34 highway. That's actually really good. So you're getting a really fast, exotic car that saves gas. What's not to love? First thing you notice in the 4C, which you may be hearing. Are all these glorious noises. You've got the spooling of the turbo, you've got the whooshing at the intake, you've got the pop-off valves blasting off once in a while as they bleed off excess boost. This is the nearest thing to the sound you'd get in a Veyron. That's exactly what it reminds me of. The next thing you're aware of is the steering. It. High ratio completely unassisted. Tuck into a corner like this, and the precision is amazing. [NOISE] There is prodigious power here, but unless you keep it on the boil, you're very aware of turbo lag. It's not like it's not there, as either Alpha or some other reviewers will tell you. But in a car like this it's not a big impediment cuz you're happy to keep it cooled up, keep your foot in it. Alfa Romeo doesn't plan to come back to the US as a value brand, but they kinda have. This car is a screeching deal for its exotic engineering and extremely wearable handling. We're looking at about 55, two face. MSRP $55,195 And then there are three things we'd add to go see next time. The convenience package is 1800 bucks. That will get you park distance sensors. The only parking help you can get on this car. Better speakers, an alarm and cruise control. Americans like that stuff. The Track package for 2400 gets you a firmer performance suspension, some carbon fiber trim I could live without. And a rear spoiler. And the base exhaust isn't rowdy enough for ya, 500 bucks gets you the sports exhaust. So the neighbors will fully hate you. All in, about 60 grand for one of the most distinctive cars that we've ever driven. And perhaps one of the most responsive ones you ever will. [MUSIC] Find our full review on the Alfa Romeo 4C at cars dot CNET dot com. You may think car companies sit down to a clean screen when they design a car. But it's anything but that. Coming up, we'll thumb through the book that dictates much about every car in the US. That's coming up when CNET On Cars continues. [MUSIC] Up until 1967, making cars in the US was a bit of The Wild West. Safety was only loosely regulated. Cars were largely designed for style. Drive your Chevrolet through the USA. Then along comes Ralph Nader. His book Unsafe at Any Speed started a national dialogue about auto safety. Congress held hearings. And on March 1, 1967, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards took effect. A vast bible of safety regulations that all new cars must conform to. If they're gonna be legal for sale in the US. For example, just consider the lowly safety belt. The first thing the FMVSS mandated back in 67. It says that this device. Must have no burrs or sharp edges on its hardware. Have only one way to latch it. The belt can be no less than 46 millimeters wide. It must adjust to fit a 5th percentile female all the way up to a 95th percentile male. Have. Had between five and six thousand pounds of breaking force. Have it cut end treated not to fray. Resist UV light and microorganisms, and have the belt maker, model, manufacturer, date, and oversees importer permanently inscribed on it. And that's just a summary for a belt. Regulations cover just about every part of a car in crash avoidance,. Crash worthiness and post crash survivability. . From bumpers to lights, shifters to doors, mirrors to buttons, brakes to display panel. But if you really wanna see the effect of the FMVSS, just look at a graph. As the miles we drive in the US have soared, the deaths per mile driven have plummeted. The expectation of automotive safety has radically changed since March of 67,. And carmakers now, it pays to double check that every bit of their designs conform to the FMVSS. [MUSIC] Welcome back to CNET on Cars! Coming to you from our home at the Mount Tam Motor Club, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Well it would be natural for you to think that your cars main output if you will, is motion, but in fact it's not, it's heat, hence, your cars elaborate cooling system that envelops the engine. In fact, about 70% of every gallon of gas or diesel you burn makes heat not movement. That disturbing fact makes for interesting car tech 101 on technology is the [UNKNOWN] with all that waste. [NOISE] [MUSIC] A bet roughly 70% of your cars fuel that is wasted. About 85% of that goes out as heat. Exhaust systems, grills, ducts, radiators, coolant, plumbing, and fans, they're all over your car just to get rid of heat. But heat is just energy. Why waste it? Why not convert it? That's what car makers are seeking to do via two main strategies. The first is around the thermoelectric effect. That occurs when connected materials react differently to heat. Creating an electronic differential between them that generates current. Spacecraft have long used this to generate electricity from the Sun's rays. An example is BMW's work on thermoelectric generators that capture the heat in the car's exhaust system to make electricity in a solid state manner. A 7 Series, for example, needs up to a thousand watts of electrical power while running. Any of that demand you can off-load from the alternator saves gas. Researchers at Boise State University, along with Robert Bosch, Honda, and the Oak Ridge National Labs. Are working under an $8 million Federal grant to create better thermal electric generators by using nano materials. They hope to improve vehicle energy efficiency by a solid 5%. Now another main thrust is turbines. Florida's keen on using exhaust heat to warm up fluid that creates vapor pressure to spin a turbine generator. Make electricity, sort of like a mini nuclear power plant without the nuclear part. BMW's turbo steamer project is similar, and they say it'll be on the market in around six years. They're seeing up to a 15% improvement in test vehicles but are hoping to get a solid 10% in the real world on longer, steady drives. Cars. Now the real keys to all these technologies are threefold. First, prove their efficiency gains in real world driving. Next get the size of the mechanisms down so they fit in small cars where efficiency is often more prized than larger ones. And of course manage the cost. So the fuel savings are not overshadowed by the price of the test. In a moment, hard starts in the cold and top 5 electronic technologies that have changed driving. When CNET On Cars continues. [MUSIC] [MUSIC] Welcome to the Vantage GT3, the most extreme small Aston ever to grace the road. It's designed for the track, not for crushing continent. Personally I think that's a good thing. Why not add some more anger and fire into the