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Passion, flair, temper. All are qualities that make for rather an exciting relationship … until you come home one day to find the crotch cut out from all your favourite jeans, that is. Now, that may or may not have happened to me, but it sort of sums up how I feel about the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.

Glowing praise

I was fortunate enough to drive the closed-top 4C at its local launch a few years ago. That event was held the Kyalami racetrack (the old format, of course). I left that event expressing glowing praise for the little car from Italy.

What wasn't to love? Here was a pukka carbon fibre-based sportscar with a ferocious forced-fed turbo motor driving the rear wheels. Perhaps it was Alfa Romeo's intention to keep us within the confines of SA's most famous track and not let us out onto the road.

On test

When a test unit arrived in Cape Town, all of our team members were eager to drive the car that would herald a return to sporting form for the brand we all wanted to see succeed.

After a few days, the charm wore off and we found a car that was both compromised and not as accomplished as its main rival, the Porsche Cayman. Our exact words from the test: "As compromised as it in daily running, it represents a reawakening to a brand that is desperate to rekindle its sense of passion and unapologetic flair (as well as appease its adoring fans)".

However, that little fact didn't seem to bother the Alfisti and all of the closed-top 4Cs were snapped up before even landing in South Africa.

Topless beauty

Not that long ago, Alfa's local subsidiary unveiled the 4C Spider. If anything, it is more arresting in the looks department; one of the 4Cs biggest drawcards. Gone are the inelegant compound headlamps, replaced by far more cohesive single-lamp units. WHY Alfa didn't apply the same treatment for both models is beyond me.

The Spider test unit was even more eye-catching thanks to that striking shade of yellow combined with the dark alloys; a much better combination than the frankly bland white and silver of the coupe test car. Even years after its introduction elsewhere in the world, the relative rarity of 4Cs in SA meant that the Spider drew admiring glances wherever it went.

Noise and power

Midships behind the cabin resides the same 1,75-litre inline four found in its hard-top sibling. It develops 177 kW and 350 N.m of torque, with power delivered to the rear wheels via a twin-clutch automated transmission. Tipping the scales at around 1-ton, there's a healthy power-to-mass ratio that makes the 4C Spider a rapid car by most measures.

The drivetrain is vocal, as we noted on the Coupe, and the auditory assault is heightened in the Spider, whether its fabric roof is in place or stowed away. Though the unfettered soundtrack is an anomaly in today's muted world, it can become tiring on the open road … as I found out on an extended motorway cruise.

Incidentally, removing the roof is a manual affair and, ideally, a two-person job. Once removed, you're left to roll it up and tuck it into the small boot. Or, indeed, abandon it in the garage, if the weather doesn't look threatening.

Don't hang about

In dynamic mode (there's no real point in driving it in any other), the throttle is razor-sharp and shifts are fired off with a discernible thump through the cabin. Cog swaps and throttle lifts are announced by a grin-inducing wastegate flutter that makes the Spider sound like a Group B rally refugee.

Briskly enjoying your favourite tagliatelle of tar is when the 4C shines. It is made for winding roads, ideally, with glass-smooth surfacing. In this scenario it is an absolute hoot to drive and its talents can be properly enjoyed.

In any other situation, the 4C Spider is hard work. The unassisted helm needs constant attention, the suspension set-up errs on the side of being too stiff and the noise emanating from behind becomes tiresome, precluding any form of conversation between occupants.

Verdict

The 4C has all the Latin flair and pizazz we've come to expect of Alfa Romeo. As a halo model, it is exemplary. There are moments of pure delight and enjoyment, but these are few and far between. So, as a car to own and live with, the 4C is ultimately flawed. Although not quite as flawed as a pair of crotchless jeans…

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