of the worlds
most enduring sports
cars, the Alfa Romeo
Spider is proof that life
can begin at fifty...
THE NEW ALFA SPIDER, the latest open-topped Alfa Romeo in the company's outstanding legacy of iconic convertibles, has just gone on sale in the UK. With the fourth generation in five decades, Alfa Romeo's Spider is entering the prime of life. And it's arguably the most eye-catching of the new road-ster breed hitting UK show-rooms this spring. That it brings with it the much sought after 'Cabrio of the Year' award is no surprise once you've seen it on the road.
Derived from Giorgetto Giugiaro's multiple award-winning Alfa Brera design, the new Alfa Spider was developed by Pininfarina in collabor-ation with Alfa Romeo Centro Stile. The Spider shares platform and components with the Alfa Brera on an identical 2,528mm wheelbase.
Its suspension combines a proven high double-wishbone system at
the front with a sophisticated multilink rear configuration. The Spider also benefits from additional strengthening to overcome the loss of
the metal roof.
Mechanically, it is the same package as the coupe. But with the Spider two-seater comes a fully-automatic, double-layer fabric electric roof and in-built roll-bars, with a transparent wind-blocker screen installed between the roll-over bars that significantly reduces air turbulence within the passenger compartment during high speed driving.
A separate dedicated roof storage compartment ensures that the Alfa Spider's stowage capacity is not compromised. The luggage compart-ment offers a good-sized 200-litre capacity, even with the roof folded away. The storage compartment is concealed beneath a svelte and flush-fitting body panel incorporating aerodynamic 'blisters' which adopt the profile of individual, driver and passenger roll-over bars. In addition there are useful lockable storage compartments behind the seats, a large glove box and slim door bins.
In typical Alfa Romeo fashion, the Spider comes very highly specified from a technical viewpoint. You get a six-speed manual 'box, powered steering and advanced braking and traction control systems. Four-wheel drive and automatic are both options on the flagship model.
The new Spider offers one, extremely generous standard equipment specification across the model range. It includes many features only available as expensive options on rival models, including automatic
Dual Zone climate control, cruise control, 'Follow-Me-Home' headlights, rear parking sensors, a multi-function display and trip computer, fog lights, 17-inch spoked alloy wheels and an RDS 6-speaker stereo radio with CD player. A leather interior is standard on 3.2 V6 versions.
Options include xenon headlights, satellite navigation, electrically adjustable front seats, a Bose sound system, Blue&Me hands-free mobile 'phone connectivity and 18-inch alloys.
The Spider comes with a choice of two petrol engines: 185bhp four-cylinder 2.2 and the all-aluminium 260bhp 3.2V6. Alternatively, custom-ers can choose the popular 200bhp five-cylinder 2.4 20v MultiJet (JTDM) turbodiesel which also produces 295lb ft of torque 58lb ft more than the 260bhp petrol V6. Six speed manual boxes are standard, although the V6 is available with the QTronic 6-speed automatic transmission featuring a manual sequential-shift override facility and optional gearshift 'paddles'.
The 3.2 JTS Alfa Spider is also equipped, as standard, with Alfa's Q4 permanent four-wheel drive system. Q4 employs three differentials, with a self-locking Torsen C unit at the centre of the system which divides drive torque by a ratio of 57 per cent to the rear wheels and
43 per cent to the front. Torque split between front and rear axles is constantly modulated by the central Torsen differential on the basis
of available grip, with a bias towards the rear axle promoting handling characteristics appropriate to a sporting Alfa Romeo.
Top speed of the 2.2 is claimed to be 138mph with 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds and a combined consumption of 30.1mpg. The 3.2 is good for 149mph, 0-62mph in 7 seconds (7.2 auto) and 24.6mpg (23.2mpg auto). The 2.4 diesel runs to 142mph, hits 62mph in 8.4 seconds and returns 30.7, 41.5 and 52.3mpg respectively on the city, combined
and touring cycles.
First drive impressions of both petrol-engined Spiders were good. With specific power outputs of over 80 bhp-per-litre, and almost 90 per
cent of maximum torque available at just 2,000rpm, both the advanced JTS (Jet Thrust Stoichiometric) petrol units feature direct injection
and continuously variable valve timing governing both inlet and exhaust camshafts.
The 2.2 four-cylinder petrol unit is eager and provides good acceler-ation with plenty of low-down power. It pulls strongly and the gear change is direct, with well-stacked ratios to make the most of the power available. The speed-sensitive power-assisted steering is accur-ate, aided by a rack requiring just 2.25 turns lock-to-lock and a turning circle of just 10.7 metres between kerbs the most direct steering in its class. The brakes too, were nicely balanced, and you can bring the 2.2 rapidly to a complete stop from speed with utter and precise control.
The 3.2 V6 was even stronger and appreciably quieter at mid to high revs. And despite the noticeably longer clutch travel on the manual 3.2, its gear ratios were just as well chosen as those of the 2.2 for maximising the V6's effortless power. The V6 also felt more surefooted and smooth riding than its four-cylinder stablemate. Commendably, both cars produce little wind noise or buffeting thanks to the swept back windscreen and rear wind-blocker.
I particularly liked the driving position in the Spider. Thanks to the front and back lifting of the seat base, the finely adjustable backrest and the generous reach/rake selection on the column, few drivers will be unable to find their ideal driving position.
Room is good for driver and passenger alike, and even with the five-layer fabric hood raised there's good headroom, very low wind noise and a snug ambience. Because the hood folds flat into the rear deck, visibility over the shoulder or in the mirror is very good. With the
soft-top in place, you only lose a small amount of rear three-quarters vision.
The fully-electric operation of the hood takes 25 seconds and needs
no more effort from the driver than holding down a switch adding to the Spider's overall refinement. Refinement, in fact, is a key factor for customers in the booming sports car sector. For the record, sports car sales have more than doubled in Europe over the last 10 years to almost 400,000 units of which half have been soft-topped models. Surprisingly, the more northerly the market, the higher the demand amongst European women for convertibles! In Britain, almost 50 per cent of convertible buyers are women.
Both passive and active safety features are comprehensively repres-ented. In addition to up to six airbags five of which are fitted as standard seatbelt pre-tensioners and a fully integrated Fire Prevention System, the new car comes with a comprehensive range
of state-of-the-art electronic braking, traction control and stability systems fitted as standard. ABS anti-lock braking is combined with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and a sophisticated, switchable Vehicle Dynamic Control unit enhances cornering stability. VDC is further augmented by ASR to limit wheelspin during acceleration, MSR to modulate braking torque when changing down through the gears
and a unique Hill Holder function to facilitate smooth hill starts.
To support the new car and a the strongly reinvigorated marque Alfa Romeo has recently overhauled its network, terminating 35 dealers and raising the requirements of existing and newcomers. There are now about 50 sales and service centres and 15 service-only facilities across the country. Prices start at £25,995 for the 2.2 JTS and the 3.2 JTS Q4 will set you back £31,250. The Q4 3.2 QTronic is £32,700 and the 2.4 JTD £28,995. So if you want an eye-catching and value-for-money roadster under £26,000, there's no better time to test drive the new Alfa Spider. Robin Roberts
Alfa Romeo Spider 2.2 JTS | £25,995
Maximum speed: 138mph | 0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30.1mpg | Power: 185bhp | Torque: 170lb ft
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