Michael Booth with the Alfa Spider

The embodiment of Italian elegance but a closer inspection reveals the frightening truth

Would suit: Slovakian super models
Price: £29,250 (as tested)
Performance: 146mph, 0-62 7.0 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 24.2mpg
Further information: 0800 718000

I'm not racist but... well, I almost certainly am. Most of us are, of course, particularly motoring journalists, many of whom seem to be working covertly for the BNP. But my racism is gender specific. I can't abide, for instance, the Slovakian female. Slovakian men are fine, but the women are too beautiful to be trusted, particularly as not one of them has yet so much as acknowledged my existence. The same goes for Canadian men whose robust, outdoorsy competence and affable good nature must, I am convinced, mask a sinister psyche. And I have, over the years, grown wary too of the Kamchatkan hermaphrodite, for obvious reasons.

But my most rabid, irrational prejudice is reserved for the Italian male, that preening, sexual inadequate who compensates for being bound by his mother's apron strings and stymied by his limited intellect by making us English males look about as sensual as Charles Hawtrey. Repeatedly in my short life I have been subjugated by the Italian male - on the football pitch, in nightclubs and then, of course, there was that time Pope Paul VI goosed my sister, but we don't talk about that much. The world's car designers must, I'm sure, harbour a similar brooding resentment. The Italians seem to have a knack for building sexy, desirable sports cars, which must be infuriating if you are, say, Korean or Swedish, nationalities which have as much feel for the suggestive lines and aggressive stance required to make a car irresistible as a dustman has for kabuki.

And the Italians would appear to have done it again with the new Alfa Spider, a car which is, on first glance, so flagrantly sexual that if it were your daughter you'd order it back upstairs to take off all that make-up and put on some more clothing.

But look again. Isn't the nose a little too long, and the rear a bit porky? And what about those ugly rollover hoops behind the front seats. And look inside: Ugh! All the issues that upset me so much about the Spider's close cousin, the Brera coupé, remain unresolved: the cheapo materials, poor fit and awkward driving position make this a fairly unhappy place to sit. At least the Spider's rear seats aren't as cramped as the Brera's. It doesn't have any.

The Spider had the misfortune to share my driveway for a while with a new Audi TT, which brought into focus many of its shortcomings. Shut the doors on the Audi and you are rewarded with a satisfying clunk. The Alfa's sound like biscuit tin lids. Drive the Audi over a pothole and the chassis soaks it all up with composure and not a whiff of scuttle shake; the same pothole in the Alfa makes everything go blurry for a moment - although it has decidedly unsporting, soft suspension. One is agile and eager, the other lazy and cumbersome. One fills you with confidence that it will last for decades, the other has you wondering if it will see out the week.

Alfa is apparently considering entering the US market again. It might not be a bad move: America is one of the few nations that build cars worse than the Spider. That's not racist by the way, some of my best friends have holidayed in America. s

It's a classic: Alfa Spider

The Alfa Spider is one of the great, iconic sports cars. When it was first launched in 1966 it was called the Alfa Romeo Duetto - the result of a competition in which the prize winner got to name it and won himself one - but this cute, curvy-rumped, two-seater convertible became better known as the "boat-tail" Spider, or "cuttlefish" Spider. But that curvy tail only lasted 18 months before the more prolific, longer tailed version was launched. Also designed by Pininfarina, this car now had a sprightly 1750 engine which gave it much of its zesty character - the 1300cc and 2000cc versions followed. The Spider survived the US federal safety regulations that mutilated many British sports cars (the rules demanded higher ride heights and bigger bumpers) and lived on for almost three decades before production ceased in 1993. Nevertheless, rust has meant that Spiders a re relatively rare and this simple, sexy car has now slipped into the realm of motoring immortality.

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