Let me preface my review in saying that I will try to keep this as subjective as possible. As you may know, Alfa Romeo owners tend to have tunnel vision when discussing their car's flaws and shortcomings, all of which are plentiful in an Alfa Romeo, let's be honest. However, I will also say that this review will contain some extremely passionate commentary on the car and it may be borderline unhealthy. So, here goes.
To give you some context to myself and my story, I'm 21 years old and studying a double degree in Bachelor of Commerce/Information Systems. I have a somewhat unhealthy passion for cars which stems from a young age - so young that I was watching Top Gear when it was informative and I still remember when Stephen Quartermain was calling the footy on Channel 10. I also remember watching that kid with that horrendously beautiful mullet in that Lube Mobile ad telling me to dial 13-13-32 - yes, I still remember the number, good times it must be said.
My passion can be attributed to my dad, who was also into cars in his younger days,. As he got older I saw his financial desires and earnings go more to his kids and family, which was and still is admirable and something I've always respected. So, naturally I've decided to live his car passion through me and as you get older you tend to get a gauge on the cars you like and don't like, and what you look for in a car to make you tick. As a family that tends to skew towards European makes, I've always appreciated those pool of brands, however I do respect a good Japanese or even Aussie car when I see one (See: Honda S2000 or DC2 Integra Type R, HSV GTS or heck even a Ford Territory).
My first car was a manual 2005 BMW 120i, an extremely serviceable first car which had a great chassis and was reliable enough, but with an engine breathless enough to rival a 60 year old chain smoker I never really fell for it. At the start of this year I also bought a Renault Clio 182 Cup for cheap money as I envisioned a track or weekend type car. Unfortunately with COVID all track days were goners and I really couldn't use it much. Furthermore someone gave me an offer for it that I financially couldn't refuse, even though I had no intentions of selling it. I adored that car as it was the epitome of fun and it gave me a pure driving experience that is often unmatched by newer and admittedly more capable cars.
Time passes and after selling the BMW a few weeks ago I went from two cars to no cars, so naturally I went hunting through car adverts. I've always yearned to have an older car, as I love the analogue feel of them and the stark use of technology - it's almost bliss. Specifically, I was looking for an Alfa Romeo, as I've always found them (especially pre-Chrysler merger, say from around 1960-2005) charming and seductive without being snobbish and disgustingly good looking - ahem-8C-ahem. Whenever I've seen a driver in an Alfa Romeo, I've always thought that the person has gone out of their way to not buy a BMW, or a Mercedes-Benz, or an Audi but bought a probably inferior car instead. I respect that. I love that "heart over head" thinking, because if you listen to your head all the time, you'll never bear the full fruits of life.
It's like choosing that $13 horse over the $1.60 favourite; it's probably a worse horse on paper, but sometimes the $13 horse just has more guts and heart to be the first past the post, and when it does, it feels infinitely more satisfying than backing the favourite. At the same time, it worms their way into your heart (and Blackbook).
Seeing as though summer is coming up I wondered what better way to have a mid-life crisis at 21 than to buy an Alfa convertible. I was looking at everything from the 147 GTA and other Busso V6-powered chariots such as the Alfetta GTV6, but I think some the prices commanded for them are a bit audacious at the moment. So here I saw a Rosso Red 2000 Alfa Spider Twin Spark pop up for sale for reasonable money and extensive history, which had only done 69,500km. After thoroughly inspecting it and test driving, I decided that it was the new addition to the family.
First and foremost, I just want to say this Enrico Fumia of Pininfarina-designed car is just a class example of a man knowing his way around a pencil. Looks are subjective I admit, but there is an individuality with the almost odd lines, especially that upward slash/crease that goes up and around the side of the car into the roof cover that makes it look like a piece of art. In a time where most cars look like moving fridges and seemingly having a race off to be the most aggressive looking (adding unnecessary creases here and there), it's very refreshing to hop in a simpler and more elegant shape. You do tend to get the second head turn from people walking past which is always cool, not sure why though.
The back end is squared-off, almost like the Kamm tail version that came after the painstakingly pretty boat-tail spoiler version. That singular bar taillight is a nice touch; looks like the SZ to my eyes. But this car's party piece is that whole front end which includes a gorgeous clamshell bonnet free of charge, a front end in which Jeremy Clarkson said that 'he can't get sexually excited without looking at the front end."
Anyway, I personally think is simply just a triumph in car design. Its four round-looking headlights and that petite heart-shaped grille are just so well proportioned, and those gloss-black A-pillars just set it off brilliantly. Just quietly though, why do Alfa's always have criminally good-looking front ends (8C, 159, Giulia, Duetto, 2000 GTV etc)? Weird. The whole design is simple without being boring, classy without being snobby and styled without being fussy. It's also the little details that I have learned to love; that Pininfarina badge on the side and the cursive Spider badge on the back is just class. It's these details that make it feel so much more special, and in turn make you feel special. It really does make you look back twice when you park it up. Although, as much as I do love this Rosso Red, I spotted one in Europe that was a Navy Blue with a real light cream leather interior, which I thought suited the car a tad more and made it a bit prettier and upmarket.
