Alfa Romeo’s new-generation coupe and roadster look pretty good on paper: svelte lines, 3.2 liter V-6 with four-wheel drive biased to the rear wheels. Despite a rather high waistline, the Brera is a great looking 2+2 coupe, but the Spider is different.
The lines drawn by Pininfarina are smart enough, but they seem to shout out that this is a convertible version a sedan. The back end in particular looks too high.This is a two-seater, though. Like most two-seaters, it has a small trunk, some of the space being taken up by the electrically-operated soft-top which goes up and down well. But the question is: How does it drive? It is full of surprises. You don’t lower yourself into the car, as you might expect with a two-seater, but step into it, as in a sedan. As I found later, though, the handling is first-class.
The first shock comes with the instruments: true, there are large dials for the rev-counter and speedo, but they have white figures on a grey background. On a bright sunny day – and you get plenty of them in Italy – you can hardly read the numbers. A case of design overcoming ergonomics, which would have never happened in Alfa’s golden era.
This instrument cluster is made worse by the bright orange digital display in the middle, which is just a waste of space, and forces the speedo out a little so the critical bits – 30-50 mph – are almost under the rim of the wheel.
The Spider doesn’t have a key, but a block you push into to get things alive. Then you start and stop the engine with a button. The V-6 comes to life quickly enough, and idles comfortably, without any vibration or indication that a rumble hinting at the power available.
The minor controls work pretty well, and the steering is well weighted. I drove the car on all sorts of roads, and found that once you got used to the low screen rail, and sedan-like hood with hidden fenders, the car went where it was pointed, and behaved fairly well – so long as the roads were smooth.
The suspension set up sounds good: double wishbones at the front, and multi-links – effectively double wishbones with an extra toe-control link. And it behaves well on smooth roads.
Once you turn onto a typical British main road, which has plenty of bumps and ridges, the hard ride comes as a shock. Here I am sitting up at the same level as in an ordinary car like a Golf or Audi A4, but I’m being shaken around as if I’m on a vibrator.
I suspect that the open-top body is less rigid than the coupe, so you get quite a bit of body shake, and this combines with very hard suspension to give a very poor ride, which hardly soaks up any bumps at all. It is not so much the harshness of the ride that gets you as the way the seat shakes you.
I’m used to forgiving cars their bad ride, because they are such fun to drive, but what about the Alfa Spider? Hmmm. For main road use it is quite a lively car, the engine revving right up to 7,000 rpm, giving speeds in the lower gears of about 35, 70, 100 and 120 mph. The gearing is perhaps a trifle high for most driving.
The 3.2 liter V-6 engine is smooth, all right, and fairly quiet. It produces260 bhp @ 6,300 rpm, and maximum torque of 237 lb ft (322 Nm) @ 4,500 rpm. This is an engine that thrives on revs, but is muffled too much to sound like a sports car engine nearly all the time, and lacks the response you expect from a sporty engine. The gearing is unusual, second being quite high and the gear you need to overtake at the speeds you would normally expect to use third on a car of this type. No worries, get down into second, and the Spider takes off well. Overall, the engine performance is good, so long as you get the revs high enogh.
The six-speed box has a rather heavy but precise shift and the gearing gives you relaxed high-speed cruising – or at least it would if the ride were better.
Nevertheless, this is an excellent car to drive around curvy or twisty roads. The Spider goes were pointed, and despite the masses of weight forward of the front-wheels turns smartly, lacking the hesitation you get with most cars where a big V-6 lives forward of the front wheels. Round high-speed curves, the car corners flat and tracks very well.
Pushed harder, it continues to corner neutrally thanks to the four-wheel drive. On sharper bends, there is quite a bit of roll, but the seat holds you in fairly well, and the car still corners neutrally, thankfully lacking the understeer that bedevils front-drive cars of this size.
Pressed hard, the Spider hangs the tail out a little, but not very much unless you are very aggressive indeed. Also, you can pull away fast from a T-junction without a trace of wheelspin.
If you live in the mountains, with plenty of hairpins, you will really enjoy the Alfa Spider, which in its handling is far superior to almost all competing front-drivers.
Once you can forget this is a two-seater with a hard ride, it becomes a pleasant car to drive – cruising quietly, and cornering on rails. A two-seater alternative to a hot hatch or smart convertible.
|Price:||£31,250 (Approx $56,000)|
|Car type:||Two-seater roadster|
|Main dimensions (L x Wx H):||173 x 72 x 51.9 in (4,393 x 1,830 x 1,318 mm)|
|Wheelbase and track:||9.5 x 62.1/61.4 in (2,528 x 1,579/1,559 mm)|
|Kerb (curb) Weight:||3,722 lb (1,690 kg)|
|Engine and transmission|
|Type:||V-6, four valves per cylinder, variable valve opening timing|
|Power output:||260 bhp @ 6,300 rpm|
|Torque:||237 lb ft (322 Nm) @ 4,500 rpm|
|0-60 mph:||Six-speed manual|
|Top Speed:||149 mph|