'The Graduate's' Car Grows Up: Alfa Romeo Returns to U.S. With New 4C Coupe

Courtesy of Chrysler Group

It's been 48 years since Dustin Hoffman drove one onscreen; now Alfa Romeo is back after decades of absence with a loud, luxurious low-to-the-ground performer that starts at $55,195 and tops out at $70,000 loaded.

This story first appeared in the March 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

There are iconic movie cars -- think American Graffiti's white T-bird or the DeLorean in Back to the Future. But if you want to make a baby boomer maudlin with nostalgia, look no further than the Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto Spider, driven by Dustin Hoffman in 1967's The Graduate. The svelte ragtop -- the last car designed by the legendary Battista "Pinin" Farina before his death in 1966 -- is so closely associated with the movie that Alfa later introduced a Spider sub-model dubbed the Graduate.

The Spider was manufactured from 1966 to 1994, when production ceased; Alfa pulled out of the North American market entirely the following year. Now, after years of speculation and false starts, Alfa Romeo has returned to the U.S. under the aegis of its new owner, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. And the first Alfa to hit these shores since the Spider departed is the 4C coupe, which starts at $55,195 and tops out at $70,000 loaded.

In 'The Graduate's' wedding finale, Hoffman careened down the 101 in a Spider.

The 4C coupe is less an homage to the classic Spider -- that distinction goes to Alfa's 4C Spider convertible, introduced in January at the Detroit auto show -- than a reimagination of what it might have become had it, unlike Hoffman's shiftless Benjamin Braddock, been forced to grow up and adapt. The 4C's prow still carries the classic Alfa signifiers of a delta-shaped grill and deep-set covered headlamps, but the rest of the body is all swirls and scoops, as if shaped from mascarpone instead of fiberglass. Still, the 4C projects the classic Alfa aura of a knowing rogue all dressed up with new places to go.

The 4C's 237 horsepower turbocharged aluminum four cylinder is tucked directly behind the driver and passenger seats, which adjust by yanking a bar and dragging them to and fro with one's heels, as in Alfas of yore. The lack of power steering will be a deal breaker for anyone not used to NordicTrack-like resistance when parking, but at speed delivers crisp and precise handling. Climbing into and out of the low-slung cabin -- the seats hover inches above the road -- requires near contortionist maneuvers for tall drivers and passengers, plus the steeply raked rear window creates huge blind spots. The car's exertions as it works its way up and down the six gears -- a cacophony of snarls, pops and puffs rendered fortissimo even at idle and as loud as a lawn mower at full throttle -- are amusing for the first few spins but tiresome for daily drives. Finally, inexplicable design quirks reveal themselves, such as the "this is only a test" high-pitch tone that screamed for five seconds each time I started the car and was never able to circumvent.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

The upside to all this fidelity to gnarly sports-car authenticity is that the 4C delivers superlative sports- car performance. The extensive use of lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum gives the 4C a power-to- weight ratio that translates into a top speed of 155 miles per hour and zero to 60 mph in a hair over four seconds -- plus a respectable combined mileage of 28 mpg.

Having put Lamborghini's $237,000 Huracan through its paces, I can attest that while 4C is no Lambo, the plucky Alfa launches with almost as much alacrity and carves turns like Julia Mancuso tearing through the Super G at Cortina d'Ampezzo. When zipping along the sweeping curves of California's 101 Freeway, you can half imagine yourself as Benjamin Braddock, lashing his red Duetto Spider up this same road to scuttle Elaine Robinson's wedding. Benjamin's Spider ran out of gas and he had to hoof it the rest of the way, but without the Alfa, he never would have made it to the church on time. Bravissimo.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C