Sabtu, 07 Juni 2008



By Andrew Frankel

This is the moment for which every true Alfa Romeo fanatic on the face of the planet has been waiting at least 15 years.

You see, it was way back in 1992 that Alfa Romeo sold its very last model that could credibly claim to be a true “driver’s car”. Since that time Alfa Romeo has had to survive by adapting the front-wheel-drive platforms of its parent company, Fiat.

While some of the results have been quite quick and satisfying to drive, and most have been pretty good looking too, I can’t say that in all that time I’ve sampled one that I believe drives in the way a true Alfa Romeo should drive.

But now, at last, I have. The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is an Alfa that is true to its heritage. Powered by a 4.7 litre V8 motor and clothed in an exquisite carbon fibre bodyshell, it packs a 450bhp punch in as beautiful a body as you’ll see on sale anywhere.

In theory its price will be around £111,000 when sales start in the UK early next year. But in practice the entire run of 500 8Cs sold out long before any prospective owners even seated themselves in one, so the 41 that are headed for British shores (all built with left-hand drive) were snapped up quite a long time ago.

It is Alfa Romeo’s first supercar since before the second world war, and if you think it looks good, its beautiful appearance scarcely compares with the wonderfulness of its sound. Or indeed with its superb performance.

The only real question is whether it’s an Alfa Romeo at all. It was designed by Fiat’s in-house styling centre, and uses a Maserati platform as its basis. The engine is a development of one already in use by Maserati, and just to make matters a little more complex, the whole is assembled by Ferrari.

The gearbox and suspension are also derived from systems used on the Maserati Quattroporte and the car is built, not by Alfa Romeo in Turin, but instead by Maserati in Modena. And when those lucky 41 British buyers need their beautiful new vehicles serviced, they will drive them to Maserati dealerships rather than to Alfa garages.

Few owners are likely to complain about the fact that they paid for an Alfa Romeo but ended up with a Maserati, and when the result appears as good as this, I think they will be all too happy to forgive it for being such a hybrid.

Climb aboard the new Alfa 8C and you’re immediately aware that it feels “just right”. It’s a fairly intangible quality, but it means the cabin makes a Porsche’s interior feel almost dowdy by comparison. And as your eyes rove around, they avidly consume acres of leather, plentiful carbon fibre and generous milled aluminium before settling on the slightly swollen front wings that are visible through the little windscreen. It has to be said that the aroma of leather with the 8C truly reeks of promise.

So you turn on the ignition, press the starter button . . . and wait a surprisingly long time for the big V8 engine to rumble into life. It’s undeniably loud, but cultured and smooth at idle, merely hinting at the untold excitements still to come.

Pull back the right-hand paddle (there is no automatic or stick-shift manual available), gently squeeze the throttle and all those years of waiting just slip away.

This is one car whose looks in no way flatter to deceive. The official on-paper numbers report that the 8C will hit 62mph from rest in just 4.2sec, and I have no trouble believing them. Let loose, the engine emits a feral howl as searing and evocative as the cry of any Ferrari.

The gearshift is not as quick as, say, that of an F430, but it will still swap cogs in 0.2sec – or to put it another way, substantially quicker than you’ll ever manage with a conventional manual gearbox.

Sadly, Alfa’s long-awaited supercar is somewhat less impressive through the corners. Its steering is heavy and a poor communicator of road conditions. Turn off the controlling electronics and push the 8C as hard as its engine suggests you should, and you’ll find a car that’s unwilling to let you balance on the edge of adhesion in the way that a Porsche 911 GT3, an Audi R8 or even an Aston Martin Vantage will.

And while all these cars are substantially cheaper than the Alfa Romeo 8C, I suspect they’d prove no slower from point to point and, rather more importantly, offer the true enthusiast just as much fun.

Does this really matter? For once I’m not sure that it does. I don’t think those who have put their orders in for an 8C are expecting it to be Alfa’s answer to the Porsche 911 or any other rival.

They are spending all that extra money in the hope that it will buy them a car that is unique and, in its own way, more special than anything else that similar money will buy. And because Alfa Romeo has cleverly decided to limit its production (though there will be a further 500 8C convertibles made once coupé production stops in 2009), that is exactly what has been achieved.

