REVIEW DATE: 19 Apr 2007
In Fitting The Monster 3.2-Litre V6 Engine To The Compact And Elegant GT Coupe, Alfa Romeo Have Created An Utterly Beguiling Proposition. Andy Enright Reports
Designing cars should be easy. Stick the biggest engine in your range in the smallest, sleekest coupe body and then just sit back and watch the queues build outside your dealerships. Much as we'd like to point out an obvious caveat in this plan, it's exactly what Alfa Romeo have done in bringing the GT 3.2-litre V6 to market and they appear to have pulled it off.
Those who know a little more about vehicle dynamics will point to the fact that the ride and handling of the 147GTA and the 156 GTA - which also share the 3.2-litre V6 - are turbulent to say the least, especially over the sort of typical bumpy B-roads on which most enthusiasts choose to get their motoring jollies these days. The problems of weight distribution and traction rear their ugly heads when you sling a heavy engine up front and expect it to deploy power cleanly. Throw a corner into the equation and things get more complicated still. Despite this formidable list of potential snagging points, Alfa's chassis engineers have succeeded with the GT 3.2 where they have had mixed results with the sportier GTA cars.
It's very quick. You probably don't need me to tell you that, but it's worth reiterating. The figures claim that it will notch off the sprint to 60mph in just 6.7 seconds but subjectively it feels half a second quicker again and it will have no problem breaking the 150mph barrier. The engine is a very mildly detuned version of that which powers the 147GTA, but it nevertheless churns out a hale and hearty 240bhp. Try tagging onto this Alfa's tail in something like a Mazda RX8 and you'll be treated to a receding view of is pert rump.
"Take a walk around the Alfa Romeo GT 3.2 V6 and it's impossible to find an awkward angle or dodgy detail"
Alfa's Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system in conjunction with the ASR traction control program has to work overtime to ensure those 17-inch Michelin Pilots aren't turned to vapour with every overenthusiastic stamp on the loud pedal and whooping roll of the wrists. Unlike many such systems which slap you firmly on the wrists each time you even think of the word 'fun', VDC allows a welcome amount of leeway before it subtly intervenes. There's even a Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) system which restores torque to the engine if you downshift too quickly. This prevents the front wheels locking up and you'll value it on a wet unfamiliar road if you botch a shift.
Not that this scenario is too likely given the communicative nature of that beautiful engine and the glossy smoothness of the rather long-legged gearchange. The Alfa feels rangy and loose limbed along a smooth A-road and it's only when it's really extended around a series of bumpy bends with blind crests and treacherous cambers that the chassis can really shine. No other Alfa of recent years would even get near the GT on a road like this and not very many cars with four seats and a £26,400 price tag would be able to hold a candle to its all-round dynamic excellence. When you consider that this would just about land you a 168bhp worth of BMW 320Ci Sport coupe, you'll appreciate the Alfa's stonking performance per pound factor.
What's more, no affordable BMW, Mercedes or even Audi looks anything like as good as the Alfa GT coupe. Take a walk around it and it's impossible to find an awkward angle or dodgy detail. It really has no business looking as good as it does, as closer inspection will reveal that it's something of a mix and match between 156 saloon and 147 hatch. The tape measure shows that the car rides on the 2596mm long 156 wheelbase but underneath the pretty styling, the firewall, the pedal box, the steering column and the entire climate control system are pure 147. The front wings are shared with the 147 GTA although the bonnet has been slightly modified.
The styling house Bertone were responsible for most of the design and the GT was originally pencilled in to be assembled at their Turin plant where spare capacity had been freed up by the demise of the Fiat Punto Cabriolet. After many beans were counted, however, Alfa Romeo thanked Bertone very much for their penmanship and decided to build the GT alongside the 147 at their Pomigliano d'Arco plant just outside Naples. Given the solid feel of latest generation 147s, that's perhaps no bad thing and the first impression one gets dropping into the driver's seat of the GT is of rugged build quality.
The cowled instruments and sporting logos that can look a little overblown on a base 147 hatch suddenly make all sorts of sense in a 'proper' coupe. The script on the dials has been revised for the GT, the centre console has been redesigned and the material used for the dashboard is of a different texture to standard 147. Many will be sold on the GT long before their slacks hit the seats. Much of that will be due to the swoopy styling. Much of it is contemporary Alfa Romeo, particularly around the front end where few will be able to distinguish GT form 147 as it arrives in their rear view mirror. As the GT slides by, however, a high-waisted scalloped flank is evident with a stub tail that's almost reminiscent of an early eighties Giulietta. Unlike the Giulietta, however, that 'boot' is in fact a bit of automotive trompe l'oeil, opening to reveal a gaping hatchback. There's 320 litres of room back there, which is a good deal more than a 147 hatch can muster with its rear seats in place and almost as much as the 156 saloon.
Although designing cars may seem easy, turning them into desirable finished products is anything but. We expected the Alfa Romeo GT 3.2 V6 to be fun but flawed. Instead it's just fun. Alfa's chassis gurus deserve serious respect.
|For GT 3.2 V6|
|OVERALL||6.9 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|