mix? [MUSIC] Find more from the xcar team of CNet UK at Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. Here's the part of the show where I take one of your emails. And this one's coming in from Dillon S. in snowy, cold New England. And he writes in, Hey, it's been a pretty brutal winter for us in the New England area. Yeah, I should say. I own a 2008 BMW 335xi, he writes. It's a coupe. Today, I started my car in minus 10 degree wind chill weather and it started fine without hesitation. But after a trip back from running errands and parking my car a yellow battery light came on. His question is, how do I know if this is a battery problem or an alternator problem? Well, let's clear up battery versus alternator, Dylan. I think that might help you first of all. The battery is primarily your device for turning that engine over. When you're cranking the car from dead to a start, the alternator doesn't have anything to do with it. It has. Has to be spinning up later when the engine is running to keep the battery charged. That's its main task. If you're having a hard time starting your car initially, that's likely a battery issue. If at the end of a drive you come back and now the car won't start and it did before. That's likely an alternator issue. It's not keeping this guy topped up as you're operating your car. To get a really good test of how your alternator and battery are functioning in different modes, you do have to go to a shop where they've got a pretty elaborate, professional electrical circuit generator. They can check the battery's ability to take a charge. To deliver a current and also how well the alternator is replenishing the battery. And in the meantime, you gotta double whammy. Really cold weather causes a battery to typically send out a little less current because it slows down the chemical reaction by which. Makes electricity. Secondly, in that really cold weather your oil gets really thick and kind of viscous, makes it even harder to turn the engine over from a battery that's delivering less current. So you see how it's a daisy chain effect. That's why the toughest test for electrical systems is often in the cold. In the meantime, you might wanna look at one of the new breed of these portable battery packs that can jumpstart a car or charge a laptop or charge your phone. They're kind of do all devices and their lightweight and small now. My colleague Wayne Cunningham did a nice round up of several of these. You can find that at CNet. Oh, by the way, on your era of BMW I think it might have two battery indicators, one for the car's service battery, another for the battery in your wireless key fab. Make sure you know which icon you're seeing. That key fab was supposed to be in that little port in the dash at least a couple times a year. To keep it charged up. Now, we covered a lot of automotive electronics here on this show. In general, electronics have done more to revolutionize cars in your lifetime than any other avenue of development. Here are my top five examples. [MUSIC] So these are hands on things you experience in your car every day or soon will. Number five is infotainment. Seems pretty low for something which includes navigation, mobile devices, satellite radio, and apps and more. But I put infotainment electronics rather low because it still lags well behind our phones in terms of scope and elegance. And until that changes it stays down here in the cellar. Number four is lighting. Yes, General Motors rolled out smart lighting like Autronic-Eye, some sixty years ago, but it was like something out of a Flash Gordon movie, wonky. Today, auto lighting electronics are solid. You may switch your new car's lights to automatic the first night you own it and not touch them again for months. And soon smart beam shaping lights will arrive that will utterly transform the way your car lights the road, not just when it does. Number three, keys and security. It used to be that when your car was getting boosted all it could do is sound an alarm that no one. That he cared about. Today, security electronics actually try to stop the theft, not annoy neighbors, immobilizing the car's ignition, unless an electronic smart key is present. And that same key is rarely handled today, thanks to electronics. Just leave it in your pocket, and the car's door handles and ignition recognize you. Even other settings may follow based on the key's presence. It's ironic that a key we barely have to touch anymore, seems to be getting bigger and heavier all the time. Number two is road sensing, this is a big one. It rolls up infrared, radar, laser, camera and ultrasound. To read the road, detect cars around you, and even find and get into parking spaces along side you. It's moving us fast from a current world of driver assist, to an imminent world of self-driving cars. The other side of the coin are the senors that drive things like ABS, air bags, and stability control. Those are the big three that have made huge reductions in many kinds of injuries and fatalities on the road. Before I get to number one, I can tell you, it won't be climate control. In spite of having a lot of electronics behind it, it just doesn't seem to have made that much of a difference. Tell me you don't still fiddle endlessly with the heat and cooling controls as you drive. The number one way electronics has revolutionized cars lately is in the power train. Today's engines and transmissions are run by computers. Instead of past technologies like carburetor adjustments or vacuum timing contraptions and voodoo transmission tweaks. Electronics have made car powertrains more powerful, less fuel consuming, much cleaner, and with ages between many service intervals. This is also the main reason your car starts and runs the same every time. Unimaginable a few decades ago. And, whether you drive a minivan or an M3, that appliance like quality is the electronic benefit you enjoy the most every day. Thanks for watching. Hope you enjoyed this episode. Follow me on twitter if you want to get sneak peeks at the cars we're shooting or the segments we're producing for future episodes of c/net on cars and, of course, look for us on any of your favorite streaming platforms. Pretty sure you're gonna find us there. I'll see ya next time when we check the tech. [MUSIC]
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Brian Cooley joined CNET in 1995 and always comes at technology from the real consumer's point of view. He brings his high energy, often skeptical style to all avenues of CNET coverage, with an emphasis on car tech. You'll also find him frequently on television, radio and the TV screens at Costco!

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