A distant howl hovers over the placid countryside near Balocco, Italy, known for Arborio rice and RPMs.

This is the spiritual home of Alfa Romeo. And the howl, an eerie blend of jet engine and Chewbacca, belongs to the 8C Competizione — a “halo car” for a brand seeking redemption.

Hopes are the 8C will erase lingering memories of shoddy quality that led to Alfa's exit from the U.S. in 1995, and whet the appetites of a new generation for whom Italian styling and technology represent only romance.

Angelic aspirations aside, this halo vehicle has a devilish side. The cartoonish proportions of its bug-eyed, wide-mouthed face belie the 450 hp of V-8 fury beneath its arrow-like hood.

Its ominous exhaust and outsized, air-cooled brakes clearly state this is not a car to trifle with. Seductive is the dignified elegance of its Coke-bottle lines, 20-in. wheels, shimmering red paint and, most of all, its exquisite voice.

The 8C's exhaust note recalls the vocal range of Luciano Pavarotti, whose memory is cherished here. Like The Maestro in his prime, the 8C is capable of sweet, mellow tones — and fiery passion.

In sport mode, the 8C's exhaust is channeled through a series of baffles that raise its pitch. Under throttle, the result is a triumphant crescendo that warrants encore after encore.

Sadly, the console button that activates sport mode — and dials back Alfa's trademark Vehicle Dynamic Control system — is disappointingly vague. Like putting your thumb in polenta.

But there is nothing ambiguous about the performance. On a rain-greased test track, the car's rear end begs to snap loose with every input. Time for decrescendo. Thumb back into the polenta.

Feedback is immediate and precise. Right foot down, shoulder blades back — pressed hard into rigid seats, elegantly upholstered with buttery leather.

Paddling through the 6-speed sequential manual gearbox, the 8C's heritage comes through loud and clear.

While the Greeks were inventing tragedy, the Italians were defining drama. So it is not surprising, then, that the 8C greets each upshift with an explosive acceleration burst — after a suitable pause for effect.

Meanwhile, the car announces almost every downshift with the pop-pop-popping of back pressure.

Nevertheless, when the limited-production 8C arrives in the U.S. late this year, it will command the kind of respect music lovers reserved for The Maestro.

Bravo, Alfa Romeo.

[+] PROS/CONS [-]
Distinctive styling Hair-trigger throttle
Exhaust note Squishy buttons
Collector car There are only 500

'09 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione

Vehicle type: front-engine, RWD, 2-passenger coupe

Engine: 4.7L V-8

Power (SAE net): 450 hp @ 7,000 rpm

Torque: 354 lb.-ft (480 Nm) @ 4,750 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed auto-clutch manual

Wheelbase: 104.2 ins. (265 cm)

Overall length: 172.4 ins. (438 cm)

Overall width : 74.4 ins. (189 cm)

Overall height: 52.8 ins. (134 cm)

Curb weight: 3,500 lbs. (1,588 kg)

Base price: $250,000

Fuel economy: Not rated