Motoring Road Test: Alfa Romeo Spider

There has been a great deal of limbering up for the UK launch of Alfa Romeo's new Spider, which goes on sale here on 25 April. Admittedly the facia, with its hooded instruments, seems a bit like a last minute nod to Alfa's past and the current obsession with retro detailing, but from the outside the car's bang up to date - it's even front-wheel drive, which will horrify Alfa die-hards, but shouldn't.

I would advise anyone booking a test drive to make sure it's a lengthy one. As with all cars of distinct character, and especially Alfa Romeos, there is something of a learning process to undergo.

It's big - more a junior Mercedes SL than a contender in the MGF/Mazda MX-5 league. You may experience initial difficulty judging that beautiful body's extremes from the cockpit, and you will need a fairly positive approach to gear changing.

Once accustomed to all that, you can begin to enjoy yourself. You have Alfa's excellent new twin-cam at your disposal, a normally civilised and tractable motor that will oblige with the usual high-rev delirium if required and a ride which, while not choppy, is the sort that reminds you that you're driving a motor car, not simply awaiting the arrival of your destination.

My only serious beef, ignoring for a moment the absurdly large and rather ineffective windscreen wipers, is the steering. A little too light for my liking, the slight vagueness it suggests leaves you surprised when the car responds as quickly as it does. It also gives the impression that you are at the limits of grip long before you actually are.

That apart, this car is every bit as good as the famous name and reputation of its predecessor while avoiding the obvious temptation to be a mere pastiche of it.

Specifications

Alfa Romeo Spider 2.0 Twin-spark 16-valve Price approx pounds 22,000. Two- litre transverse-mounted in-line four; 150bhp; five-speed manual; top speed 130mph; 0-62mph (100kmh) 8.4secs; overall fuel consumption 34.0mpg.

Rivals

MGF 1.8 16v VVC 5-speed, pounds 17,995. BMW Z3 1.9 5-speed, under pounds 20,000 (to be announced). Mazda MX-5 1.8iS 5-speed pounds 17,595. Saab 900 2.0iS 5- speed Convertible, pounds 21,902.

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