Controversially, this car is FWD, but you judge a car for what it's designed to do, and for this car it's cruising around in a pretty little sports car which sounds good and is more about the sensory experiences than outright performance. Considering this, being FWD wasn't really a downer for me. Under that bonnet is Alfa's long-serviced and fairly honest 2.0-litre Twin Spark Engine developing 110kW and 183Nm of torque. Both figures are not great I admit, however the fact that I live in the not-at-all motorsport mecca suburb of Balwyn, where it seems like the average speed limit is 12km/h and there's a traffic jam every 4 seconds, I really didn't need or want a "0-100km/h in 3.2 seconds" type car.
That being said, this 4-cylinder Twin Spark has got to be one of the smoothest and silkiest 4-pot engines of recent memory that I've driven. There's a willingness to how it revs to its 7000rpm redline and a luxuriousness and expensiveness to how it sounds. The exhaust note is just intoxicating and quality, think a notch below that epic Busso V6 noise. To me, how an engine delivers its power is more important than its outright numbers, but if there were a gripe, I feel it could use around 40Nm more torque. I know it's part of the fun to wring its neck out but sometimes it would be nice to go up a hill in 2nd gear without going backwards.
The gearbox is nice to use, albeit a tad vague it must be said. It also sometimes grinds when going into reverse and especially doesn't like it when you don't rev-match downshifts. It's like the syncros are slow or worn or something. At least it gives me an excuse to perfect my double de-clutching skills, though. This is also the first car I've owned in which the temperature gauge shoots up in traffic, which I've been told is quite normal in older cars such as this one. Usually all the cars I've driven are newer and have stoic temp gauges in any condition. It can get a tad unnerving though when you're in peak hour traffic and it's red light after red light and the water needle is perilously close to triple figures.
In terms of chassis, its suspension has the right judgement of bodyroll-to-comfort ratio, as when you hit a bump it's not particularly jarring. However, hit a big enough pothole the scuttle shake is immense - it's like the windscreen is about to fall off. I read somewhere that the Spider is some 60% not as stiff as its roofed cousin, the GTV. This in itself is not a revelation. What is a revelation is that Alfa Romeo made no effort to rectify this, which is both funny and annoying at the same time. The steering is perfectly weighted and is quite fast at 2.2 turns lock to lock. It's also hydraulic, so you can feel where the grip ends, and it gives you a gauge on what the hell the front tyres are doing - not like the inert electric racks today.
The brakes have natural feel but the actual power of its braking is good without being great. I feel some more suitable pads would rectify that issue pretty quickly and the TS does miss out on the bigger discs and Brembo pots of the V6 Spider. As much as I don't really modify cars too much, as I love the originality factor, in the future I might add some strut bars just to stiffen it up a bit and stop the windshield falling off one day.
The interior is also weirdly logical and intuitive and is also equipped with these oh-so-Italian ribbed black leather Momo seats which are extremely comfortable - except when the sun hits it for more than 30 seconds, after which it's like sitting on an oven. There's some nice touches in this interior that hark back to the original Spider Duetto, such as the three dials in the middle angled towards the driver, the slightly upward-angled gearshift and the hooded dials. While I did say the interior is weirdly logical and intuitive, this car is Italian so therefore there are no cupholders or any significant storage, the boot is the size of letterbox, and the mirrors are gorgeous, but hideously small. You just kind of have to wing it when changing lanes and parking, hoping there's no car there.
I never think that this car was designed in the early 1990's until I leave the headlights on when I park (they're not automatic). There's aircon and a radio and that's about it. To be honest, what else do you need? Oh and lastly, the pedals. Although it's a nice touch to have that Alfa Romeo logo on them, they are far too small for anyone with a shoe size bigger than US 2. This is especially annoying on the accelerator pedal which is as thin as a milky bar and at a weird angle, so heel-and-toe can take a bit of practice. Your foot almost has to be 180 degrees horizontal to get to both pedals, which mine aren't unfortunately.
In terms of ownership experience I've had this car for a mammoth three whole weeks and it hasn't gone wrong (yet). All I've done is clean the throttle body which then in turn increased the idle to 1400rpm for reasons I am still yet to investigate. Due to my first two cars being European I'm almost immune to the costs of maintenance; it's just a "take it on the chin" approach, which probably isn't the best way to save money. Although, I do believe that if you take care of a car, it'll take care of you.
To sum up, this car is not without its flaws. Mention the words "Alfa Romeo" to an average punter and they'll just run around with their heads on fire with pitchforks screaming 'unreliable'. I'm not sitting up here to contest the fact that Alfa's are reliable, they're mostly not, but that's not the point for me. Alfa Romeo's to me can be likened to your family dog; a part of the family. It's got its flaws and quirks, and yeah you'll need to take it to the vet as it gets older, and those bills do start to pile up, but you still love it don't you? It's got a personality, a charm and a soul. You really do have to own one to get what I'm talking about or else I'll just sound like some weirdo who likes paying $2000 service bills. I promise I'm not.
It's the history of the brand, that badge, and more often than not, the endlessly good looks and effortless style that charm one to purchase one. Every time you drive, it's as if it's trying so hard to impress you. It's like it knows it's not as good on paper as its rivals but it tries anyway. It's honest, and sometimes style is over substance and I like that.
So if you do purchase or even have an Alfa Romeo, and if you are a businessman and you drive in your 156 GTA on Mont Albert Rd and pass by a fellow businessman in his dreary but brand new Audi A4, just think to yourself, thank God I have good taste.
MORE: Everything Alfa Romeo