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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Alfa’s head-turning,
  heart-stealing Spider is
  loaded with inimitable
  Italian chic. And with
  four-wheel drive and a
  siren-song V6, it’s all
  but impossible to
  resist. Could you?


THANKS TO ALFA ROMEO, the old nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet now has a happy ending: Little Miss Muffet, Sat on a tuffet, Eating her curds and whey. Along came a Spider and stopped close beside her so she jumped in and drove quickly away! And who could blame her? Alfa's Spider is a real stunner. Intriguingly, Alfa's latest drop-top turns the heads of everyone. Unusual, that. Very attractive cars particularly sports cars tend to appeal predominantly to either the guys or to the ladies; rarely both.

To go with its elegant Pininfarina-penned lines (derived from the equally smart-looking Brera coupé) the Spider offers a choice of three engines: a 185bhp 2.2 JTS four-cylinder petrol unit, a 200bhp 2.4-litre MultiJet turbodiesel and 260bhp 3.2-litre V6 petrol powerplant with four-wheel drive. We've already reviewed the 2.2 JTS so this time we have gone for the flagship 260bhp 4WD V6.

In the same way that millionaires are fond of saying that 'money isn't everything', you hear the similar 'performance isn't important' sound-bite. When you drive a car as flamboyantly good-looking as the Spider you want to know it can go as well as it looks. So while the 2.2JTS really is a very nice engine thank you, if your heart's set on a Spider and you have the wherewithal then it will most likely be the 260bhp
V6 that you'll want throbbing under your Spider's bonnet.

Alfa has mischievously chosen to fit quad exhaust tailpipes (a chromed pair either side of the rear 'splitter') to all models in the range. And with no badges to distinguish it from its less powerful brothers, other drivers sizing up your V6 Spider's haunches won't know if you bought the entry-level or the top-of-the-line model because visually, apart from different alloys, the V6 looks identical.

One of the indispensable elements of any true sports car is a retract-able roof — whether it's traditional cloth or trendy metal. Each has
its own benefits but few would disagree that the Spider's fabric hood
is perfectly in keeping with — and indeed enhances — the car's well-designed body. And it's not just any old cloth rag-top either. The Spider's powered roof is a two-layered fabric affair that automatically raises or folds away in 22 seconds at the touch of a button.

Even better, header-rail latching is done for you as part of the open-ing/closing routine and boot space remains the same whether you're motoring top up or top down. And when stowed, the soft-top and every part of the steel and aluminium roof mechanism are completely hidden beneath a smart rear deck that incorporates a pair of aero-dynamic race car-style teardrop 'blisters' immediately behind the roll hoops.

The distinctly sporty inside of the Alfa Spider is as classy as the out-side promises — good news when the whole world can look at it when the top's down. Which it should be, most of the time. The brushed aluminium centre stack and sporting instrument pack certainly look the business. A nice touch is the set of angled, driver-facing gauges given Italian labels: 'Olio', 'Acqua' and 'Benzina'.

The black-and-grey-faced speedometer and rev-counter are crisply-detailed and individually cowled, and both seen clearly dead ahead through the top arc of the Spider's sporty steering wheel.

Smart and functional, yes, but above all the Spider's build quality is on a par with the German brands. We particularly liked the use of polished aluminium ring inserts in the buttons and switchgear, which glow red around their circumferences when active. Smart, too, are the embroid-ered Alfa Romeo logos on the head restraints.

The ignition key — as is more and more frequently the case on many
of the classier marques — is no longer a traditional metal blade. In-stead there is a pocket-friendly electronic lozenge that docks in the fascia. When all systems are 'go', you press the Start button just below it. Not only is it more convenient and engagingly tactile, but it
is safer too!

Another attractive feature that serves fashion as much as safety are the roll-over hoops that follow the line of each front seat's integral headrest. Yet another neat touch is the fixed, clear plastic wind-deflector that links them — it not only works effectively with the roof down, but there is no need to remove it when the top is raised.

And the Alfa Spider's alluring cockpit doesn't stop at just looking good. It's also a desirable place to be: the strongly 'ribbed' two-tone black and grey leather seats are as comfortable and supportive as they appear, wrapping around you in a snug embrace from the moment you open a door and climb aboard.

Additionally, the driver gets a wide range of manual seat height adjust-ment as well as squab tilt and lumbar support. Normal fore-aft adjust-ment is also manually operated, although the backrest is powered.
The workmanlike steering wheel is well shaped and just the right size; wrapped in smooth-grain leather, it feels good in your hands. And, like the seats, it adjusts generously for rake and reach, so you can easily set a comfortable and focused driving position. Roof up, there's gener-ous headroom and you'll be glad of the rear parking sensors.

While the Spider V6 makes an unmistakable physical statement with its body, it also makes another with its price tag — £31,250 puts it on well-heeled convertible buyers' shopping lists side-by-side with BMW's 3.0-litre Z4 convertible (£33,170) and Audi's 3.2 TT Roadster quattro (£31,535). A clear indication as to Alfa's confidence in the Spider and in its ability to win the hearts and minds of buyers. Where the Alfa undeniably wins it for many is in its kerb appeal — during our week-long test it attracted attention not that far short of the Ferrari 430 Spider we'd tested a few weeks before.

