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2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sniffles. After so many years it sounds so, well, final: the 2019 Volkswagen SE Beetle Final Edition, for this review the two-door convertible model. There will be waves of nostalgia.

This is a thoroughly modern automobile with all of the comfort and conveniences not dreamed of by owners of the originals in the middle of the 20th century. Think back on some of the differences.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8697The 2019 Final Edition convertible has a padded top, so tight and quiet you’d swear you were driving a luxury coupe. You can barely hear exhaust sounds. Old Bugs were raucous, with twin exhaust pipes that sometimes whistled while they worked.

Check out the automatic climate control. Set it and forget it. The reviewer’s ’65 Type 113 Bug came with little vents on the floor that carried warm air from the rear engine compartment into the passenger pod — maybe. Air conditioning? Swing the front vent windows all the way out to force that humid summer air inside. Notice the cranks on the doors? Open the windows and get a bit of exercise.

Grasp the 2019’s sturdy console lever that controls the six-speed automatic transmission. Totally not as engaging as the early Bugs’ fragile floor-mounted shifter with the tiny pancake shift knob for the four-speed manual gearbox. Truth be told, it was a delight to snick through the gears.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2284Sadly, the Final Edition’s engine is in the wrong place. It’s up front under the hood, where the trunk should be, instead of out back behind the wheels. Plus, it’s a 174-hp, turbocharged, upright four-cylinder engine, not a proper 40-hp boxer with its cylinders reclining like sunbathers.

The Final Edition comes with a small trunk of seven cubic feet. Bugs had their trunks up front plus a generous uncovered bin behind the rear seat.

That old ’65 Bug did have other advantages: Six-volt battery to keep the headlights so dim they would not blind oncoming drivers or light the road; windshield washers powered by air fed from the spare tire  in the trunk up front.

2019_Beetle_Final_Edition--8699Armrests? Padded beauties on the Final Edition. Nonexistent on many older Bugs because the German engineers decreed that owners should keep their hands on the steering wheels instead of elbows resting on armrests.

Though the Final Edition has that six-speed automatic transmission, you can order a six-speed manual if you want it. Some older Bugs came with a transmission called the Automatic Stick Shift, which one enthusiast magazine dubbed the A.S.S. It was so efficient, especially on the Bug’s big brother, the Microbus, that you could walk faster than it could accelerate from a stop sign.

Doggone it, Volkswagen finally went and did it. After all these years — nearly 80 overall and 70 in the United States — the rambunctious and familiar Bug, the modern New Beetle and, simply and finally, the Beetle, will be no more after the 2019 model year.

It actually was thought to be dead in an earlier time. After a slow start in the U.S. after World War II, it became wildly popular for its reliability and economy. More than 15 million of the little two-door sedans were sold from 1949 until 1955, beating out Ford’s model T as the best-selling single-model car of all time. It continued for two decades after that.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2295In 1975, the Bug ended its run, giving way to the Rabbit, called the Golf in other countries. But it was dead only in the U.S. It continued abroad in Brazil, Mexico and other places. Then, after selling 21.5 million cars overall, the last of the original Bugs rolled off the line in Mexico in 2003.

The U.S. Rabbit was different. Where the original Bug had an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine mounted behind and driving the rear wheels, the Rabbit had a conventional liquid-cooled four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

Timeline_1976-Large-3786Though more modern, the fragile Rabbit was not the reliable equal of the old Bug. It lasted only about a decade until it was replaced by other Volkswagen models. But there still were no Beetles sold in the United States.

Then VW showed a prototype of a thing called the New Beetle, with updated attractive styling that resembled the original. It was displayed at the North American International Automobile Show and was an immediate hit. Volkswagen wasted no time in bringing it to market and it lasted until from 1997 to 2010, when it was replaced by a new version simply called the Beetle. That is the car that we mourn now.

