Alfa Romeo Spider

Just as people book holidays in the sun to cheer themselves up in the middle of winter, car buyers rush to order drop-tops to be ready for the first sign of spring.

After driving a few miles, it's clear that the newest part of this roadster is its engine. Strong performance and a sporty rasp give the JTS-powered Spider plenty of character, but the dated chassis dynamics and questionable interior build will be enough to send many buyers elsewhere.

Just as people book holidays in the sun to cheer themselves up in the middle of winter, car buyers rush to order drop-tops to be ready for the first sign of spring.

Alfa Romeo's Spider has long been considered one of the prettiest cabrios around, and now seems an even better bet thanks to a fresh look and two new engines. We got behind the wheel of an entry-level Spider to see just how well it performs on the road.

First on sale in Britain in 1996, the Pininfarina-designed roadster still cuts a dash, but that hasn't stopped Alfa grafting on its corporate shield to the elegant nose. It's an effective change, but the new 16-inch alloys look weedy.

Inside, the Spider shows even more style, but the layout and finish make the cabin feel dated. As compensation, the interior is packed with luxurious standard kit, including climate control. The dashboard has also been revised, and although the hooded dials look good, the speedo's increments are too close together, and difficult to read.

The flagship V6 Spider can reach 150mph, but this 2.0-litre JTS (Jet Thrust Stoichiometric) direct-injection petrol version runs out of steam at 134mph. Producing 165bhp, the throaty four-cylinder powerplant delivers strong performance across the rev range. The sprint from 0-60mph takes 8.4 seconds, which is half a second quicker than the Spider's key rival - Audi's TT Roadster 150. However, fuel economy of 30.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 220g/km are less impressive.

Unfortunately, while the engine is a top performer, the rest of the driving experience falls short. Suspension revisions do little to help the car's ability to soak up bumps, and rattles due to the lack of body rigidity become tiresome. It's also a shame the car makes do with a plastic rear screen.

So has Alfa saved its trump card for the price list? At £23,270 with the JTS engine, it faces stiff competition from Audi's cheaper £21,525 TT Road-ster 150, and BMW's new Z4 2.2, which is only £985 more than the Spider. It looks like Alfa dealers have their work cut out this summer.

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