Driven: Alfa 8C Spider


This car is possibly the most Italian thing on the planet; even more Italian than smiling indulgently as your suspiciously black-haired elderly Prime Minister appoints former topless models to the cabinet or attempts to bed an eighteen-year old. So it makes no sense to translate the Alfa Romeo 8C Spider’s name into dull, humble Anglo-Saxon. Even Alfa’s staff with their near-flawless English don’t bother to Anglicize it, and simply refer to it as the otto-chee as one tosses me the keys.

So otto-chee it is, then. But is the noisy, gorgeous otto-chee Spider actually any good, or are we in danger of being seduced by a La Scala-standard tenor in a perfect Brioni suit?

If price alone conferred supercar status there’d be no debate. The 8C Competizione coupe, of which 500 were made, cost £112,000 in the UK. The Spider, of which another 500 were made from 2009 with 35 coming to the UK, cost an eye-watering £174,000. Objectively, that price was hard to justify. The Ferrari California, with its more aristocratic badge and folding hard-top costs a good BMW 3-series less. But the looks, the noise, the name and the rarity are plainly enough; value for money isn’t a consideration, and they both sold out fast. You can still buy them from dealers, of course, but demand means you’ll pay closer to Spider money for a low-mileage coupe now.

So what do you get for your fifth of a million euros? The engine is the same as the coupe’s: a Ferrari-cast, Maserati-derived 4.7-litre V8 making 450bhp and maybe the most extraordinarily exuberant noise of any car on sale. The pulchritudinous looks are as good as the coupe’s too. The best-looking, best-sounding car of recent years? Quite possibly, and for many the debate ends there.

And it is very loud; the exhaust maintains a constant conversation with you when just manoeuvring; you’ll turn heads even when parallel parking. At higher revs it hardens into a hollow bellow with a prolonged crackle and bang when you shift gear. The Alfa engineer – Italian, naturally – who took me out for a couple of familiarization laps at the firm’s Balocco test track gave up trying to describe it – or make himself heard over it – and just started waving his right arm in the air in a lassoing motion when he thought it sounded particularly nice, which was most of the time.

This is a fast, powerful car, but at the risk of sounding terminally spoiled, it isn’t that fast; not quite fast enough to justify that price or put any significant distance between the 8C and rivals at a fraction of the price. A 0-100kmh time of 4.5sec and top speed of 290kmh are very nice to have regular access to, but aren’t significantly quicker than a Porsche Carrera S, and are appreciably behind the sub-four of the California.

But while the engine disguises an average performance – by the standards of the class – with sharp responses and a showy exhaust note, the handling is very well-judged but just doesn’t excite you. The steering is weighty, direct and quick enough but mute; experience rather than sensation tells you that the car will go where you point it. Same with the brakes; now carbon-ceramic, they’re long in travel and lacking in feel.

Objectively, the 8C Spider doesn’t have the specification or the dynamics to justify the price. But it doesn’t need them, because the more Alfa asked for the 8C, and the rarer it made it, the less it competed in any objective sense with other supercars. Those lucky enough to have one will have Ferraris already and won’t be blind to the otto-chee’s shortcomings. But they’ll also love Alfas, and know that this is one of the stand-out cars in the firm’s storied, century-long history.

And it bodes well for the new 4C. That car might be very different in specification and price; it will cost around £40,000, and deliver a similar sub-5-second 60mph time but with a 232bhp four moving just 850kgs. But the intent is the same; a bespoke, low-volume sports car to keep us in love with Alfa, and most importantly keep the brand in America until the Mitos and Giuliettas get there in force. The 8C did all of that. It’s still doing it. We think the 4C will do the same, and be just as ineffably Italian.