Produkte: New Beetle USA Version (1998)
Enter a caption

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Beetle SE Final Edition two-door convertible.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 174 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,239 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,190.
  • Price as tested: $30,690.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8701Photos (c) Volkswagen

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you have one of those primal urges for a low-slung, two-seat sports car, and you’re not a member of the one percent, look no farther than the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF.

Don’t bother reading about the $3.3 million Bugatti Chiron, the $285,000 McLaren 270S, the $187,500 Porsche GT3 RS, or the $141,000 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. There are other nosebleed-priced super cars as well.

And you can even skip the $30,000-plus Fiat 124 Abarth Spider, which is basically a knockoff of the MX-5 with Italian styling and a Fiat engine, but only comes as a ragtop convertible. Mazda also builds an MX-5 two-seat ragtop but the focus here is on the RF, which stands for “retractable fastback.”

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-9With slick engineering that would do justice to cartoonist Rube Goldberg, along with13 seconds of your time, the fastback MX-5 RF swallows its roof in a maw behind the driver and pirouettes a few other pieces to wind up looking like a 1960s-era Porsche 911 Targa-top roadster open to the sky.

Another touch of the dash-mounted switch sends all the parts back into their cozy tubs so you can enjoy closed-car, weatherproof motoring. However, it’s not particularly quiet. This is a sports car, after all, and the Mazda people want you to enjoy the performance vibes of mechanical and raucous exhaust sounds.

They come from Mazda’s re-refined SkyActiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which now makes 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-26Though too many exotic sportsters now rely exclusively on automatic transmissions, computer-controlled so anybody could drive them, purists like us still favor the tactile feeling of mastery and skill driving good manual gearboxes. And, of course, the MX-5 has one with a positive, effortless shift linkage that almost makes you want to seek out heavy stop and start traffic.

No, forget that. Better to find mountain roads with tight curves and elevation changes that encourage attention to the frequent up and down gear shifts of the squat-down, two-seater driving experience. Practice your heel-and-toe technique to match engine revolutions with road speed on downshifts. The MX-5 RF unfortunately does not have automatic rev matching, though you can get it on a humble stick shift Toyota Corolla Hatchback.

So, maybe later for that on the MX-5. Meanwhile, as the motoring gods intended, you drive this neat Mazda the way your forbears did with the Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire back in the 1960s. After all, the MX-5 — most people still call it the Miata and Mazda doesn’t argue with it — was invented in 1990 to be the reliable Japanese descendant of those wonderful — and infamously unreliable — British sports cars.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-15True, you can derive driving joy from many modern sport-oriented cars—including some crossover SUVs with automatic transmissions. There’s shifting with paddles on the steering wheel but you soon learn, even on a racetrack, that the onboard computer is way better at it than you are so why bother.

And, of course, you can buy enjoyment with something like a marvelous old Honda S2000 two-seater with a six-speed manual gearbox, if you can find one. But the performance, which depended mainly on high engine revolutions instead of low-end torque, is not up to modern standards.

So back to the MX-5. There are two versions: Club, which is directed more at a customer who might want to do some week-end faux racing, and the Grand Touring, a bit more expensive but more oriented toward the relaxed, automatic-transmission boulevardiers, though it also comes with a stick shift.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-20The tested Club model had a starting price of $33,240 — not exactly economy-car territory but actually less than the average out-the-door price of a new car these days. With options that include Recaro sport seats with plenty of bolstering, Brembo high-performance brakes and 17-inch BBS metallic black wheels, the bottom-line sticker came to $37,910.

That’s fairly pricey for what essentially would be a toy for middle-class fun-seeking enthusiasts. It would work for a single person and a significant other, but they would have to forego double dating unless there was a second car — even a used compact — in the picture.

There are some other choices that can deliver some of the same driving excitement as the MX-5. A few that come to mind are the Volkswagen Golf GT, Ford Focus RS or the upcoming Hyundai Veloster N.

