Alfa Romeo Spider Convertible review (2006-2010)
The Spider's style and character make it a worthy contender, though it is flawed
There's a good dollop of charisma to be found under the bonnet of any Spider. Engines include a raspy 2.2-litre four-cylinder, a sonorous 3.2-litre V6 and a characterful 2.4-litre five-pot turbodiesel; this refined, punchy unit is the best engine in the current line-up. But the Spider's hefty kerbweight doesn't help performance. The petrol engines in particular struggle; the extra torque of the big diesel means maintaining progress isn't as hard work. The extra kilos can be felt in the Alfa's handling, too, because while it's grippy, it never feels as agile or adjustable as you'd like. There's some body roll and the Alfa is slow to react, and when the tyres reach the limit of grip, the car tends to run wide round corners readily. As a result, the Spider works its stability control hard, while the steering offers kickback under heavy load. It doesn't offer great feedback at lower speeds, either, so the driving experience feels rather remote. More crucially, the Alfa shows its weaknesses over bumpy surfaces, because it transmits shocks into the cabin, and vibrations can be felt around the windscreen. While the suspension isn't overly firm, it's not as composed as we'd like. The brake pedal is soft, too. Despite all this, the Spider is a far more likeable car than the raw data would have you believe. As with many other Alfas, it has real charm, and is a machine you buy with your heart, not your head.
It has suffered tough times over the years, but Alfa Romeo is still a brand that has real pedigree. The Spider, a car made famous by the 1967 movie The Graduate, aims to restore Alfa's honour in the roadster market - and has an immediate benefit in considerable visual appeal. It benefits from the input of two of Italy's most famous styling houses. It's based on the Giugiaro-penned Brera coupe, while the open-topped design was developed by Pininfarina. Alfa has opted to stick with a fabric top for the two-seater, just like its key rival, the Audi TT Roadster.
Like the dramatic exterior, the interior is a special place in which to spend time. They layout is identical to the Brera's, and that means you get a traditional dash design with large, clear dials and decent build quality. Although the Spider can't match its Audi arch-rival in this respect, you can't help but be impressed by the sheer character of the cabin. It's well-equipped too, with a driver's knee airbag, cruise control and parking sensors all standard. Stowage is not bad for a roadster, either; in addition to the 200-litre boot, the Alfa comes with a pair of lockable bins behind each of the seats. These are useful for storing smaller items, and you can slide the chairs forward to access the more easily. Unfortunately, the need to work the engines so hard means fuel economy suffers (we averaged just 20mpg in the 2.2-litre, while the supposedly economical diesel returned just 30mpg) and servicing is both expensive and, judging by Auto Express readers' experience in the Driver Power survey, not a pleasurable experience: Alfa showrooms were ranked worst of all.