But unfortunately, this is a story that has a rather sad sting in its tail. That’s because there will be many lifelong Alfa Romeo devotees out there who will be reading this report, hoping that, although the 8C is unattainable, it nevertheless heralds an entirely new direction for Alfa’s standard production cars. Above all, they will be hoping that the Alfa 159 and the Alfa Brera of the future will be rear-wheel-drive cars, as all the best-driving Alfas always were. But of course, they won’t.

Far from signalling a change of philosophy at one of the most loved and enigmatic of Italian marques, the 8C appears to have nothing whatsoever to do with any other Alfa model being planned for the future.

“It is an industrial matter,” a senior Alfa spokesman told me. “There are no plans to build a mainstream production Alfa Romeo car that has rear-wheel drive.”

Which is a great shame. So for the time being, for those of you who are looking for a great-driving Alfa Romeo that you’re likely to be able to afford, the bad news is that the wait must continue.

And for how long . . . nobody knows.

Vital statistics

Model Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione
Engine type 4691cc, eight cylinders
Power/Torque 450bhp / 354 lb ft
Transmission Six-speed manual with paddle shift
Fuel/CO2 17.9mpg / 377g/km
Performance 0-62mph: 4.2sec
Top speed: 181mph
Price £111,000 approx
Verdict Almost as good as it looks
Rating ****
Date of release Early next year

The opposition

Aston Martin V8 Vantage
For Lovely looks and sound, great to drive
Against Not quite as quick as it should be

Porsche 911 GT3
For The finest sports car for the money
Against Only two useable seats, quite noisy


By Jason Dawe

I’m no movie buff but I will never forget The Graduate, not because of the plot — in which Dustin Hoffman’s character is seduced by an older woman, Mrs Robinson, then falls in love with her daughter — but because of the car he drove, a 1967 Alfa Romeo Spider.

Forty years on and that very car is standing in front of me in the car park of a San Diego hotel, sunlight reflecting off its blood-red coachwork. It looks hardly a day old.

It is here to act as a foil for a car that is being billed as its spiritual successor: the 2007 Alfa Romeo Spider due to hit showrooms next month. What better way for a company to play up its association with the machines that made its name — cars that encapsulate the romance and passion of motoring.

But before we get to the modern Spider, a quick chance to test its predecessor. “The brakes, handling and steering are all a little bit more delicate,” warns the Alfa Romeo chief engineer.

At the first corner I see what he means: in 1967, when most cars had four-speed boxes and drum brakes, the Alfa’s extra ratio and disc brakes were quite exotic. But today the standard wheels and tyres scream in protest as I take the gentle lefthander at 30mph, while the brakes, too, take a little getting used to. Anticipation is your best defence. These anchors don’t like surprises.

But driving the old Spider was the entrée; the main course is the 2007 version. Sharing its underpinnings with those of the Brera coupé the new Spider hopes to compete with the likes of the BMW Z4 and Audi TT for the hearts and cash of Europe’s lucrative soft-top buyers.

That’s a tough challenge but Alfa is bullish about achieving it, an attitude reflected in the price. The new Spider is no cut-price competitor: if you can afford the Spider you can afford the German rivals, and Alfa Romeo clearly believes this car is good enough to compete on a level playing field.

The entry-level 2.2 litre petrol model starts at £25,995, although once optional extras are added that price can balloon. The one I drove featured leather upholstery (£1,000), sat nav (£1,450), electric seat adjustment (£800), xenon headlamps (£700) and a Bose stereo upgrade (£600). An entry-level car for a tad over £30,000 is an ambitious move.

But soft-top cars sell predominantly on looks, not price, and in the beauty stakes this Alfa is a stunner. Compared with the BMW Z4’s rather ungainly looks and the Audi TT’s conservative recent makeover the Spider is in a different league. Nothing this side of a Lamborghini or Ferrari has such kerb appeal.

The cabin is equally alluring. There’s the distinctive instrument binnacle that keeps information such as revs and speed a private matter between driver and car, together with three additional dials for olio (oil), acqua (water temperature) and benzina (fuel), which are mimicked above by three air vents. The fact that each dial’s function is written in Italian is a nice touch and reminds you that you are sitting in something a little bit special.

But what impresses most is just how well screwed together this new Alfa Romeo feels; there is nothing flimsy or flaky about this interior. German car makers should be afraid.

