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Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - Spider - 3.2 V6 JTS convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Sexy Italian looks, rorty V6
Room for improvement
A pricetag that's nearly $20,000 more than its predecessor's, average dynamics, steering kickback, firm and crashy ride, V6 thirst and droning exhaust note, slow and jerky auto transmission, tight headroom, blind spots

Alfa Romeo logo25 Sep 2008

LIKE many modern Alfas, we really wanted to love the Spider but instead it just broke our hearts.

Night after night, we gave into temptation and peered through the curtain like an anxious voyeur needing ‘just one more’ peep of the sexy red Italian elegantly poised in the driveway. But each time an excuse was mustered up to get in and go somewhere, we were quickly reminded of all its disappointments.

Tested here is the range-topping, price-whopping $95,990 3.2 JTS Q4 all-wheel drive, matched to a six-speed ‘Q-Tronic’ automatic transmission. And we regret to advise we were left underwhelmed.

Like all good Italian extroverts, the Spider V6 has a body to kill (thanks to the Giugiaro styling house) – regardless of roof position – a rorty exhaust note from its dual twin square exhaust outlets and a red-blooded attitude.

For the onlooker the Spider is all class. Behind the wheel, however, it’s all farce.

Massive front and rear blind spots are immediately obvious thanks to thick, flat-angled A-pillars and a low windscreen header rail that requires a manoeuvre to see around the rear-view mirror, as does the 159-esque interior with its brushed aluminium-look centre console that reflects so blindingly when you’re driving away from the sun.

But these are relatively minor complaints compared to the Spider’s larger issues – its driving characteristics.

With 1710kg of weight to shift, the Spider certainly does not handle twisty roads like its more sporting competitors, despite quick and well-weighted steering and the added assurance of all-wheel drive. In comparison, the Brera coupe equivalent weighs 1650kg.

A sportscar the Spider is not, so a grand tourer it must be then, capable of effortlessly wafting its occupants comfortably over long distances, right? Wrong. In attempt to offer both attributes, it actually offers neither.

Instead, the Spider’s unforgivingly firm ride and ever-present body flex left us feeling tired and sore after a decent stint, and the constant exhaust drone doesn't help its performance as a tourer either.

The Spider V6 does get going, however, reaching 100km/h in 7.2 seconds. With a handy 191kW/322Nm available, and almost 90 per cent of that torque available from 2000rpm, the all-aluminium 3.2-litre V6 is up to the task of satisfying overtaking – on the proviso it is matched to the correct gear.

For us, the Q-Tronic auto caused more grief than grin. In an age of clever six, seven and even eight-speed automatic gearboxes, the Alfa self-shifter falls short as a jerky, indecisive and tiring transmission, even compared to Alfa’s own Selespeed automated manual.

Opting for the manual mode via the shift lever or the brittle plastic steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters only exaggerates the transmission’s shift delay, and on some occasions the 'manual' mode even overrode our gear selection.

With help from the weight of the all-wheel drive system, this infuriating transmission contributed to the atrocious fuel consumption figure we averaged in the Spider V6.

While the manufacturer claims a combined average of 11.5L/100km and a city average of a heavy-drinking 16.9L/100km, we managed to record an appalling 18.5L/100km during our daily commute. Put to the same use, we recently recorded an average of 19.1L/100km in a 2600kg-plus V8 petrol LandCruiser!

Available in the Brera coupe and 159 range, Alfa’s V6 is, in large part, the product of Holden’s Fishermens Bend plant right here in Australia. Featuring direct fuel-injection and variable camshaft timing for both inlet and exhaust valves, the Italian car-maker contributed its own cylinder heads, pistons and engine management systems to extract impressive power and torque – as well as that beguiling exhaust note that recalls past Alfa V6s.

Then there’s the three-differential Q4 all-wheel drive system, also seen on the 159 V6 and operating full-time to distribute, in normal circumstances, 57 per cent of torque to the rear wheels. The mechanical self-locking Torsen centre differential will, however, direct as much as 78 per cent to the back wheels, or 72 per cent to the front if needed.

Considering the hefty near-$100,000 asking price – and at almost $20,000 more than its predecessor – the Spider has a band of truly revered opponents to contend with.

These include the Porsche Boxster 2.7 ($109,300), BMW Z4 3.0si ($91,200 or $93,800 as an auto), Mercedes-Benz SLK 200K ($86,780 or $89,990 auto), Audi’s TT V6 ($93,300) or the recently-released performance TT-S ($97,100 or $100,700 auto).

All of these bona-fide convertible sportscars offer stylish open-top motoring, excellent driving dynamics and relatively good cruising comfort. And let’s not forget the Nissan 350Z and Mazda MX-5 roadsters, both of which are easy on the eye and far more affordable.

Priced from a relatively dirt-cheap $69,990, the lighter 2.2-litre four-cylinder Spider JTS directs 136kW of power and 230Nm of torque to the road via its front wheels in a similarly accomplished fashion and is distinguished from its stylish V6 sibling by multi-spoke alloy wheels. Oh, and a combined fuel economy average of 9.4L/100km.

So while the new-generation Spider is worlds ahead of its predecessor in terms of chassis integrity, handling dynamics and steering precision and feedback, if an Alfa Spider V6 really is a must-have then at least opt for the manual transmission, because the Q-Tronic only adds insult to injury.

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