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Alfa Romeo Spider range

Alfa Romeo's Brera coupe paved the way for the striking Spider convertible. Andy Enright reports. Comfort 0

Ten Second Review

Looking for an incisive scalpel of a roadster that can really slice and dice your favourite back roads? Buy a Porsche Boxster then. The Alfa Spider, on the other hand, is no cutting edge driver's car but instead majors on presence, equipment and classic Italian design. It's a love it or hate it sort of deal.

Background

Lopping the roof off a coupe rarely does it many favours. Often the proportions go to pot, the chassis gets an attack of the vapours when shown a corner and any semblance of practicality goes right out of the window. Given that the prime objective of most convertibles is to look fantastic, losing the proportions is inexcusable. The other two we can work around but thankfully Alfa Romeo has got things spot on when it comes to their Spider. It looks sharp and will turn so many heads that pedestrians will end up walking into pavement furniture. It's a direct successor to the GTV Spider, a car that sold extremely well for Alfa Romeo, but the 'new' Spider takes things a little further upmarket and is built a whole lot better. If convertible cars are all about the way they look, it's hard to generate complaint here.

Driving Experience

The entry-level 185bhp 2.2-litre car has been a big seller, its junior exotic looks and charismatic engine give it some real personality. The batton might well have passed to the 1750TBi though. This is a 198bhp 1.7-litre turbocharged engine with some extremely advanced features. The 0-60mph sprint takes just 7.8s which is a second up on what the old 2.2-litre can do. The compromise models get diesel power. It's still not a popular choice in roadsters but the Spider has a couple of options with a view to changing that. A 2.0 JTDm unit opens proceedings with 168bhp and a 0-60mph time of 9.0s. The 2.4-litre diesel has 207bhp and will top 142mph yet still zip to 60mph in under 8 seconds. The range-topping Spider variant is the storming 3.2-litre all-wheel-drive Q4. This V6 model will hit 60mph in 7.0 seconds and packs a 260bhp punch. Alfa claims that the Spider chassis is some 25 per cent stiffer than the GTV soft top, but anybody who's ever driven a GTV Spider will realise that this is a decidedly modest claim for torsional rigidity. The soft top's additional electric motors and chassis bracing adds around 60kg to the kerb weight of an equivalent Brera coupe but when the focus isn't on ultimate dynamics, this isn't so much of an issue. There is also a choice of manual or QTRONIC gearboxes.

Design and Build

The Spider manages somehow to be even better looking than the Brera coupe on which it's based. Part of the reason for this is the rather unflattering discrepancy between the amazing Brera prototype coupe shown at the 2002 Geneva Show and the production car. The convertible wasn't preceded by a car with a longer bonnet, flip up doors and a shape that looked like an automotive excess, so it carries no baggage in that regard. What it does have to live up to are some classic Alfa shapes from the past including the Duetto and the latter day GTV. The penalty for enjoying the fresh air is the removal of the Brera coupe's rear seats, but these vestigial items were really only any good for slinging a bag onto. Practicality isn't a Spider strong point, the boot holding a rather mean 235 litres, although the roof doesn't impinge on that capacity when folded down. On the plus side, there are some cubbies instead of rear seats that keep your belongings safe and sound.

Market and Model

The electrically operated fabric roof is quite an installation, the five-layer system insulating the cabin from wind and road noise while also offering excellent thermal insulation properties - so often a bugbear of convertible cars. The roof mechanism may not feature a trendy folding hard top but such a system would not only compromise its bonny lines but would also tack quite a bit onto an already rather beefy kerb weight figure. The Spider's interior retains a special Alfa ambience. With plenty of metallic finishes to lift the fascia and driver-oriented instruments, the design also makes a nod or two to tradition. How many other cars still retain an oil temperature gauge? The Spider has and it's a welcome touch. There's a voguish starter button and minor controls on the steering wheel. With plenty of adjustment in both the seat and the steering column, even taller drivers will easily find a comfortable driving position. The paint finish, the panel fit, the materials quality and the simple but elegant design of the cabin all score big points.

Cost of Ownership

It pays to adjust your mindset when thinking about running a convertible. True, we wouldn't counsel financial irresponsibility, but the same dry pounds and pence calculations you'll make when comparing a Toyota Avensis with a Volkswagen Passat don't really apply when dealing with a car like the Alfa Spider. It's an emotional car and it's an emotion-based decision to buy one. The best things in life may be free but the next best things usually give you a big slug in the wallet. Thankfully Alfa Romeo have taken steps to soften that blow. The best way to do so is to specify the Spider with the correct engine. If you're a low mileage 'high days and holidays' sort of driver, this will probably mean buying the 1750 TBi unit with its 34mpg return. If, on the other hand, you're of the belief that you want some serious mileage out of your investment, the 2.0-litre JTDm diesel will, at 52mpg combined consumption, work out more cost effectively. The other engines are looking a little off the pace these days but true hedonists won't let the 3.2-litre V6 engine's 24mpg fuel consumption or 272g/km emissions deter them.

Summary

Judging the Alfa Spider merits some real world perspective. Buying a convertible like this is not a process of cold, hard logic. Most will not sit down with a car magazine data table and compare luggage space, miles per gallon figures or CO2 emissions. Nor will they leaf through the enthusiast press to read about the car's scuttle shake and understeer at the limit. It's all vaguely irrelevant. Cars like this sell on how they look and how they make the driver (and, if we're honest, onlookers) feel and the Alfa Spider scores close to bullseye in that regard. It's better looking than most of its immediate rivals, it possesses an illustrious bloodline and a badge oozing with character, and, best of all, it's not a car that takes itself too seriously. It's just a piece of fun, a guilty indulgence. On that level, you have to say it works. Beautifully.