It’s so good that when you slot in the “key”, press the start button and the 185bhp engine fires up you can’t help but be slightly disappointed. The engine has none of the rasp you expect and no exhaust note to quicken the pulse.

A light dab of the brakes sheds speed at a rapid rate of knots, and having mentally adjusted to the old Spider it takes some getting used to. The steering, which is also speed sensitive, is well weighted and the standard six-speed manual gearbox feels close to perfect.

But when the Californian highway opens up and I drop a cog and floor the throttle, little happens. Yes, the car gains pace but no more quickly than a reasonably powerful Ford Mondeo diesel. This Spider contains no venom.

Alfa Romeo quotes a 0-62mph time of 8.8sec and a top speed of 129mph for the 2.2 litre version. For the money and looks you’d expect better.

And better there is. The flagship V6 model boasts an extra 75bhp and four-wheel drive. Visually, save a set of larger alloys, the V6 looks identical, and with no badges to distinguish it from its smaller brother some owners may feel a bit peeved that they have spent a full £5,255 more and have little to show for it.

But start the engine and the differences begin to reveal themselves. The V6 motor sounds lovely, still on the quiet side but distinctly Alfa-esque. Build the revs, dump the clutch and with all four wheels putting the power down the acceleration is more vivid.

A 0-62mph time of 7sec is hardly super-league stuff nowadays — a 3 litre BMW Z4 takes less than 6sec for the same sprint — but it puts you in the top 5% of road users.

With more power to play with you also get to appreciate how good the chassis is. I’m sure the team at Alfa Romeo would admit that this car could easily handle another 50bhp.

The latest Spider, then, lives up to the reputation of its illustrious forebears. It oozes charisma in an age when motoring can often seem expensive and monotonous. And compared with its prudish German competitors the larger-engined Spider also has something of a devilish streak lurking beneath its immaculate and classy exterior. Mrs Robinson would love it.


The Brera was first rolled out at the Geneva motor show in 2002, and it stunned the crowds. Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital Design it was never intended to become a production model. The prototype featured all wheel drive, carbon fibre bodywork and the engine was a 90 degree V8 that displaced 4.2 Litres and produced 402 bhp this was then set back in the chassis to aid weight distribution. The Brera featured the classic, long nose, short deck styling reminiscent of other powerful Italian GT’s. The front features the classic Alfa Romeo grill and an aggressiveness that has echo’s of "Il Mostro", the classic love-it-or-hate-it Alfa Romeo ES30 SZ from the early 1990’s. The wheel arches are subtly flared and with the smooth waistline the design suggested power.

Like one of its predecessors, the Montreal, Alfa Romeo decided that due to the acclaim the design received, it would go into production as Alfa Romeo needed a replacement for the ageing GTV and Spider. Unusually, its production engineering was carried out by Ital design’s arch rival Pininfarina, however the design remains remarkably faithful to the original concept although the gull wing doors of the show car have been dropped. The chassis is based on Alfa Romeo’s premium platform, as is the Alfa 159 but the wheel base is significantly shorter. This chassis has more torsional rigidity than the outgoing GTV, and the Alfa Romeo engineers have exploited this, coming up with some very well judged suspension settings. The car is as happy to be thrown around the country lanes, helped by the low ratio steering rack and the passive rear wheel steering, as it is cruising down the motorway.

The Brera, who’s name incidentally comes from a posh suburb of Milan, has three engine options, 2.2 litre four cylinder petrol, 3.2 litre V6 petrol and 2.4 litre five cylinder diesel. The 2.2 litre engine produces 185 bhp and like the V6, is based on a GM unit. This engine has variable cam timing on both inlet and exhaust camshafts and has considerably more torque than the outgoing Fiat unit. With this engine fitted the car will come with a 6 speed manual or Q-tronic gearbox and drive will be through the front wheels. The V6 engine produces 260 bhp and is matched to a four-wheel drive system that normally splits the power 43/57 with the bias to the rear. When the torsen c differential senses a lack of grip it can adjust the torque split from this setting so that 78% of the torque goes to the front or rear wherever it is needed. The V6 engine looses none of the verve of the Alfa Romeo V6 it replaces and still makes the spine tingle at high revs. The 2.4l, 5 cylinder, 20 valve common rail diesel with variable vane turbocharger is a carry over from the Alfa 156 and as such is a tried and trusted product; in this guise the power output is up from 175 bhp to 200 bhp and it produces a massive 400 lb foot of torque.