In the end, however, there’s nothing quite like the MX-5 RF.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-22Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF hardtop convertible two-seat roadster.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 181 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 49/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,339 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $33,240.
  • Price as tested: $37,910.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-13Photos (c) Mazda

2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With convertibles shrinking in number and their owners becoming older and richer, it’s no surprise that Mercedes-Benz continues to field models like the 2018 E400 4MATIC Cabriolet.

This E400, a classy and expensive boulevardier with all-weather all-wheel-drive capability, is marketed as a midsize car alongside its E-Class coupe, sedan, station wagon and crossover SUV garage-mates. But it is more of a sports car in concept and size.

Though two inches shy of 16 feet long, its interior volume — the way the U.S. government classifies automobiles — is just a touch shy of the compact definition, so it dips just barely into the subcompact category.

_F8A9252-1200x800To qualify as a compact, a car must have 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume, which includes both the passenger and trunk space. The E400 has 89.9 cubic feet of passenger room, most of it up front, where the total is 55.2 cubic feet. The back seat has 34.7 cubic feet.

The trunk’s capacity is 9.5 cubic feet, which puts the total interior volume at 99.4 cubic feet. And that’s as good as it gets with the top up. If you lower the beautifully upholstered and finished soft top, an expansion boot drops into the trunk area to accommodate the folded top and robs the trunk of about one-third of its space.

Two adults can sit in the back seat if the folks up front co-operate by moving their seats forward. But it’s very tight and crawling back there takes some athletic ability. The motorized right front seat automatically moves forward to ease access when you tilt the seatback, then reverses back into place.

_F8A9893-1200x794So, the conclusion is that the E400 Cabriolet works better as a conveyance for two people, who can use the back seats for some of their luggage, especially handy if they want to enjoy top-down motoring. It also likely should see some open car parade duty with a Santa Claus or congressman perched on the boot with feet planted on the back seat.

The Cabriolet’s elegant touches include gorgeous natural grain light brown elm wood trim and a headliner so deftly padded that the interior looks and feels like a coupe. Sumptuous perforated leather upholstery and the Mercedes air curtain that warms necks through the front seat headrests contribute to the luxury ambiance.

_F8A9921-1200x800The test car came with a so-called AMG Line appearance package that mimics some of the styling and other visual touches of the Mercedes higher performance AMG models.

Other standard comfort and convenience items include dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting, navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power front seats with lumbar support and memory, and a12-inch touch screen for audio, navigation and other functions.

As with many of these sophisticated infotainment functions, the Mercedes COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system requires a bit of learning because it is not intuitive. It’s best to take time to read the owner’s manual or get lessons from experts at the dealership.

_F8A9928-1200x788With all the luxury touches, this convertible also has some sports car moves. It is powered by a 329-hp 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that makes 354 lb-ft of torque, which Mercedes says enables it to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.

The power goes to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. It shifts smoothly for the most part but is prone to occasional hiccups at lower speeds.

There are driver-selectable driving modes that provide adjustments for ride, transmission shifting and throttle response. Of those, the Sport Plus mode is biased toward handling, delivering a tauter ride.

_F8A9277-1200x800This is a Mercedes-Benz, after all, so don’t expect any bargains. Where the South Korean and some other manufacturers make a lot of desirable equipment standard, on the E400 Cabrio much is optional, including the Cardinal Red Metallic paint job at $1,000 extra.

The same goes for the $9,350 Premium 3 package, which includes adaptive cruise control and active assists for steering, lane keeping, blind spot warning and automatic emergency braking. Also in the package are a stop-start system, Burmaster premium surround-sound audio system, SXM satellite radio, inductive wireless charging, adaptive headlight assist and even systems to purify inside air and inject gaseous fragrances.

Options totaled $14,930, which brought the base of $69,795 up to the tested price of $84,725. Nice work if you can afford it.

_F8A8510-1200x833Specifications:

  • Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC two-door convertible.
  • Engine:0-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 329 hp, 354 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90 and 10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,332 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $69,795.
  • Price as tested: $84,725.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

_F8A9750-1200x800Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Two common reactions emerge when people see the 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible. If the person knows little about the brand or model, it’s “Wow.” One who is more informed asks, “Why?”

