What it’s like to live with a GM Alfa Spider

For a few years, we owned the sixth and still latest generation of Alfa Romeo Spider… But was it really an Alfa Romeo?

With a half-century long history – in 2006 came the sixth generation ‘Type 939’ Alfa Romeo Spider. Reborn by General Motors, out went the iconic ‘Busso’ from the previous GTV Spider, and in-place of it came a new direct-injected 3,195cc 24-valve V6, named the ‘Jet Thrust Stoichiometric’ – or JTS for short. So now that the busso was gone and General Motors had taken over, was it still a true Alfa Romeo?

Although the car was assembled in Turin, Italy – the new JTS V6 motor was built in Holden’s Melbourne plant by General Motors, and after extensive modifications by Alfa technicians, the new power figures sat higher than any previous generation of Alfa Spider, with 191kW of power (256hp) and a respectable 322Nm of torque. This meant a 0-100km/h time of 7.0 seconds, following on to a top speed of 244km/h. Fitted with Alfa Romeo’s advanced ‘Q4’ permanent all wheel drive system, it came equipped with three differentials, splitting torque dynamically between all four wheels, detecting surface conditions and adjusting accordingly. This ensured maximum levels of safety and traction in all conditions and on all surfaces.

Designed by Italdesign’s Giorgetto Giugiaro, the base chassis – the Alfa Romeo Brera was taken to Pininfarina to undergo a transformation. Replacing the rear seats with an automatic folding roof, it rolled out of Pininfarina’s laboratory somehow looking even better than it was before, taking out the award for ‘The Most Beautiful Car Of The Year’ at the International Automobile Festival shortly after its debut.

The Spider we had the pleasure of owning was as described. A Misano Blue 2008 model, fitted with the JTS V6 and Q4 AWD system, mated to a six-speed manual box. Specced with iconic teledial wheels and an aftermarket Remus catback exhaust, the curvaceous design and the sound were second-to-none. A raw, throaty, aggressive and unmistakable V6 sound was always present at low-rpm – but once kicked up close to the redline, the ‘Twin-Phaser’ variable-valve timing revealed an entirely new car. A scream, almost akin to a flat-plane V8 – it was a sound that made many turn their heads in awe.

A great car for a summer drive up the east coast of Tasmania, it didn’t come without downsides. Unfortunately for the Alfa Spider, there were many.

Weighing in at just over 1700kg, every kilo could be felt through the corners. Hairpins that could be managed at ease by even midsize SUVs – it struggled at, and that resulted in understeer. A lot of understeer. Despite a well balanced steering rack that was sharp and responsive, the Alfa Spider’s dynamics were truly terrible.

You may think “sure, it’s not too sporty. How about as a grand tourer?” Well, short answer, it didn’t do that too well either. The fuel economy was abominable . Averaging around 18L per 100km around town, it never set foot below 12L per 100km even whilst crusing on the highway, so even with a 70L fuel tank – it was very quick to reach empty.

Fuel economy aside, the exhaust drone from the V6 at low RPM was infuriating. Whether that was sitting at 110km/h on the highway or driving through busy traffic, the drone could never be ignored and it made any conversations inside the car quite difficult. Before you ask, yes it did have an aftermarket exhaust fitted but the drone wasn’t much quieter from factory.

Even after taking these impactful downsides out of the equation, unfortunately for the car, thats not the end of the list. The harsh ride, scuttle shake and fear of scraping on anything and everything due to a 60mm ground clearance didn’t make anyone feel comfortable for a long trip.

Long-term reliability wasn’t bad, but exclusivity meant it was difficult to find information about the car, and made finding parts quite difficult. Most of the parts we had issues with weren’t the General Motors parts. They were usually the parts unique to the 159, Brera & Spider.

For the three years we owned it, the car had a few electrical issues from time to time, from little things like random warning lights popping up on the dashboard to the electrical roof mechanism not functioning properly – or at all. However, most of these issues usually sorted themselves out after a while in typical Alfa Romeo fashion.

The clutch would sometimes get ‘stuck’ as the master cylinder had failed, so after a new one was fitted, a real kicker came. The power transfer-case failed.

After tirelessly scouring the internet and calling up authorised dealers and service centres, it came to our attention that even some of the largest Alfa dealers in Australia had never heard of the transfer case failure before, therefore a replacement part was scarce. After months of gathering information and searching, a new transfer case was eventually sourced from a wrecking yard and it was fitted – but not without its cost.

Even after all the negatives we pointed out, the high cost of maintenance and all the problems we stated, we don’t want you as the reader to think it was a bad car. We still think to this day that the Alfa Spider was an incredible car to own, and it’s certainly an experience we don’t regret. One of the most beautiful cars ever made, presented by an incredible Italian automaker, the Alfa Spider is one truly worth owning for the adventure. The design is incredible, the sound is spectacular, and we honestly would turn a blind eye to the downsides if we were ever to own one again. So to answer a question we asked at the beginning.

Was the General Motors Alfa Spider a Real Alfa Romeo?

We’d like to think the best way to describe an Alfa Romeo is – besides the long list of problems and the even longer list of why you shouldn’t buy one, somehow it still manages to draw you in. And the Type 939 Alfa Romeo Spider does exactly that.

Beautiful, but let down by its dynamics.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

AutoNews Australia

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