The GTA version should be available in October 2007, and Alfa Romeo have been mule testing both the bi-turbo 3.2 v6 at 380hp and the 4.7 v8 at 450hp and at the moment it looks as if they will install the V8, however there is a chance that they will use an overbored version of the V6 at around 3.6 litres as that is already available through General Motors.

The interior is a very nice place to be, there is a feeling of quality with every surface padded including soft cloth in the door pockets, and the centre console is made from real Aluminium. The instruments have the sporty feel carried over from past Alfa Romeos with all the gauges facing the driver and the leather seats are both sporty and supportive. Starting the engine is a matter of pressing a button and the minor Radio controls are on the adjustable steering wheel

The Brera chassis is quite a departure from Alfa’s of the recent past and is built and I do mean built, this chassis is easily capable of taking 400bhp. Suspension components are twice the size of the out going GTV and even with the present 260bhp the chassis never gets flustered, it merely does exactly as you tell it, there are non of the exciting moments you get in a GTV 3.0 either, it is just crying out for more power. Looking at the design of the chassis in terms of bushes and fixtures it also appears to be designed to last, these parts look well engineered and at least of the same quality as there rivals but only time will tell in this department. Alfa have well and truly sorted out the corrosion issues with no model produced in the last 15 years showing any hint of corrosion.

The Alfa Romeo Brera is a coupe in the tradition of Alfa Romeo, but it has some very stiff competition from the Audi TT and the Nissan 350 Z. Like the TT it started life as a show car, however the verve that makes this car an Alfa Romeo is there, setting it above its rivals.

Update 06/03/08:

The Brera has just received a small face lift and its production facility in Southern Italy has been refurbished. While the external revisions are minor the factory has done some major revisions under the skin and they have managed to shave up to 100kg off the kerb weight; this is a big improvement as this was one area where the car was at a disadvantage when compared to the competition. Importantly the weight of the unsprung components is an area where they have concentrated their efforts with the brake calipers now manufactured from a billet aluminium, together many detailed modifications to the suspension components as well as a significant reduction in the weight of the wheels.


The Alfa GT, Gran Turismo, is a true grand tourer and is a proper four seater, unlike the GTV, Gran Turismo Veloce, which is a really only a two seater. Released at the Geneva motor show in March 2002, the exterior of the car received great acclaim, however the car on display was only a model with the interior filled with what looked like black concrete . Styled by Bertone the car has echoes of Alfas both old and new and is the first proper GT since the Alfetta GTs of the late 70's and early 80's, interestingly the flagship models of both these cars share the same basic engine block, the sublime Alfa Romeo V6, now stretched from 2.5 litres to 3.2 litres. The Carrozzeria has done a stunning job; the scooped out flanks, the deep front grill, the aggressive headlamps, the offset front number plate all say this is an Alfa Romeo coupe. This is no BMW 3 series coupe, which shares the same lines as its four door sibling. The waist line slopes gently forward and the subtly-bulged rear wheel arches give a real sense of power.

The front windows are frameless, de rigueur for a coupe, and the rear window is small as you would expect in a coupe, however the visibility forward is very good. The interior is superbly equipped, the seats are wonderfully deep and very supportive they come in "Alfatex" or leather and are a work of art to look at.The dash has a comprehensive array of analogue instruments that are clear and easy to see. The steering wheel is a carry over from the 147/156 and is very nice to hold with a grip just where your thumb sits that is very tactile. The steering wheel radio controls sometimes get a little confusing when driving the car hard or manoeuvring which is slightly annoying. The rear seats are comfortable and there is room enough for three adults to travel on a reasonable journey; the centre seat even has a three point seat belt. This versatility is aided by a well disguised hatch back that gives access to a boot that is only a little smaller than the 156 and can be extended by folding the rear seats flat.