The latter folk recall the ill-fated Nissan Murano convertible, called the Cross Cabriolet, which was spun off in 2011 from the company’s midsize crossover sport utility vehicle. Its size and bulbous styling did not translate well into chop-top treatment and it vanished after the 2014 model year.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND058-resize-1024x683But the Evoque ragtop could soldier on despite total sales so far of about 1,200. For one thing, it is a British Land Rover, with all of the cachet of the storied brand. With America’s Jeep, it has earned world-wide renown for its go-anywhere capabilities.

But both companies have strayed. Some Jeep models, even with all-wheel drive, don’t measure up to purpose-built versions like the Wrangler and Unlimited.

Similarly, for all of its off-road heritage, the Range Rover Evoque is not as Serengeti-ready as its siblings. When introduced, the Land Rover trail masters had to remove the front bumpers from the test vehicles to improve the approach angle for off-road obstacles. It obviously was intended as a small luxury crossover SUV.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND046-resize-1024x683That orientation bleeds over to more adept Land and Range Rovers. Many of them spend their lifetimes in garages of luxury homes, parked in front of designer stores or tooling majestically around in swanky shopping centers.

The Evoque convertible fits that paradigm, especially in the tested top-of-the-line HSE Dynamic version, which arrived with a comprehensive suite of safety and luxury equipment, much of it standard, especially Land Rover’s sophisticated systems that augment the all-wheel drive.

Among them: terrain response adjustable for different conditions, special off-road antilock braking system, and roll-stability and hill-descent controls. Others enhance on-road performance: torque-vectoring control, cornering-brake control, emergency brake-assist and hill-start assist.

RREVQConvertibleStatic09111507-resize-1024x768The tested Evoque also came with blind-spot warning, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, pushbutton starting, automatic stop-start system, 19-inch alloy wheels, power seats and keyless locking.

Though you might find a base SE model at $51,470 — by itself out of reach for many buyers — the tested HSE Dynamic came with a $58,270 price tag. Add its long list of extras and it topped out at $69,685.

lrevoqueconvertiblespotifyimage20091605-resize-1024x683Options included lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, parallel parking assist, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, surround-view camera, SXM satellite radio, folding rear armrest with a ski pass-through and a heated steering wheel.

However, there were a couple of negatives. The sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side. And with the obtuse controls on the center screen, owners should carefully read the owner’s manual or they may spend frustrating hours trying to figure out how to re-set the trip odometers or save favorite radio stations.

lrevoqueconvertiblespotifyimage20091610-resize-1024x721The Evoque convertible is set up for four people, though the back seat is tight. Moreover, it doesn’t have enough space for everybody’s luggage. Its trunk measures less than nine cubic feet because the convertible top boot gobbled space. So, the shallow trunk is down low with a lid that sticks straight out when opened, requiring the loader to duck underneath. Awkward.

Dropping or raising the top, however, is a breeze. A single switch folds it in about 18 seconds, even moving at up to about 30 miles an hour. It nestles into its cubby and forms its own cover. Raising the top takes a few seconds longer. There’s a wind blocker stashed in the trunk that can be manually installed, but you mostly don’t need it.

RREVQConvertibleInterior09111506-resize-1024x948Road performance is so-so. The Evoque convertible uses the same turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that was developed when Ford owned Land Rover. It delivers 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

But at 4,525 pounds the convertible weighs about 400 pounds more than the two-door and four-door hardtop Evoque models. Though it boasts of a top speed of 130 mph, the zero to 60 mph acceleration time is more than eight seconds.

Of course, as a luxury convertible its orientation leans toward leisurely cruising on pleasant summer days. And it does have more off-road chops than other convertibles except for vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler or the fabled Land Rover Defender.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND007-resize-1024x683Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Range Rover Evoque HSE two-door convertible.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 240 hp, 250 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,525 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,270.
  • Price as tested: $69,685.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

RREVQConvertibleDriving09111502-resize-1024x683Photos (c) Land Rover.

