Imagine you're a male (Autoblog surveys say most of you are, so this shouldn't be hard). You've been invited to the Playboy Mansion for their annual Halloween party. You arrive, grab a flute of bubbly, get introduced to the crusty remains of Hugh Hefner and after a few minutes lay eyes on the most beautiful specimen of redheaded femininity the world has ever seen. You fight your knees from buckling, walk over and give it the ol' college try. Miraculously, you hit it off. She's entertaining, interesting and a joy to see and be seen with. One thing leads to another and you make your way upstairs into one of Heff's exotically appointed love dens.
You're ready to embark on one of the most pleasurable experiences of your life when... there's no spark. No connection. No chemistry. You use every trick in the book to make things work, but to no avail. Despite her arsenal of attributes, this exquisite example of sensuality just doesn't "do it" for you.
If you can understand that scenario, then you can understand our brief, uninspiring stint with the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. Read on for more.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
The 8C has been around long enough that you already know what matters. It's stunning, perfectly proportioned and should only be available in one color: Competition Red. Beneath its achingly gorgeous carbon fiber exterior you'll find the same platform that underpins the Maserati Gran Turismo, along with a dry-sump 4.7-liter V8 hand assembled by Ferrari. A six-speed sequential gearbox channels the bent eight's 450 horsepower (at 7,000 RPM) and 354 pound-feet of torque (at 4,750 RPM) to a limited slip differential nestled between the rear wheels, delivering a claimed 0-60 MPH sprint of 4.2 seconds and a top speed over 180 MPH.
Open up the long, upkicked door and another side of the 8C's character unfolds in front of you. The seats, which place your posterior a few inches from terra firma, belong in MOMA. They're masterfully sculpted, assertively clinging to your back and legs, and coated in the finest cowhide old man Giuseppe can rustle up outside Modena.
The dash is another modern masterwork of minimalism, with a faultless blend of carbon fiber and aluminum adorning the center stack, tunnel, doors and steering wheel. Ah, but wait. Something's amiss in the boot-shaped land. It would appear Alfa's beancounters couldn't stomach the cost of a carbon fiber dash, transmission tunnel and two door panels. They're all fake, save the panel housing the start button, transmission modes and parking brake switch. But no matter. After you depress the cold aluminum "Engine Start" button to breathe life into the high-strung V8 ahead of you, the faux fiber is the least of your concerns.
A rousing burble rockets out the rear, followed by an electronically controlled blip before the 8C settles into a soothing, seductive idle. The world melts away as you grab the paddle shifter, engage first, let off of the brake and beginning slowly making your way onto the road.
The ride is on the rough side, as if Alfa's engineers simply figured that Hard directly translates into Handling. But we've endured stiffly sprung rides before and the 8C is a proper exotic, so we want that sense of hardened agility with a wanton disregard for chiropractic costs.
But just as we start to stretch its legs across the rolling hills of the Napa Valley, it becomes abundantly clear that the while the 8C can make it through a workout, it doesn't enjoy the exercise.
The steering wheel, which is a bit on the big side for a such a sporting ride, conveys every lump and divot into your palms, but fails to completely communicate the interaction between the tires and the tarmac. The overly taut suspension crashes along some of the more neglected sections of our drive loop, causing the 8C to skip significantly when speeds increase and corner forces test the aging underpinnings. And while the power delivery and lock, load and explode gear changes – particularly with Sport mode engaged – are enough to send your skull into the headrest, the visceral thrills aren't a product of thrust – they come from manhandling the 8C into submission, keeping all four tires in constant contact with the road and avoiding tail-out, off-road excursions when trying to jump from apex to corner exit.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. And it never went away.
The more we pushed, the more it shoved. And after 20 miles of attempting to connect, all we were left with was a disconcerting air of apprehension. The only bright spot to be found were the brakes, which proved unflappable throughout our drive, providing consistent, fade-free pedal feel time after time. But even that lone light wasn't enough to instill confidence at anything beyond six or seven tenths, begging the question: What happened?
Realizing that only 500 examples would find their way to obscenely wealthy collectors, did Fiat – Alfa's parent company – simply rush the chassis and suspension development, trying desperately to keep costs in check, while focusing solely on appearance? Maybe. But for something so inexcusably attractive, you expect performance to be on par. And it simply isn't. Making the Alfa Romeo 8C Competitizione the one redheaded supermodel we would kick out of bed.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Thanks to Douglas Magnon, president of the Riverside International Automotive Museum, who provided one of the 99 8Cs imported to the U.S. for photos and many thanks to World Class Driving for lending us their 8C for testing. You can get more information about WCD's extensive exotic car driving programs here and check out their new program, I Drive Green.