The body is based on a 156/147 floor pan but is 15% stiffer, this stiffer chassis allows the engineers to have more freedom with their suspension settings and the car benefits from a slightly more compliant ride while also rolling less than its brethren, a nice trick. The steering is very sharp with only 2.5 turns lock to lock and there is absolutely no dead spot around the centre position which instills the driver with confidence. The VDC stability control system is one of the best in the business and allows the driver to drive which is very nice. Under braking the car dives forward slightly which in turn transfers some weight forward giving you some confidence that it is digging into the tarmac and not likely to skid along the surface. The brakes also have electronic brake modulation which automatically regulates the fluid pressure to each wheel giving maximum braking force to that tyre.

The GT has three engine options in the UK, the 2.0 litre JTS, the 1.9Mjet Diesel and the 3.2 litre V6 petrol. All the engines have their advantages and are all very advanced designs. The 2.0 litre JTS is a direct injection engine with variable inlet cam timing and a variable length inlet manifold. The 1.9 diesel Mjet is a 16 valve common rail diesel with variable vane turbocharger and multiple injections per cycle and the V6 24 valve engine is almost universally acclaimed as one of the greatest engines ever produced. To harness this power there are three gearbox options, the diesel and V6 both have 6 speed boxes while the JTS has the choice of 5 speed manual or the trick Selespeed Formula 1 derived gearbox.


ByJason Dawe

Alfa Romeo is an evocative name. The problem for many potential buyers, however, is that it represents a risk too far. The GTV is no exception. You may be attracted by its Italian styling but you could be just as concerned by a reputation for dubious reliability and residual-value horror stories.

Buying a GTV is a battle between the head and heart, and it’s one that more often than not the heart loses. But with a bit of knowledge it needn’t be that way.

Introduced to Britain in April 1996, the GTV was designed in-house with help from Pininfarina, the Italian styling company that counts Ferrari among its clients. And it shows. The GTV is a handsome car.

With any coupé, beauty is important, but so too is exclusivity. In this respect the GTV hits the spot. Alfa Romeo has sold just 6,000 GTVs in Britain, making it rarer than an Audi TT or Porsche Boxster.

The GTV has something of a “baby Ferrari” feel about it. The rear seat is virtually non-existent, while boot space is fine only for a couple of weekend bags. A low roofline and steeply raked front screen make headroom marginal for anyone approaching 6ft and cars fitted with the optional sunroof are an even snugger fit. The seats, particularly when trimmed in leather, look superb but, surprisingly, lack lateral support when cornering hard.

But the rest of the cockpit is spot on. The deeply recessed instrument binnacle is for the driver’s information not the passenger’s pleasure, and the steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach.

Buyers can choose from a four or six-cylinder engine, both of which produce a delicious engine note. The biggest seller is the 2 litre Twin Spark unit. Originally producing 150bhp, this was raised to 155bhp with the introduction of the phase two cars in September 1998.

Keen, free-revving and reliable, the 2 litre unit is perfectly suited to the front-wheel-drive GTV. However, buyers need to check the cam belt carefully. Alfa Romeo recommends replacement at 72,000 miles and a visual inspection at 36,000 miles, but most owners agree that replacement every 30,000 miles is the best option.

The 3 litre V6 produces a lusty 220bhp, enough to propel the car to 60mph in less than 7sec and on to a top speed in excess of 150mph. The inclusion of leather upholstery and air-conditioning as standard makes these cars very well equipped. However, the extra weight of the V6 engine blunts the handling. Add in higher running costs and a hefty insurance premium over that of second-hand 2 litre models and the V6 is a car that won’t appeal to all.

Revisions to the GTV have been modest, but phase two cars brought in colour-coded sills that gave a more fluid line to the car’s flank. In July 2003 the GTV received a new front grille, revised interiors and more power — the 2 litre gained 10bhp, the 3 litre added 200cc and 20bhp.

Finally, putting the looks aside, here’s a fact that should appeal to the head rather than the heart. What Car? quotes a three-year or 36,000-mile residual value of 43% for the 2 litre GTV. That’s the same as a Ford Mondeo 2 litre, better than a Vauxhall Vectra and just two percentage points behind a Mercedes A-class. So maybe buying an Alfa Romeo GTV doesn’t have to be such an emotional decision after all.


