Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - Spider - 2.2 JTS convertible
Alfa Romeo models
Style, comfort, easy cruising, refinement, equipment and safety, sturdiness, surprisingly well-made
Room for improvement
Unsporty to drive, weight blunts performance and economy, scuttle shake, lacks predecessor’s charm and verve
9 Nov 2007
ALFAS are synonymous with style, sportiness and Italian-ness. In the case of the Alfa Spider, it's a case of two out of three.
This all-new version – only the third Spider in over 40 years – has a style that could only have come from Italy, but with a driving experience that is probably more Switzerland than anything.
To really appreciate what a fine car this is, you need to suspend any preconceptions about dynamic athleticism or rorty performance, because the far-cheaper Mazda MX-5 roundly beats this car in both departments.
And what do you expect from a car that – essentially – is the front-wheel drive Alfa 159 sedan underneath?
When you consider that this is akin to Toyota taking its mid-sized family car and turning it into a two-seater convertible, then what the Italians have achieved is astounding, because as a luxury grand touring drop-top, this Spider actually works very well.
Cruising the open road, the Alfa feels rock solid, with sensitive and beautifully weighted steering giving you all the feedback you want.
It translates into fine handling and crisp cornering capabilities, with little kickback from the helm despite the presence of scuttle shake on anything but the smoothest surfaces.
So if you find a curvy bit of road, you should be able to connect with this car for some smooth, fast and flowing driving fun, but pushing hard in tighter turns will produce typical front-drive plough understeer.
On the other hand, the ride quality ranks highly for a car as low and slinky as this, which helps to counter the wobbly feel of the structure.
The 2.2-litre engine struggles to overcome the car's hefty 1470kg-plus mass, resulting in quite leisurely acceleration and poor fuel consumption. We rarely dipped below 10.5L/100km – except on highway runs.
It is quite hard to believe that there is 136kW of power beneath that gorgeous nose.
Happily, then, the six-speed manual gearshift is on your side, since it changes with a springy and well-oiled eagerness, and is helped by an equally satisfying clutch action. Of the whole driving experience, this is perhaps the most traditionally Alfa-like element of the Spider.
Step inside and – after you get over the wholesale 159 dash that seems to have found its way into every recent Alfa – you will find perfectly comfortable electrically-adjustable and heated seats that offer ample space for two tall adults.
Tested in base $69,990 2.2 JTS guise, the interior’s finish and presentation would not look out of place in luxury cars costing twice as much.
We encountered no squeaks, no rattles and no problems at all during our time in this Italian supermodel, while the cabin felt snug and safe even at speed through a violent hailstorm.
There are no qualms about the driving position, either, since the beautifully-sized steering wheel adjusts in two directions, freeing up the view of the lovely traditionally-styled instruments.
They light up nicely at night, are legible and contrast well to the audio, car function and trip computer information that forms part of an LED screen sited smack in the middle of the binnacle.
Like most Alfas, the dash offers ample ventilation from a number of circular outlets, fingertip reach for all controls and an assortment of cubby holes and storage places – with a couple hidden from view should you choose to leave the roof open when parked.
We also appreciated the sizeable boot (for a convertible), as well as the space immediately behind the seats that can be used to carry soft bags and such.
Lower the fast-acting if somewhat clunky one-button electric fabric soft-top and the cabin’s ambience and appeal heightens even more.
Reflecting Alfa’s decades of experience building such cars, there is surprisingly little wind buffeting, even at 120km/h with all windows lowered.
However, the centre console’s silver metallic finish acts like a mirror to the sun if you’re driving away from it – especially at dawn or sunset – to the point where it is blinding.
And Alfa should get with the times and engineer the faddish starter button to automatically keep cranking the engine until it fires.
But these are minor complaints we can forgive because the Spider did end up rising to the occasion.
We never grew tired looking at it or sitting inside with the roof down, soaking in the lovely mechanical sounds. As an alternative to a base model BMW Z4 or Mercedes SLK, the Alfa makes sense, particularly as it costs considerably less.
But there is no denying we would be much happier if this car went harder and steered and handled more like a balanced sports car.
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