IT may by now be a cliché, but quite often these days a new model looks much better in the metal than in pictures. The new Alfa Romeo GT is hardly unattractive in photographs, but these images cannot prepare you for how breathtaking it is in real life… This is a gorgeous car, and it oozes with the type of seductive charm that one expects from Alfa. Of course, this Italian marque has a rich history of making pretty cars, but the GT was actually conceived by master styling house, Bertone.

Alfa wanted its new coupé to combine the exciting driving dynamics of a thoroughbred sports coupé and the comfort of a classic gran turismo. However, to keep costs down, Bertone used as much of Alfa’s existing parts inventory as possible. Based on the underpinnings of the 156 (the Sportwagon model to be exact), and with an interior lifted largely from the smaller 147, the GT still manages to retain a style all of its own. It definitely does not come across as a mix-‘n-match job.

The GT is 4,48 metres long, 1,76 metres wide and only 1,39 metres high. It looks squat, purposeful, muscular and curvaceous. All the traditional Alfa styling elements are there – the chromed and shrouded grille, the scalloped bonnet and slim tail-lights. This range-topping V6 model rides on 18-inch multi-spoke alloys that fill those wheelarches perfectly.

The interior is typically Alfa too, and especially 147 drivers will immediately feel at home, since the facia is lifted straight out of that car. This is both a good and a bad thing. Ergonomically, the placement of the controls is good, with a neat hangdown section and buttons on the sporty three-spoke steering wheel. But the instrumentation is problematic. Deep-set and with grey faces, the gauges are difficult to read at best, and impossible to make out when sunlight causes reflections... which happens often.

Alfa Romeo still suffers from a stigma of poor past build quality and reliability, but we were generally impressed with the GT. The plastics used on the facia appear to be of a higher quality than in the 147, but bad roads did expose the odd rattle and creak.

The GT’s front seats are quite heavily bolstered, and may be a little snug for some larger occupants, especially around the buttock area. Height adjustment is provided for the driver's seat, and rake and reach adjustment for the steering wheel. The old Italian long-arms-short-legs driving position has been largely eliminated. Our testers all managed to find comfortable driving positions, and although two testers felt the brake and throttle pedals were too close together, their placement does make heel-and-toeing an easy exercise.

With its shallow window area, it is quite difficult to judge where the extremities of the GT’s body are, so some testers felt most comfortable with the seat at its highest position, so as to afford a better view. Combine the poor outward visibility with the car’s bakkie-like turning circle, and you’ve got your work cut out in parking situations.

Unlike several of its rivals, the Alfa GT has rear seats that you can actually use. Access is easy behind front seats that tilt and slide far forward. Once seated, you will be surprised by the amount of legroom, except if really tall people occupy the front chairs. Headroom is reasonable, but people taller than 1,8 metres will struggle to sit upright. Alfa says the GT is a full five-seater, but that’s pushing things a bit. Also, the small rear window area can result in a claustrophobic feeling. The rear bench is split 60:40 and folds down to improve boot space from a useful 248 dm3 to 888.

South African-spec Alfa GTs come with a lot of kit: Bose sound system with MP3 compatibility, 6-disc CD changer in the boot, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, electric windows and mirrors, multifunction computer and cruise control. Safety features include dual front airbags, side airbags, front and rear foglights, xenon headlamps, VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control), and ABS with EBD.

It is well known by now that a powerful and beautiful sounding engine, it is even good to look at… The throaty V6 delivers 176 kW at 6 200 r/min and 300 N.m of torque at 4 800. Maximum torque is developed at a fairly high engine speed, but that is misleading because we found the GT to be very tractable in every gear, to such an extent that it can potter around in traffic in fourth without trouble. The flexibility of the engine was further proven by our overtaking acceleration tests, where the GT comfortably sees off a rival such as the high-revving Mazda RX-8.

On the test strip we first tried a zeroto- 100 km/h run with the ASR activated. This proved to be a wise decision, as the GT spun its front wheels as if it had no traction control at all! The best approach is to feed in power fairly aggressively from around 3 000 r/min, controlling the wheelspin by means of a steady, but strong push down on the throttle pedal. Our fastest time of 7,04 seconds almost matched that of the more powerful 156 GTA. And the 242 km/h top speed is higher than its rivals can muster.

Revisions made to the Sportwagon's underpinnings include stiffer dampers but softer springs. The front wishbone and rear strut suspension remain largely the same. Steering is by means of a rack and pinion system, and is very sharp at 1,8 turns lock-to-lock. On smooth roads this Alfa is simply sublime. The sharp steering means that placing the car accurately, or correcting if you haven’t, is easy.

And the GT can carry big speed through corners, with really good body control and the rear end remaining firmly planted. But on bumpier roads, this composure is somewhat lost.

The front suspension will rather “react to” than absorb road imperfections, with the result that the driver sometimes has to hold onto a squirming and shuddering steering wheel. And booting it out of a corner will magnify this effect because torque steer is quite easy to provoke. This is a car that you need to learn in order to drive fast. To some this will mean the GT is engaging, while for others it will just be too much hard work.

But if you get it right, this is a very entertaining experience – the engine sings a lovely tune, the acceleration pushes you into your seat, the stability control system acts unobtrusively, and there is a lot of feedback through the steering. A minor criticism concerns the six-speed gearbox. Gearchanges are sometimes notchy, and for a sporty car such as this, the throw-action of the gearlever is too long.

The brakes are excellent. Using 300 mm ventilated discs in front and 276 mm solid discs at the rear, the GT stopped in an average of 2,78 seconds in our 100 km/h-tozero emergency brake test routine. There was no fade.

Test summary

When a car looks as gorgeous as this, it is hard not to like it. Luckily, there’s no need to feel cheated, because the rest of the GT package is also very good. We like the fact that the rear seats are actually usable, and that the boot is decently sized, and we revelled in that glorious engine. The only downsides are a lack of composure on bumpy surfaces, and perhaps suspect long-term servicing and maintenance costs.

To sum up, this may be mostly a mixture of existing Alfa parts, but they come together in the GT to create a car that is very hard to resist. Sure, it may not be perfect, but on every drive there will be a reminder that you are behind the wheel of something special… and that is very rare.

Original article from Car