Test drive: Alfa Romeo Spider

Max power: 182 (bhp)
Torque: 170 (lb/ft)
Acceleration: 8.5 (secs)
Max speed: 139 (mph)
Transmission: FWD, 6 gears

I’ve never driven an Alfa Romeo before. They say (they being all motoring people) that you should own an Alfa at least once in your life, to experience cars that have soul. They are renowned for their character (good and bad) and general automative pleasure. So to have the chance to drive one, and a spider no less, was really exciting.

The Spider has been around a while, but was redeveloped in 2007 to be more in line with the Brera styling a feeling. Now production has ceased (as has the Brera) so the one I drove was a 2007 model 2.2 GTS.

First thoughts

It’s gorgeous. That’s my first thought. The misano blue this one is shrouded in is really stunning and makes the most of the cars elegant lines. It’s a very masculine car without being butch, curvy but not delicate. With it’s pointed snout and broad rear, I always get the feeling it’s smiling at me in a slight Italian smirk. It’s lines are clean are best viewed with the top and windows down. In case you haven’t guessed, I think it’s a very good looking vehicle.

Performance

Alfa Romeo Spider Rear

Lovely bottom, that's for sure

Things go downhill a little rapidly though. On pulling out of the dealer and giving it a little gas I’m not greeted with what I expected. A distinct lack of pick up, a very muted level of exhaust note and then what can only be described as a gradual progression towards speed. Now, this is only the mid range 2.2 petrol and I’m not saying that a cyclist going in reverse would be faster, but I was disappointed. It’s probably something to do with the 1500kg odd kerb weight (200kg or so more than a Ford Focus ST) that keeps the engine from propelling forwards with any great velocity.

Here, it’s a must then to be looking at the 3.2 V6 option which adds another 74 bhp and 68 lb/ft of torque. Unfortunately there wasn’t one available at the time otherwise I would have been straight into it. This brings me to another thing. The sound. Now, I love engine noise, exhaust notes, ‘charger whistles and anything else that’s mechanical and throaty. This car does not deliver enough in this regard. It’s very muted most of the time (despite the very nice looking quad chrome tips) and only occasionally do you here a grumble of potential.

On speaking with one of the guys there after, he said that it’s a slightly odd mixture. Not sporty enough to be a real ‘sports car’ but also trying a bit too hard to be one to be a real GT style cruiser (I’m paraphrasing of course) and I do agree. It sits a little bit between worlds performance wise, and suffers as a result. I can only hope the V6 is a much more rewarding experience.

Handling

This is a real odd one that I still can’t figure out. I look the Spider around a couple of roads up and around Loggerheads towards Ruthin in North Wales. Some twisties and plenty of smooth and slinky A roads were consumed. What I came away with was overall confusion on whether I did or didn’t like the handling of the Spider.

There’s quite a bit of body roll (in a GT kind of way) but it’s predictable and in some ways, adds a bit of fun to the experience. The grip seemed pretty good overall, but the feeling of whether it’s there or not is difficult. It feels like you rapidly approach a limit of some sorts and the nose feels like ti dives a bit as if it’s likely to understeer spectacularly but then seems to settle in and then there’s more grip and turn in available. This may sound a little crazy but it how it felt in those Welsh roads today. Slightly bizarre behaviour. The ride is skittish and was very much upset by potholes, especially while cornering. This model was fitted with upgraded 19″ wheels which way go some way to explaining this behaviour, if not excuse it.

Reading all of that you could be forgiven for feeling like this is quite on the negative side. Which it is. At the same time though, on the cruising A roads it was really easy to drive and yet still felt engaged. Smooth yet keen to please. In this way, it felt like an accomplished GT.

Interior, Comfort, Practicality

Alfa Romeo Spider interior

Decent interior and seats

The seats are very nice. Comfortable large leather numbers. They don’t really hug you much (there’s that GT again) although at no point did I feel like I was sliding around in the bendy bits – so maybe they were doing a better job than they implied. The cabin feels nice and stylish, even if the brushed metal dash covering is a bit blinding once the sunlight is reflecting off it.

The boot and rear bench offer adequate storage for general pootling around, if not the family holiday. The roof mechanism seemed good enough with just one switch to press and hold and no locks to fiddle with and as it folds away into the body, leaves behind very clean lines.

Final thoughts

This is the toughest bit t write about this car. Reading all of the above in it’s sections, you could think think that I actually dislike this car, and do so a fair bit. That’s not true though. I drove away from that car smiling and checking it out in my rear view mirror. When I pulled out of the photo shoot layby, it felt great to be inside a car that just exudes sexyness. It’s looks are a very powerful aspect to this car and not be underestimated. I would be happy (3.2 V6 under the bonnet) to own this car and drive it every day – it feels good. It’s just good though, it’s not brilliant. There were no moments (like there are regularly in my Honda S2000) where it made me grin like a loon or chuckle to myself.

I know that the more I drive the Spider, the more I would like it and the more it would slide under my skin in a way that a Golf GTI would never do. In that way, it’s every inch the Alfa. Where it’s not what it needs to be is in it’s performance and focus. It’s not GT enough to be GT and a long way off being a sports car, which is a real shame. What’s very exciting is the prospect of the Alfa Romeo 4C – their upcoming ‘real’ sports car. If that car is as beguiling as the Spider with the performance to match, by cheque book will be armed and ready.

About Rob

I'm an average petrolhead - I love cars and get as much driving experiences as I can out in the world from test drives to track days.