The 8C Competizione? Always thought it was just a concept vehicle. Is it now a proper production car?
Well it’s certainly about to go on sale – for a mere £111,000. Alfa is only going to make 500. And just 41 will come to the UK, the first of which arrives on our shores in January. The ‘production’ car is very similar stylistically to the concept car, first shown at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show. The subtle bodywork changes are mostly to do with aerodynamics. The concept car looked fabulous but apparently flew in more ways than one…
So what’s the story?
Alfa wants to elevate its image, to play on the BMW/Audi field. It's also about to re-enter America after a 13-year absence and needs a halo vehicle to lead the charge. Enter this sublimely beautiful Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. It was designed by Alfa’s own Centro Stile (styling centre), has a carbonfibre body and, for convenience and cost, uses the Ferrari-made V8 currently powering all new Maseratis (the Quattroporte and the Granturismo) It also has the six-speed manual paddleshift gearbox as used on some Quattroportes and the outgoing Maserati Coupe/Spyder. The gearbox is sited in the rear, and linked to the engine by a torque tube. Again, that’s just like the old two-door Maserati and the manual version of the Quattroporte, and it improves weight distribution (49:51 front:rear, says Alfa). The floorpan is a mix of outgoing Maserati Coupe/Spyder and new GranTurismo with quite a few bespoke Alfa components. Wheelbase is shorter than on any modern Maser. So it’s an Alfa/Ferrari/Maserati hybrid, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s made in Maserati’s factory in Modena, and comes down the same line as the Quattroporte and GranTurismo. All good ingredients so far.
So does it drive like an old Maserati Coupe or a smaller Quattroporte?
No, and that’s good news. Modern-day Maseratis are comfort biased and when you’re on a charge, the steering and suspension control can be a bit sloppy. The 8C is far sharper, harder edged and sportier. The V8 is bored and stroked up to 4.7 litres and power rises to 450bhp. Not only does it go harder than any current Maserati – top speed 182mph, 0-62 mph in 4.2 seconds – but it is far sharper and more agile. The engine note is more strident and more tuneful. It’s a fantastic engine, incredibly elastic but really gutsy. And what music! The note changes throughout the rev range, from vroomy V8 low down to an F1 wail at high revs. Just fabulous! Plus the Sport button changes the note – the Audi RS4 does the same trick. Push the button in the (carbonfibre) centre console, and rear exhaust baffles are opened, so the engine sounds more tuneful at idle and at low-medium revs. At higher revs, the engine sounds inspirational no matter what you do with the switchgear. The ‘Sport’ setting also quickens gearshift times (from 0.4 to 0.2 sec) and also allows a bit of fun before the stability control starts to quell your enthusiasm – modest tail-out driving is possible. (You can turn the traction control off totally if you’re brave.) The Sport setting doesn’t change damper settings: the 8C has good old-fashioned mechanical (non-electronic) dampers.
And what’s it like to drive?
We tested it on Alfa’s own Balocco test track between Milan and Turin. Naturally you’d expect it to be good in its own backyard – and it is! The car is fast – about 911 GT3 fast – and also really responsive. That short wheelbase and comparatively light weight (1490 kg) combine to give great nimbleness and the steering is faster than any Maserati’s (the rack is new). Body roll is almost non-existent, and throttle response is top-notch – you can balance the car’s handling beautifully with the throttle, especially in Sport (or better still, no traction control) mode. The steering, while sharp and linear, is a bit lifeless; you don’t get the drama or richness of communication that you experience in, say, an F430 or the GT3. But then this is a front-engine car. And the steering is way better than, say, an M3's.
So it’s not your typical Alfa then?
No, not really. Modern Alfas – especially the Brera, Spider and 159 – are all too heavy and not that sporty to drive, ironically. A mainstream Ford Focus is a sharper steer than any of them – and that’s disappointing for a company that wants to tackle BMW. If mainstream Alfas had anything like this level of zest, they’d race out of the showrooms. Mind you, like the 8C, those Alfas all looks brilliant and, like the 8C, they have a fine level of craftsmanship. So new Alfas are improving in key areas. They just have to go on a diet to regain their old verve.
And the 8C’s cabin?
Really good. A classy and modern mix of real aluminium alloy, carbonfibre and leather as only the Italians can do it. The seats have carbonfibre shells and are manually fore-aft and rake (but not height) adjustable. It’s a two-seat only though there’s quite a decent back bench, fine for two large overnight bags. The hatchback rear door gives you access to… the fuel tank. Though there is also a little slit of a boot, barely big enough for a briefcase, accessed by the rear hatch.
It may be as much Maserati or Ferrari as Alfa, but who cares? This is a delectable-looking, inspirational front-engine V8 sports car that goes really fast, sounds great, and is hugely entertaining to drive. Plus street sculpture doesn’t get much better than this. The run of 500 cars, built from now until late next year, has already been pre-sold. But if you’re keen, see your Alfa dealer (or Maserati dealer if you live in America) about the 8C Competizione Spider, which follows when production of the coupe stops.