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Alfa Romeo Spider 1750 TBi

An advanced turbo petrol engine could be just what the Alfa Spider needs to excel. Steve Walker takes a look.

Preview

The innate ability that Alfa Romeo's Spider has to drop jaws and set hearts aflutter is well documented. Even by the standards set by other two-seater sportscars hailing from the land of pasta and rampant gesticulation, it's a stunner. What the Spider has never quite managed to do is replicate the same positive emotional response in the person sat behind its steering wheel. It might be at the head of the field on looks but it has languished in the pack in terms of driver appeal. Perhaps Alfa's ingenious 1750 TBi petrol engine can produce a more rounded Spider.

Ten Second Review

Alfa's 1750 TBi engine is one of the best units of its type but it can't turn the Alfa Spider into a focused sports car. The Spider's a little too wobbly for that but you can't argue with its gorgeous styling and that's a powerful weapon in the two-seater sportscar market.

Background

'1750 TBi' might strike you as an unusual name for a 1,742cc turbocharged petrol engine that most manufacturers would title 1.7 T but the numbers have a special resonance in Alfa's glorious past. 1750 was first the name of a sports car in the pre-war era and then re-employed on certain models in the Giulia 105 series during the late 1960s. These include a 1750 GTV coupe to which the modern day Brera and this Spider soft-top version can trace their roots. The Spider itself is no longer in the first flushes of youth but there is hope that the thoroughly modern 1750 TBi engine can have regenerative properties for the car.

Driving Experience

Some decent engines have been fitted to the Spider but they've all been flawed or ill-suited to the particular demands of a great roadster. The 1750 TBi unit instantly looks a better fit in the car. It's a 1.7-litre engine generating 197bhp and 320Nm of torque from 1,400rpm. It sounds great while doing so too, and that's always a bonus when the Spider is without roof and being driven as nature intended. There's a school of thought that says people who've just pulled up outside in Italian convertibles shouldn't then enter the premises and proceed to bore everyone in earshot with tails of their car's variable valve timing system. Despite this, such illusion shattering behaviour will be hard to resist for Spider 1750 TBi owners because the engine is so clever. It features variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, a turbocharger and an ingenious 'scavenging' control system which improves air-flow through the engine and cuts down on turbo lag. The result of the technology is more entertaining, a 7.8s 0-60mph sprint and a 146mph top speed. It's the kind of pace that the charismatic but old 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine can only just better. The car handles sharply enough with inputs through the over-large steering wheel prompting quick responses with tight body control. The ride is firm though and the absence of the extra bracing that a fixed roof would afford results in poor surfaces sending shudders through the car. If you give the Spider some pristine asphalt and some clement weather, it definitely qualifies as an entertaining drive.

Design and Build

People thought the Brera coupe looked good but the Alfa Spider has to be even easier on the eye - especially with the fabric roof folded. That front end with the chrome bars across the raised triangular grille and those headlamps like jewels set against the darkness behind has become a trademark of the modern Alfa Romeo. At the back, the Brera's rather bulbous rear melts away with the hood folded, thus eliminating the fixed roof car's only major aesthetic Achilles heel. Actually folding the roof takes some 25 seconds, not quick by modern standards but it means more passers by will be able to gawp at the spectacle. Alfa chose not to include the ludicrously-tiny rear seats that are so popular in modern convertibles. Instead, you have a pair of lockable storage bins built into the rear bench that supplement the 200-litre capacity of the boot with a further 100-litres. It's a far more practical solution. The amount of usable storage as a whole is on a par with the likes of Audi's TT Roadster and the Nissan 370Z Roadster but you'll still need to travel light. The interior can't live up to the standards set by the Audi TT, despite some high quality materials and attractive aluminium detailing. The centre console is actually angled towards the driver, making its controls and displays that bit easier to use, while the overall feel is suitably special for a car of this type in this price bracket.

Market and Model

There are some very good alternatives to the Alfa Romeo Spider and even though the 1750 TBi engine is at the more affordable end of the range, it isn't what you would call cheap. An equivalently powerful Audi TT can be had for less and for a couple of grand more, buyers can acquire the significantly quicker and more focused versions of the BMW Z4 or Nissan 370z. It means that even with what is a remarkably good engine installed, the Spider relies of its aesthetic beauty to produce the goose bumps and persuade buyers. At least there's a detailed equipment list as standard. Safety provision runs to five-airbags, rear parking sensors, ABS with brake assist, brakeforce distribution and Alfa's Vehicle Dynamic Control system that includes a useful hill holder function. Other desirables include leather trim, cruise control a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control and rear parking sensors which come in handy as rear visibility with the hood up is severely limited.

Cost of Ownership

There are diesel options in the Spider range that return the model's best economy but the 1750 TBi is a much more suitable engine to have in your Italian roadster. Its running costs shouldn't be too extortionate either, the engine managing nearly 35mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 192g/km. The Alfa won't retain its value as tenaciously as its premium brand rivals but if you can find a good dealer, the ownership experience shouldn't throw up too many problems.

Summary

A zingy turbocharged petrol engine could be just what the Alfa Romeo Spider needs to rise in the reckoning of keen drivers after years of selling on its beguiling looks. The 1750 TBi engine is nothing if not zingy, there's some highly advanced technology behind it and it seems to fit the bill perfectly. The Spider has never been a great drivers' car and while the 1750 TBi improves matters, it can't raise the Alfa to the level of some very adept rivals. What you get is a well equipped and achingly handsome Italian roadster that's a little too blunt and wobbly on the road to really engage its driver. There's still fun to be had though and the Spider only suffers because the competition is so strong. If style is your top priority, there's little to touch it at the price.

