Vicky Parrott
19 April 2007

What is it?

The latest generation of Alfa Romeo's long-lived open-top roadster has crept (if you'll excuse the pun) onto UK roads with very little of the frenzied interest you would expect for one of Alfa's key models.

We're testing the smallest engine available in the range, the 2.2-litre JTS petrol, which has a number of benefits over the two bigger models, including a 130kg weight advantage and a £3000 lower list price.

What's it like?

Not fast, if that's what you're hoping for. The 2.2-litre model may be lighter than its more powerful siblings, but 185bhp simply won't shift 1.5 tonnes at any dazzling speeds. Lethargic until it spins past 3000 revs, when you get an even pull right up to 7000rpm, the 2.2-litre engine is energetic rather than fast; something which emphasises the sense that Alfa's drop-top is closer to beautiful boulevardier than performance car.

But that's not to say the Spider isn't a car worth driving vigorously. The chassis setup compensates admirably for a structure laden down with added rigidity and a heavy electric roof. Double wishbones at the front and multi-link suspension at the rear absorb all but the most cavernous breaks in the road, and give the heavy, front-wheel driver plenty of purchase on the road.

The damping is well suited to UK roads, coping well with surfaces as unnatural as ramps and grids, plus the inevitable speed bumps. It offers a soft, if controlled ride, and although the chassis balance falls short of the best in class, it serves the Spider's character well.

The steering is quick and accurate, but feels heavy and offers little in the way feedback. And as with most topless cars, scuttle-shake is evident in plenty of every-day situations. It's not a car, in short, that you'd look forward to driving, as much as you might looking at or being seen in.

And so we come to the looks. More elegant than its hard top equivalent, the Brera, Pininfarina's emotive styling somehow works better on the Spider; you get the sense that what you're looking at is intended more as art than machinery. These things are subjective, of course, but to these eyes it's a startlingly beautiful thing.

However, it's not all good news for the Spider. The interior is also far more aesthetic than it is user-friendly; plenty of eccentricities are present, including a boot opening switch hidden, for some reason, inside one of a medley of cubbies in the interior. Even the hood appears to have an unnecessarily complicated mechanism; it does, at least, give the Spider plenty of headroom, but it fails to prevent intrusive wind noise.

Should I buy one?

Yes, if you want a car that is as beautiful as it is enjoyable to cruise in, but you're not looking for dynamic brilliance. You won't get it with any of the engine options Alfa offers though, so if you can live without it, the cheapest 2.2 makes the most sense.

It's heartening that the latest Spider so successfully updates the romanticism of previous open-top Alfas, if a little disappointing that it still doesn't quite measure up o the best. This is the choice for someone willing to buy a car for the way it feels, rather than the statistics it boasts, or the ability it has to spear down a country road.

Our Verdict

Alfa Romeo 4C

The 4C is Alfa's first true driver's car for decades, and it shows how brilliantly a small turbo four can go and sound in a lightweight package

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