Fire up the Spider's V6, blip the throttle and you're rewarded with a sharp, highly-tuned Alfa-esque bark that urges you to slip in into gear and put the pedal to the metal. Raw figures are a top speed just one mile-per-hour shy of 150mph and a 0-62mph acceleration time of seven seconds dead which, while not blistering, is quick enough. You should also know that, due to a kerb weight of 1,690kgs and peak torque of 238lb ft at 4,500rpm, it needs to be worked hard for rapid progress. Luckily, the V6 responds eagerly to every right-foot demand for more revs. However, keep your eye on the speedo — 70mph has a habit of feeling more like 45!

Not that this is a problem. Because the six-speed gearbox's change action is first class: clean with a short throw. And besides, real driving — ie; using the gearbox properly — is an integral part of owning and driving a real sports car. Traction, thanks to the Q4 all-wheel-drive system, is more than adequate. In fact, it's impressive. Normally, 57 per cent of the torque is sent to the back wheels although, when needed, the Torsen diff can direct as much as 78 per cent rearward
or, alternatively, 72 per cent to the front.

Allied to a taut suspension set-up, the Spider's Q4 four-wheel drive system ensures body roll is limited and grip levels are high — our test car was running very smart 17-inch 15-spoke satin chrome alloys shod with 225/50 Pirelli P Zero rubber. Laying down the V6's 260bhp on the road is never a problem. What defines a fast car is not so much how quick it is on the straights but how much speed can be carried through the bends. Endowed with quick, direct and well-weighted speed-sensitive power steering, the Spider makes a good show of carrying speed into a corner — although, push too hard and you'll feel under-steer cutting in on your fun. Equally important, traction out of corners is impressive and keeps your exit line tidy. For the record, the Spider's turning circle is very good indeed — even tricky three-point turns in a country lane are fast 'n' easy.

Brakes are discs all round, ventilated front and rear, and they're easily up to the job of hauling down the Spider — it takes only a light dab of the pedal to noticeably shed speed although on first acquaintance it's a tad short of 'feel'.

However, the true joy of driving the Spider is with the wind ruffling your hair. And for that you don't need to cover every mile as though you're leading the field on the Mille Miglia. In fact, the combination
of a torquey large capacity V6 and a roadster body are nigh on perfect for simply loping along Grand Touring-style with a panoramic view around and above. All the delights of a motorbike — and none of the shortcomings. There's still nothing to beat a long post-midnight, pre-dawn drive with the top down. Early hours of the morning are favourite times to be on the loose with your convertible.

Although a non-negotiable two-seater, Spider owners do (in addition to the 200 litre boot along with some extra space 'hidden' under the boot floor) get a useful full-width ledge behind the front seats that's perfect for stowing extra weekend bags (approximately 100 litres) or even golf clubs. Built into this rear section are two lockable, lidded bins.

Refinement is good and the Spider rides well; it certainly never felt over firm and handles poor tarmac fluently. Top down, the spirited 24-
valve, quadruple overhead cam, all-aluminium 3.2-litre V6 serves up
an appealing soundtrack and at everyday motorway speeds, wind noise is not a problem — you can conduct a normal conversation without raising your voice. And, with the side windows up, wind buffeting — thanks to that Porsche Boxster-style wind-blocker — is well contained.

Like all the other models in the Spider line-up, the flagship V6 has electronic stability/traction control systems along with the usual ABS etc. In addition, the Spider features a unique Hill Holder function for smooth hill starts, and there are five airbags: twin front and side, and one for the driver's knee. There's also a built-in Fire Prevention Sys-tem. Behind the headrests there are twin roll hoops and — especially useful security features for a convertible — there are deadlocks as well as a cabin boot release that is locked out when the engine is switched off.

Standard equipment includes the aforementioned four-wheel drive
and fully automatic electric roof. In addition there's dual-zone auto-matic climate control (efficient enough to deliver chilled air with the top down), a temperature-controlled storage compartment in the central armrest, on-board computer, tinted glass with 5mm thick side glass, multi-function leather steering wheel, electric windows (one-shot auto up/down on the driver's side and one-shot auto down on
the passenger's side) and powered, heated auto-fold door mirrors, rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, 'follow me home' headlights, cruise control and leather upholstery.

The Alfa Spider oozes Italian style at a time when one car looks very much like another, and every road/city also looks very much like another. The dash of individuality the Spider brings wherever it goes is like a beam of sunshine breaking through grey clouds. For that alone it will be deservedly cherished by its owner — and, it goes without say-ing, will also be coveted by friends and neighbours. Add to that its ability to serve up an entertaining and enjoyable drive every time out — be it just to pick up the Sunday papers or cruising the length or breadth of the UK for a long weeekender, which is the 3.2-litre's forte — and it's easy to appreciate its all-round appeal.

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Alfa Romeo Spider 3.2 JTS V6 Q4 | £31,250
Maximum speed: 149mph | 0-62mph: 7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 22.3mpg | Power: 260bhp | Torque: 238lb ft

CO2 273g/km | Insurance group 19
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