Judging the Alfa Spider merits some real world perspective. Buying a convertible like this is not a process of cold, hard logic. Most will not sit down with a car magazine data table and compare luggage space, miles per gallon figures or CO2 emissions. Nor will they leaf through the enthusiast press to read about the car's scuttle shake and understeer at the limit. It's all vaguely irrelevant. Cars like this sell on how they look and how they make the driver (and, if we're honest, onlookers) feel and the Alfa Spider scores close to bullseye in that regard. It's better looking than most of its immediate rivals, it possesses an illustrious bloodline and a badge oozing with character, and, best of all, it's not a car that takes itself too seriously. It's just a piece of fun, a guilty indulgence. On that level, you have to say it works. Beautifully.

Judging the Alfa Spider merits some real world perspective. Buying a convertible like this is not a process of cold, hard logic. Most will not sit down with a car magazine data table and compare luggage space, miles per gallon figures or CO2 emissions. Nor will they leaf through the enthusiast press to read about the car's scuttle shake and understeer at the limit. It's all vaguely irrelevant. Cars like this sell on how they look and how they make the driver and, if we're honest, onlookers, feel and the Alfa Spider scores close to bullseye in that regard. The entry-level 185bhp 2.2-litre car has been a big seller, its junior exotic looks and charismatic engine give it some real personality. The batton might well have passed to the 1750TBi though. This is a 198bhp 1.7-litre turbocharged engine with some extremely advanced features. The 0-60mph sprint takes just 7.8s which is a second up on what the old 2.2-litre can do. The compromise models get diesel power. It's still not a popular choice in roadsters but the Spider has a couple of options with a view to changing that. A 2.0 JTDm unit opens proceedings with 168bhp and a 0-60mph time of 9.0s. The 2.4-litre diesel has 207bhp and will top 142mph yet still zip to 60mph in under 8 seconds. The range-topping Spider variant is the storming 3.2-litre all-wheel-drive Q4. It's better looking than most of its immediate rivals, it possesses an illustrious bloodline and a badge oozing with character, and, best of all, it's not a car that takes itself too seriously. It's just a piece of fun, a guilty indulgence. On that level, you have to say it works. Beautifully.

Lopping the roof off a coupe rarely does it many favours. Often the proportions go to pot, the chassis gets an attack of the vapours when shown a corner and any semblance of practicality goes right out of the window. Given that the prime objective of most convertibles is to look fantastic, losing the proportions is inexcusable. The other two we can work around but thankfully Alfa Romeo has got things spot on when it comes to their Spider. Let's cut straight to the chase. If you're looking for a driver's car along the lines of a Porsche Boxster or a Nissan 370Z Roadster, the Spider isn't going to leave you wholly impressed. It just can't match these titans in terms of go, stop and steer. If for you however, the drop top experience is not so much about driving the tread off the tyres and more about aesthetics, feel-good tactility and savouring the journey, the Spider can't fail to impress. If you haven't driven a contemporary Alfa Romeo, you might be in for a bit of a surprise with this car. Drop into the cabin and you'll find it hard to escape the conclusion that this convertible is better screwed together than many so-called premium German rivals. The paint finish, the panel fit, the materials quality and the simple but elegant design of the cabin all score big points. The roof mechanism may not feature a trendy folding hard top but such a system would not only compromise its bonny lines but would also tack quite a bit onto an already rather beefy kerb weight figure. The entry-level 185bhp 2.2-litre car has been a big seller, its junior exotic looks and charismatic engine give it some real personality. The batton might well have passed to the 1750TBi though. This is a 198bhp 1.7-litre turbocharged engine with some extremely advanced features. The 0-60mph sprint takes just 7.8s which is a second up on what the old 2.2-litre can do. The compromise models get diesel power. It's still not a popular choice in roadsters but the Spider has a couple of options with a view to changing that. A 2.0 JTDm unit opens proceedings with 168bhp and a 0-60mph time of 9.0s. The 2.4-litre diesel has 207bhp and will top 142mph yet still zip to 60mph in under 8 seconds. The range-topping Spider variant is the storming 3.2-litre all-wheel-drive Q4. The Spider's interior retains the by now almost obligatory Alfa sense of occasion. With plenty of metallic finishes to lift the fascia and driver-oriented instruments, the design also makes a nod or two to tradition. How many other cars still retain an oil temperature gauge? The Spider has and it's a welcome touch. There's a voguish starter button and minor controls on the steering wheel. With plenty of adjustment in both the seat and the steering column, even taller drivers will easily find a comfortable driving position. It would be easy to be hard on the Spider, decrying it as a car that can't face down its rivals on an objective basis, instead relying on woolly notions of perceived desirability and charisma. To do so is to miss the point of this car. Convertibles tend not to be bought for entirely pragmatic reasons and the best looking cars usually sell. Although it might get sniffed at in the pages of evo magazine, I have a suspicion that real world buyers are going to find the Spider right up their street. STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, side and knee airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, ABS with brake assist

Scores
Performance 6
Handling 5
Comfort 8
Space 6
Styling 8
Build 7
Value 5
Equipment 8
Economy 6
Depreciation 6
Insurance 7
Total 72

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