Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - GT - V6 coupe
Alfa Romeo models
Performance, handling, styling, equipment, safety, comfort, price
Room for improvement
Steering, turning circle, ride quality, no power seat adjustment
30 Jun 2004
DON’T go getting the wrong idea about Alfa’s new GT coupe, which has been described as everything from simply a two-door 156 to, according to its maker, "virtually the first of a new breed of Alfas".
The truth is somewhere in between. Starting life as the current 156 medium sedan but with a significantly different, slinkier bodyshell – and therefore lacking the new front/all-wheel drive underpinnings of the next generation of Alfas that we’ll see from next year - GT is to 156 sedan what BMW 3 Series coupe is to 3 Series sedan.
Down the track an entry-level 2.0-litre JTS variant may be added to the single GT model launched now, while a GT GTA – which may simply be named GTA – is also due to appear, which should eventually land on sale here at the outgoing 156 GTA’s price of $90,000.
For now, however, as part of a shake-up of its high-performance GTA line-up that sees it effectively replace the 156 GTA sedan, GT undercuts that model by $10,000 yet offers similar performance and more equipment within an all-new, sexier skin.
It’s a skin that looks the part too, lacking the sculpted side skirts of 156 GTA but presenting a tough yet classy sports look via multi-spoke 17-inch alloys, twin chromed tailpipes, the full-sized, heart-shaped Alfa grille and a square rump with surprisingly narrow tail-lights.
While GT GTA is expected to raise the performance stakes considerably with a 3.7-litre Autodelta version of the rorty Alfa 3.2 V6, the $80,000 GT is already a good performance match for both the 147 GTA hatch and the discontinued 156 GTA sedan (which continues on sale overseas in pre-facelifted guise).
GT may not feature the full 184kW GTA engine, but with the same 300Nm torque peak and a fairly trim 1410kg kerb weight (same as 156 GTA, 50kg heavier than 147 GTA), it blasts to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds (6.4 for 156 GTA, 6.3 for 147 GTA) and to a top speed of 243km/h (156 GTA: 246km/h, 147 GTA: 250km/h).
More importantly, thanks to its abundance of easily accessible torque, GT feels as fast 156 GTA, even though it doesn’t match its pace on paper. As one of the most powerful front-wheel drives ever made available, GT offers an addictive level of neck-straining urge, anywhere between idle and redline.
Pulling cleanly and with plenty of pep from as slow as 60km/h in sixth gear, the manual-only GT is rarely caught in the wrong gear thanks to sensible final gearing that also sees it travelling at around 120km/h at 3000rpm in top. As with 147 and 156 GTA, there’s premium-level performance available, along with enough tractability to make GT a doddle to drive both quickly fast and around town with ease.
Of course, the downside of this is a degree of what made 156 GTA the poorer cousin of 147 GTA: torque steer, or tugging of the steering wheel under hard acceleration as the front Bridgestone S-02s scramble for traction.
Sure, the switchable VDC stability control keeps this in good check most of the time, but sometimes even it gets overwhelmed by the healthy loads of torque the front tyres are asked to transfer to the road. With it switched off, GT could be quite a handful on a wet, windy road.
And while GT’s slower steering rack (compared with the GTA’s ultra-quick 1.7 turns lock-to-lock) is easier to live with in most circumstances, with a degree of bump steer while cornering over broken surfaces and even some steering rack rattle evident on bumpy turns, steering isn’t one of GT’s finer points.
The other 156 GTA bugbear that’s carried over is a shocking 12.1-metre turning circle that made rounding even some of the tight hairpins on the old Pacific Highway north of Sydney a chore.
Ride quality isn’t what you’d call supple, either. GT may ride far better than both GTA Alfa models but it’s still best described as jiggly at low speed and simply feels too firmly sprung.
As speeds rise, however, a level of compliance begins to soak up medium sized road irregularities with reasonable progression, but the plot collapses over bigger bumps where GT easily bottoms out both front and rear and can even drag its matt-black lower front skirt on the road – a trait that’s far more evident in the even-lower 156 GTA.
Poorly calibrated damping seems to be the culprit here, as the GT suspension will also top-out under rebound as the front wheels fall into potholes and the like. On a smooth road GT is a delight, offering the same satisfying level of passive rear steering and the same well-sorted, predictable and easily controlled lift-off oversteer as its GTA brethren - but on the bumpy, broken surfaces of the old Pacific Highway, it’s busy ride became tiresome.
If there’s a final complaint it’s the lack of power seat adjustment on either front seat in an $80,000 vehicle. Height is adjustable via a manually operated side mounted lever and there’s lumbar support adjustment for both front occupants, but the lack of any power assistance is hard to justify at this price.
That said, the leather-clad sports buckets are superb, offering excellent lateral support without requiring a diploma in contortionism to get in or out – aided somewhat by the long and wide-opening doors. The leather-clad steering wheel, too, is nice to look at and grip, while the BMW-style leather-textured dashboard material looks the part too.
Familiar deep-set sporty instruments are the main feature and really look the part, but the jury’s still out on the boxy new centre console insert that houses everything from the trick audio system (with eight speakers including sub-woofers, MP3 player and a 10-CD stacker in the boot) to the dual-zone climate control unit.
With a fully adjustable wheel and hip-hugging sports seats, GT’s reasonably spacious cabin will accommodate most body shapes and sizes in comfort, with only the slightly offset, alloy-trimmed pedals (that are perfectly positioned for heel-toe gearchanges) detracting from the well executed driving position.
There’s reasonable stretching room in the rear too – at least as good as, say, RX-8 or 3 Series coupe – along with armrests for both outside passengers and the full compliment of three-point seatbelts, head restraints and windowbags.
But with a large central hump in the rear seat it’s effectively a four-seater for adults, and with the dark sports theme extending rearward and non-opening rear windows, it could also get a little too cosseting on long trips.
Storage space is good, however, with a compartment within the folding centre front armrest, good sized door pockets, a small (and unlockable) glovebox and a boot that’s claimed to be among the biggest in class.
It’s also fully lined and illuminated, with a 12-volt outlet, plenty of tie-down hooks, three child restraint anchors and both a handy 60-split seatback and ski-port through-loading function.
Rear vision via the Alfa-trademark but outdated rectangular interior mirror isn’t great thanks to very wide C-pillars, so the standard rear parking sensors are a boon.
At $80,000, the stylish new GT represents good value beside the 156 GTA it replaces, thanks to similar performance, more equipment and superior practicality, its two doors aside.
As such, and as a logical Italian rival for the (much less expensive) 350Z and RX-8 on one hand and Crossfire, TT and 3 Series coupe on the other, Alfa should easily sell the 100 it expects to shift this year and the 200 forecast for 2005. Especially when 156 GTA only sold at a rate of three or four per month and the significantly less expensive 147 GTA attracts up to 25 buyers a month.
But if you’re looking for the ultimate Alfa coupe – short of the mega-dollar, limited-production Brera supercar – wait for the real-deal GT GTA or, better still, the next generation of AWD sports Alfas.
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