2016 Buick Cascada: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer Kaminski

The all-new 2016 Buick Cascada may be a cause for celebration—though maybe not sales—among Polish Americans. It is manufactured in the motherland, but it’s a convertible and most of them live in the snow belt.

The four U.S. cities with the highest Polish-American percentages are New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Of those, Milwaukee leads with 9.6% of the population. Warm, convertible-friendly Los Angeles has but 1.5%.

Probably not many people buy a car based on ethnic origin, though anecdotal evidence suggests, for example, that any number of Korean Americans tilt toward Hyundai and Kia.

The Cascada is the latest entry in the resurgence of Buick, the General Motors brand once considered the domain of conservative country doctors and other professionals who could afford premium cars but eschewed Cadillac ostentation.

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible
2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

Now Buick has become the go-to American luxury nameplate in the world’s biggest car market, China, and the company even is building a new crossover SUV there: the Envision, a vehicle planned for world-wide distribution.

But the Cascada, Buick’s first convertible in 25 years, stands out as an unusual automotive intersection: a unique vehicle for the USA derived from an existing European car and built in a General Motors plant in Gliwice, in southern Poland.

Whatever, it is a high quality, four-passenger premium ragtop with no apologies and solid modern credentials. It is in a class by itself because competing convertibles have abandoned the US market. They include the Volkswagen Eos, Volvo C60 and Chrysler 200.

The Cascada is derived from a European car of the same name sold on the Continent as an Opel and in Great Britain as a Vauxhall. The handsome styling stayed mostly the same but Buick’s engineers redesigned the suspension system and other features to conform to American driving preferences.

One imperative was new 20-inch alloy wheels, which are standard equipment and available in two designs. They fill the wheel cutouts and give the Cascada the appearance of a sleek Hot Wheels miniature racer.

Because of its unusual width of more than six feet, marketers could even co-opt the old Pontiac “wide track” slogan.

The Cascada shares little with any other Buick—or, for that matter, any other General Motors car sold in the US. It is powered by a 200-hp, turbocharged1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 207 lb-ft of torque.

Power passes to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with shifts that are nearly imperceptible. Though there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, the transmission can be shifted manually with the console-mounted shift lever.

The Cascada’s orientation is toward luxury and serene motoring. With a fabric top that has three layers of acoustic and thermal insulation, the Cascada with the top up is nearly as quiet as a fixed roof coupe, with little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise.

There are two Cascada models. The base car, at $33,990 including the destination charge, comes with a long list of standard equipment: Buick IntelliLink communications with a seven-inch touch screen, navigation and a backup camera; dual-zone climate control; GM OnStar 4G LTE with a Wi-Fi hotspot; satellite radio, leather upholstery, heated front seats with power lumbar support, and rear parking assist.

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible
2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

Driven for this review was the Premium 1SP version, with a sticker price of $36,990. It adds lane departure warning, forward collision alert, automatic headlights, front and rear parking assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and front and rear air deflectors.

The Cascada betrays its European roots with a couple of misses. Unlike most modern premium cars, it does not have pushbutton starting. It uses a traditional ignition key, which actually is preferred by some people. And the narrow sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the sides.

Inside, there’s just enough room for four average-sized adults, and easy access to the two back seats. The motorized front seats move back and forth automatically, and cleverly stop and move forward slightly when they bump against a rear passenger’s knees.

Imaginative packaging delivers a trunk of 13 cubic feet with the top up and 10 cubic feet with the top down. Rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo space to double the cargo capacity to 26 cubic feet.

Top down or up, the Cascada delivers a comfortable, pleasant and stress-free driving experience around town or cruising on a freeway. The ride is supple, and handling is accurate and secure. Polish-American country doctors will be pleased, even if they can only put the top down during the Brewers’ season.

