Falling for a Romeo

HAVE YOU ever seen anything so beautiful you could cry? For me, it&rsquo;s this object before me, Alfa&rsquo;s drop-dead gorgeous 8C Spider.<br /><br />So here I am, at Balocco circuit, Alfa Romeo&rsquo;s private test facility between Milan and Turin. It&rsquo;s 35 degrees. Test tracks, no matter where they are in the world, are not known for being beautiful but Balocco is the exception. It offers an outside banked circuit and an assortment of inner road variations but sprinkled amongst all of this are beautiful old buildings and manicured gardens. And then there&rsquo;s the inside, all immaculate and modern, a shrine to B&amp;B Italia and a perfect backdrop from which to launch Alfa&rsquo;s ultimate sportscar.<br /><br />You could experience all this too if you&rsquo;re prepared to part with &pound;174,000 (including the &pound;25,000 deposit) for an 8C Spider &ndash; but only once you&rsquo;ve scythed your way onto the order list. <br /><br /><strong>SO LOUD</strong><br />Project 8C started four years ago with 500 orders for the Coupe, the last one being delivered in January of this year. Alfa is building the same number of Spiders but has received 1,200 orders. Nevertheless, the ink has yet to dry on a handful of contracts, so some newcomers could still get their hands on one.<br /><br />So, just two cars here, one in Competitzione Red and the other in a pearlescent hue called Shell White. Even being driven round the square outside our media suite, they&rsquo;re so loud they sound as though they&rsquo;re out on the track.<br /><br />The first lap was a familiarisation run and driving me was Domenico Martino, the test engineer responsible for 8C. Unsurprisingly, he&rsquo;s fairly in tune with the car and its behavioural patterns.<br /><br />The noise is remarkable. I can only imagine the amount of time spent playing with the exhaust system to achieve this effect. It is glorious, popping and banging on deceleration like machine-gun fire. To really hear it fire, find a tunnel (of which there are three at Balocco), make sure you&rsquo;re hitting the rev range between 3,500 and 4,000 and change down.<br /><br />Not cool but I screamed and uttered a few expletives. Domenico was delighted at my outburst and turned to shake my hand &ndash; all this while accelerating into a couple of switchbacks at 200 plus kph.<br /><br /><strong>FASTER GEAR-CHANGES</strong><br />At the sharp end we have the oh-so-gravel-voiced 4.7 litre V8 engine producing 450bhp, with all that power charged to the rear wheels. Steering wheel mounted paddles accompany the six-speed Cambiocorsa sequential gearbox which &ndash; although not the fastest gear-change on the market &ndash; is still pretty damn good.<br /><br />Then there&rsquo;s the Sport button that ups the ante even more for faster gear-changes and increased revs on the limit &ndash; and yes, even more noise. And you can select Manual mode, which is what I had it in for maximum paddle-shifting enjoyment.<br /><br />A dashboard-mounted button operates the two-layer, electrically-operated roof. Indulge me for a moment. I have long hair, yet even with the roof down whilst out on track, I returned with not one hair knotted to another. That&rsquo;s a first. The roof stows flush with the bonnet and becomes its own tonneau cover, saving a little more all-important weight.<br /><br />A combination of steel and aluminium with plenty of carbon-fibre makes up the 8C build. All that power from the engine in such a light car makes for a really impressive time on track. There&rsquo;s loads of grip and large carbon-ceramic ventilated discs hugging the 20&rdquo; alloys which provide good braking, although not immediately the sharpest feel. <br /><br />The steering is quite heavy without intervention from electronics so linking up a tight S-bend brings out muscles you didn&rsquo;t know you had. It&rsquo;s a very easy car to oversteer too but if you&rsquo;ve got enough private tarmac to play on, fantastic.<br /><br /><strong>ACCESSORISE</strong><br />There&rsquo;s a good pair of bucket seats that hold you in place within the sublime interior leatherwork. You can accessorise your Spider with a bag designed specifically to fit the snug boot with matching suit-carriers that hang over the back of the head restraints, all of which can be ordered in the same upholstery leather as your car. <br /><br />Built by Maserati and available in left hand drive only, your 8C Spider will be serviced at a qualified Maserati dealer. And when you&rsquo;ve got it parked in your driveway, could I ask a favour? Please contact me because I would love to see what it&rsquo;s like on the roads of Inghiltere. I don&rsquo;t think I&rsquo;ll manage it otherwise. Lunch is on me.<br /><br /><strong>THE FACTS: </strong><br />ALFA ROMEO<br />8C SPIDER<br />6-SPEED <br />SEMI-AUTOMATIC<br /><br /><strong>Price:</strong> &pound;174,000 <br /><strong>0-62mph:</strong> 4.5secs<br /><strong>Top speed:</strong> 190mph <br /><strong>CO2 g/km:</strong> 379g/km<br /><strong>MPG Combined:</strong> 17.3