Pose in it then park it

The Spi­der is a selfie spe­cial. Shame about the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

ONE look at the Alfa 4C Spi­der gets you. It’s that sort of car.

It looks fast and keen. Not in­tim­i­dat­ing like a Lam­borgh­ini, or soft like a Toy­ota 86, but spot-on in size and style.

When the en­gine room is home for a tur­bocharged 1750cc en­gine, bolted to a six-speed twin-clutch gear­box feed­ing to the rear wheels, it ticks even more boxes.

And then there is the liftout roof panel that el­e­vates the Spi­der be­yond the 4C Coupe that’s al­ready a sell­out in Aus­tralia de­spite an $89,000 base price.

Even in Mi­lan, home base for Alfa Romeo, the Spi­der turns heads and has a mag­netic ef­fect on mo­bile phone cam­eras and own­ers. Let’s call them Selfisti.

Mi­lan also was the scene of a re­nais­sance an­nounce­ment for the Ital­ian brand, spun on the all-new Gi­u­lia sedan.

For all that, the Spi­der is also a car that’s as deeply flawed as any I’ve driven in re­cent times and not a car I’d like to own.

It’s too noisy by half or more, the seats don’t have enough sup­port and, worst of all, the front sus­pen­sion and steer­ing sab­o­tages the driv­ing en­joy­ment. At times it feels down­right spooky.

It’s im­por­tant to con­fess that most of my one-day Ital­ian im­mer­sion is spent on highways, the nat­u­ral en­emy of cars like the 4C Spi­der, and it’s a day I will never get back.

In fact, it’s one I’d hap­pily for­get.

But I have to drive what I have, and that means run­ning the 4C from Alfa’s test base at Balocco to the pro­duc­tion base at Mo­dena — where Maser­atis are also built — and back again. A tight timetable means lots of highways with just a cou­ple of curves.

I’m smil­ing when I first spot the Spi­der, which looks like a Lo­tus Elise done prop­erly. The pro­por­tions are good, it has the right com­bi­na­tion of curves and the cabin is shrink-fit­ted but rel­a­tively roomy and well equipped.

I can for­give the small boot be­cause I only have a day pack. I can see the re­mov­able roof — a roll-up can­vas panel that’s quick and easy to use — is prac­ti­cal and ef­fec­tive.

When I fire the turbo four there is Ital­ian theatre, with whoosh­ing and chuff­ing, then with pops and bangs as I ac­cel­er­ate and then brake into the first cor­ner.

But al­ready I hate the steer­ing, which feels as if I have a pair of flat front tyres when I try to steer out of the park­ing lot. I know Alfa has sac­ri­ficed power steer­ing to save weight but this is plain silly. I know some driv­ers who could not do a suc­cess­ful re­verse park in the Spi­der.

Then I get to a cor­ner and I have no idea what the front end is do­ing. The steer­ing is still too heavy, the wheel jumps in my hands, and I re­sort to a pointand-squirt tech­nique in­stead of ex­ploit­ing the chas­sis.

The 4C should stick like paint in curves with its car­bon­fi­bre chas­sis but it feels as if the sus­pen­sion is flex­ing on the mounts and I never feel re­motely con­fi­dent.

It’s also su­per­sen­si­tive to high­way cross­winds and jumps about over bumps and wan­ders alarm­ingly when brak­ing hard on any sur­face that’s not per­fectly flat.

Af­ter the first hour on the high­way I’m also sick of the dron­ing ex­haust note and tyre roar. It’s fun to punch down a cou­ple of gears for an over­tak­ing sprint but there is no­tice­able turbo lag in the en­gine.

Af­ter another hour I’m dis­lik­ing the driver’s seat, which does not reach down far enough be­low my butt. And, in the rare corners, it is also lack­ing side sup­port.

Now, I know that the Al­fisti will be read­ing this in hor­ror and dis­gust, be­cause they are the Alfa fans, and I’m ex­pect­ing anger from Alfa Romeo. But it’s a story that has to be told.

And I do like the liftout roof, which is quick and easy to use. And there is very, very lit­tle tur­bu­lence with the roof panel out. In fact, it al­most seems qui­eter in the Spi­der than an ear­lier run in a Coupe.

But some peo­ple be­lieve the 4C Spi­der is a ri­val for a Porsche Boxster and that’s plain silly. Even if the Coupe is $89,000, the Spi­der needs the same price or less if it’s to make any im­pact in Aus­tralia be­yond peo­ple who want it as a look-at-me car for a Satur­day morn­ing cof­fee stop.

It feels like a good idea that was never com­pleted. And I can see clear ev­i­dence of catch-up work in the gear­box­cool­ing scoop fit­ted be­hind the left-side door on some Amer­i­can cars, which has been dis­owned by Alfa’s de­sign chief Lorenzo Ra­ma­ciotti as an ugly and un­nec­es­sary botch job.

Things could change when the 4C Spi­der gets to Aus­tralia in Novem­ber. Then we can have a crack at some corners and check whether Alfa Romeo has tweaked the steer­ing (power as­sis­tance, per­haps?) and sus­pen­sion.

But, as it stands, it’s only a two-star car and a far bet­ter prospect for park­ing and pos­ing than tack­ling my favourite driv­ing roads.

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