A zingy turbocharged petrol engine could be just what the Alfa Romeo Spider needs to rise in the reckoning of keen drivers after years of selling on its beguiling looks. The 1750 TBi engine is nothing if not zingy, there's some highly advanced technology behind it and it seems to fit the bill perfectly. The Spider has never been a great drivers' car and while the 1750 TBi improves matters, it can't raise the Alfa to the level of some very adept rivals. What you get is a well equipped and achingly handsome Italian roadster that's a little too blunt and wobbly on the road to really engage its driver. There's still fun to be had though and the Spider only suffers because the competition is so strong. If style is your top priority, there's little to touch it at the price.

A zingy turbocharged petrol engine could be just what the Alfa Romeo Spider needs to rise in the reckoning of keen drivers after years of selling on its beguiling looks. The 1750 TBi engine is nothing if not zingy, there's some highly advanced technology behind it and it seems to fit the bill perfectly. Some decent engines have been fitted to the Spider but they've all been flawed or ill-suited to the particular demands of a great roadster. The 1750 TBi unit instantly looks a better fit in the car. It's a 1.7-litre engine generating 197bhp and 320Nm of torque from 1,400rpm. It sounds great while doing so too, and that's always a bonus when the Spider is without roof and being driven as nature intended. The result of the technology in the 1750 TBi unit is a 7.8s 0-60mph sprint and a 146mph top speed. It's the kind of pace that the charismatic but old 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine can only just better. Its running costs shouldn't be too extortionate either, the engine managing nearly 35mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 192g/km. That front end with the chrome bars across the raised triangular grille and those headlamps like jewels set against the darkness behind has become a trademark of the modern Alfa Romeo. At the back, the rather bulbous rear melts away with the hood folded, thus eliminating the fixed roof car's only major aesthetic Achilles heel. Actually folding the roof takes some 25 seconds, not quick by modern standards but it means more passers by will be able to gawp at the spectacle. The Spider has never been a great drivers' car and while the 1750 TBi improves matters, it can't raise the Alfa to the level of some very adept rivals. What you get is a well equipped and achingly handsome Italian roadster that's a little too blunt and wobbly on the road to really engage its driver. There's still fun to be had though and the Spider only suffers because the competition is so strong. If style is your top priority, there's little to touch it at the price.

The innate ability that Alfa Romeo's Spider has to drop jaws and set hearts aflutter is well documented. Even by the standards set by other two-seater sportscars hailing from the land of pasta and rampant gesticulation, it's a stunner. What the Spider has never quite managed to do is replicate the same positive emotional response in the person sat behind its steering wheel. It might be at the head of the field on looks but it has languished in the pack in terms of driver appeal. Perhaps Alfa's ingenious 1750 TBi petrol engine can produce a more rounded Spider. Some decent engines have been fitted to the Spider but they've all been flawed or ill-suited to the particular demands of a great roadster. The 1750 TBi unit instantly looks a better fit in the car. It's a 1.7-litre engine generating 197bhp and 320Nm of torque from 1,400rpm. It sounds great while doing so too, and that's always a bonus when the Spider is without roof and being driven as nature intended. There's a school of thought that says people who've just pulled up outside in Italian convertibles shouldn't then enter the premises and proceed to bore everyone in earshot with tails of their car's variable valve timing system. Despite this, such illusion shattering behaviour will be hard to resist for Spider 1750 TBi owners because the engine is so clever. It features variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, a turbocharger and an ingenious 'scavenging' control system which improves air-flow through the engine and cuts down on turbo lag. The result of the technology is more entertaining, a 7.8s 0-60mph sprint and a 146mph top speed. It's the kind of pace that the charismatic but old 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine can only just better. People thought the Brera coupe looked good but the Alfa Spider has to be even easier on the eye - especially with the fabric roof folded. That front end with the chrome bars across the raised triangular grille and those headlamps like jewels set against the darkness behind has become a trademark of the modern Alfa Romeo. At the back, the Brera's rather bulbous rear melts away with the hood folded, thus eliminating the fixed roof car's only major aesthetic Achilles heel. Actually folding the roof takes some 25 seconds, not quick by modern standards but it means more passers by will be able to gawp at the spectacle. Alfa chose not to include the ludicrously-tiny rear seats that are so popular in modern convertibles. Instead, you have a pair of lockable storage bins built into the rear bench that supplement the 200-litre capacity of the boot with a further 100-litres. It's a far more practical solution. The amount of usable storage as a whole is on a par with the likes of Audi's TT Roadster and the Nissan 370Z Roadster but you'll still need to travel light. There are diesel options in the Spider range that return the model's best economy but the 1750 TBi is a much more suitable engine to have in your Italian roadster. Its running costs shouldn't be too extortionate either, the engine managing nearly 35mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 192g/km. The Alfa won't retain its value as tenaciously as its premium brand rivals but if you can find a good dealer, the ownership experience shouldn't throw up too many problems. A zingy turbocharged petrol engine could be just what the Alfa Romeo Spider needs to rise in the reckoning of keen drivers after years of selling on its beguiling looks. The 1750 TBi engine is nothing if not zingy, there's some highly advanced technology behind it and it seems to fit the bill perfectly. STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, side and knee airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, ABS with brake assist

Scores
Performance 7
Handling 5
Comfort 8
Space 6
Styling 8
Build 7
Value 5
Equipment 8
Economy 7
Depreciation 6
Insurance 7
Total 74
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