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible
2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Buick Cascada 1SP two-door, four-passenger convertible.
  • Engine:6-liter turbo four cylinder, 200 hp, 207 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 82/13 top up; 82/10 top down.
  • Weight: 3,979 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,990.
  • Price as tested: $36,990.

Photos (c) General Motors

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There used to be a saying that Italian sports cars like the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider were patterned after volatile mistresses: beautiful, exciting, expensive, dangerous and impossible to live with.

The new 4C, a two-seat targa-style convertible, enhances the legend. It tantalizes a small minority of car nuts—emphasis on the nuts.  Stylistically, it is a work of art. But it is a terrible car. Well, someone has to say it.

It’s analogous to the Alfa Romeo Spider of yore. From the late 1960s into the 1990s, with few changes, the Alfa Spider—also known as the Duetto—was lauded as one of the most beautiful sports cars ever conceived, which was true. But the thing drove like a tractor.

Alfa Romeo has a glorious history despite its current sickness as a car company, which owner Fiat Chrysler has vowed to cure with a $6 billion investment and new models—two of which are the new 4C coupe and roadster.

Visit the recently reopened Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, Italy, and you can view the entire history of the world-famous nameplate. Alfa stands for “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili,” which translates into Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company. Classic Alfas can sell for millions of dollars at auctions.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Likely that will happen with the 4C Spider. But it makes it on looks, which of course is the first and last thing every car buyer considers. It also has some sports car credentials, including lightweight carbon fiber construction and an engine and transmission that can propel it to 60 mph in about four seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed of around 160.

Getting there certainly is exciting—if your idea of exciting is living on the edge. Come along for a ride.

At first look, no question it’s gorgeous, looking exactly like everybody expects of an Italian exotic sports car. For balance and handling, it has rear-drive and a mid-engine, with the 237-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine mounted right behind the driver’s shoulder blades.

Open the door and get in. Well, actually you have to sort of insinuate your body into the passenger pod, fanny first, twisting this way and that like the dragon on the Alfa Romeo emblem.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

The seating actually is decent once you get installed. However, despite big side bolsters on the seats they’re down so low they don’t provide much lateral support.

Though you can’t see them, the pedals are metal for—well, you know. There are four buttons on the console, labeled 1 (to get going), A/M (to switch from automatic to manual paddle operation of the dual clutch transmission), N (for neutral) and R (for reverse).

There’s also a toggle switch to change the driving dynamics from Weather (for soft starts in slippery conditions) to Natural and Dynamic. The last is the most aggressive, short of an all-out race mode, which you don’t get to try.

In any mode, the harsh ride rattles not only the molars but every bone in the body, especially now that the U.S. boasts some of the worst roads in the world.

Light up the engine. You have to twist the key—no pushbutton stuff here. It comes to life with a raucous roar, smack in your eardrums. Either in automatic or manual mode it snarls and barks menacingly at you between shifts. Exciting? Maybe for folks who like to listen to steam engine sounds and racing engines.

One of the features for 2016 is an Alpine audio system, which looks like it came off the shelf at Best Buy. It’s a nice unit if you listen before you start the engine. After that, you can’t hear it unless you crank it way up—and simply add to the racket.

Roll the fabric top off for open air driving and the engine uproar dissipates some. But then you battle wind noise as well.

The steering is manual, which takes wrestler’s muscle at low speeds. Once moving, it’s easier but then all it does is nibble around, following every indent in the road. Constant steering corrections are annoying and tiring. There’s no cruise control, which adds to the fatigue on freeways.

The only way this Alfa feels at home is at speed on twisting pool table surfaces. But who drives at extra-legal speeds all the time?

Yet none of this matters. Even at 70 grand, Alfa Romeo will easily sell every one. Reportedly, there’s already an 18-month waiting list.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider two seat roadster.
  • Engine:8-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 237 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six speed dual clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 47/4 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,847 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/ combined fuel consumption: 24/34/28 mpg. (Premium fuel required).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,495.
  • Price as tested: $70,595.

Read Jason’s take on the 4C here.

Photos (c) FCA North America

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