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Alfa Romeo Spider

The Spider's a head turner but its handling can't match the Audi TT

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

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If there’s one thing a drop-top needs, it’s desirability – and Alfa Romeo’s new Spider has lots of it. In the metal, the sleek Brera-derived lines look stunning, as does the classic Italian interior styling. Unfortunately, the rest of the package can’t quite live up to this promise. While the range of petrol and diesel engines is strong, the body shakes over bumps and the Alfa can’t match the handling of its Audi TT rival. The Spider is a car people will buy with their hearts, not their heads.

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When Italians go topless, the world looks on in awe. Alfa Romeo has a well earned reputation for producing gorgeous cabrios, and it has just launched its latest sun-seeking stunner.

The Brera is now established in the UK, but its convertible brother has taken longer to emerge. Based on the same platform as the coupé, the Spider shuns a folding hard-top in favour of a conventional fabric hood – just like the new Audi TT Roadster (tested on Page 50).

From the driver’s seat, it couldn’t be easier to convert to open-air motoring. Without the need to release any handles or catches, you simply hold down a button by the gearstick. This sends the roof whirring back into a neat space behind the rear seats in around 25 seconds.

Whether you have the hood up or down, boot space in the Spider is unaffected – a good job, as there is precious little luggage capacity. The 200-litre load area is 36 per cent up on the outgoing car’s, yet bags have to be lifted high over the rear sill.

With luggage on board and the hood down, the Alfa is ready for your favourite road. Entry-level models are powered by the firm’s 2.2-litre four-cylinder petrol powerplant, delivering 185bhp to the front wheels. A 2.4-litre JTDM diesel engine is also offered, while flagship variants are equipped with a potent 260bhp V6 which comes as standard with Q4 permanent all-wheel drive. Take the road in the four-cylinder petrol car and the first disappointment is the clutch and gearbox. A springy pedal action isn’t helped by sloppy shifts. However, once on the move the 2.2 provides strong performance and is a relaxed motorway cruiser.

Where the Spider shows its weaknesses is when tackling bumpy surfaces. Unlike its Audi rival, the Alfa transmits bumps through the cabin, with vibrations resonating all around the chassis and windscreen.

At least the steering is reasonably positive, but corner too fast and the car rolls on surprisingly soft suspension. That’s due in part to the fact it weighs 60kg more than the coupé.

If you are expecting thrilling handling and razor-sharp responses, you will be disappointed, but the Spider is much more about cruising than hard driving. We also tried the flagship, which feels equally relaxed, with its lazy manual transmission making the most of the V6’s flexibility and sensational engine note. The range-topper’s all-wheel-drive transmission adds another dimension to the handling, although the Alfa is still not as involving as many of its rivals.

So does the Spider have anything to offer? Absolutely. Despite being little better than average dynamically, it is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. As with Alfa Romeos of the past, it’s special and feels like a car that you could learn to love if it was parked on your driveway.

To keep the range simple, there is only a single trim level. That means all variants are generously equipped as standard, with everything from knee airbags to reverse parking sensors included on the kit tally.

Prices start at £25,995 for the 2.2 and rise to £32,700 for the range-topping V6, complete with QTRONIC automatic transmission. That pitches the Spider directly at the best cars in its class. Logically it shouldn’t stand a chance, but fans of the Alfa brand are sure to fall for the charms of this beautifully styled drop-top.

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