By Richard Williamson

Why do enthusiasts get so excited at the thought of an Alfa? The rich motorsport heritage? The gorgeous Italian styling? Sure, both are useful in the fight against German rivals, but the firm's real selling point is its engines

Why do enthusiasts get so excited at the thought of an Alfa? The rich motorsport heritage? The gorgeous Italian styling? Sure, both are useful in the fight against German rivals, but the firm's real selling point is its engines. Somehow even the base motors have charisma and fine performance, and its V6 range-toppers are the world's finest.

So when we heard that Alfa was working on a GTA version of its 147 hatch, we wondered how it would find an engine with the right credentials. To take on the likes of Ford's Focus RS, it would need at least 200bhp, and none of the firm's four-pots was up to the task. Surely it wouldn't dare to try to cram in the bigger 156 GTA's 250bhp V6? That would just be ridiculous...

We are still barely able to believe it as we stare under the bonnet of this latest - and greatest - 147. The 3.2-litre 24-valver looks good even when it's not running, with its chrome pipes and red lettering. But the beauty isn't only skin deep - 300Nm of torque from 4,800rpm is a good start, and no other hot hatch can claim such power.

Start it up and the playful burble at tickover soon becomes a tuneful symphony. There are six gears, too, although the short ratios and that lovely sound mean it's all too easy to make the rev limiter cut in frequently. Alfa says the 147 GTA is the fastest car in its class, and with a potential 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds and top speed of 150mph-plus, it's hard to argue.

To cope with the power, engineers have reworked the dynamics, with upgraded suspension all round. But even the lowered ride height gives none of the bone-jarring ride quality which af-flicts so many hot hatches. There's lots of torque steer, though, while drivers who prefer a competition-style set-up will relish the slightly unsettled rear end and nose-biased braking system. The steering, although not as accurate as the Focus RS's, has good mid-bend adjustment and high-speed feel, which adds to the entertaining dynamics.

To Alfa buyers, the GTA's looks are just as important as the performance. So while the 147 may be the firm's baby, there's nothing underdeveloped about this model's clothing. Huge 17-inch alloys fill the beefier wheelarches, and there are sharper-creased flanks and additional sill skirts, too. Deeper front and rear bumpers are dominated by gaping air vents, while topping off the visual feast is the 147's trademark fang-shaped grille, flanked by additional intakes. Other modifications include clear indicator lenses, twin tailpipes and a choice of 10 body colours.

A little disappointingly, the interior doesn't have quite the same impact on the senses. Luxury leather trim is optional, but the cabin has a dark feel; a little extra colour would have created a more youthful look. Perhaps Alfa felt it was being daring enough with that choice of outrageous engine.


By Jonathan Crouch

Alfa Romeos 156 GTA Is The Kind Of Flagship This Drivers Car Deserves.
If you make a compact executive saloon, then you have to have a distinct sporting brand for your flagship variant. BMW has its M3, Mercedes its C32 AMG, Audi its S4 and Rover its ZT. So what of Alfa Romeo, in purist terms, the most red-blooded of them all? Well Alfa can at last deliver. Bring on the 156 GTA.

Its fortunate that few buyers in this sector know their automotive onions, for there may be a trade descriptions issue here. The A in GTA stands for alleggerita (lightened in Italian) and was a badge first used by a lightweight version of the companys classic Giulia GT coupe back in 1965. The 156 GTA, in contrast, is actually 200lb heavier than the standard 2.5-litre V6 156 model on which its based, so at a portly 3100lb, its no lightweight at all.

Never mind. Who needs to be picky when youve a car this good. Yes, this Alfa gives a fair bit away to its rivals in the power stakes, the standard 3.0-litre 24-valve V6 boosted by just 37bhp to 247bhp.

But, priced from £27,520, its also considerably cheaper than the German sporting alternatives: in fact, a Mercedes C32 is getting on for twice the cost and isnt much faster. Sixty is just 6.3s away from rest in the 156, on the way to 155mph and theres a choice of saloon or Sportwagon (estate) bodystyles. Looking at the opposition, you can forgive Alfa for not going the purist lightweight stripped-out route (though you wonder whether there might be a low volume place for a model like that in the future).

Cars like this are essentially bought as high speed executive expresses and must be as comfortable on the autostrada as on the old Targa Florio circuit in Sicily where the car was launched. They must also be subtle, yet devastatingly effective: the 156 GTA scores on both counts.

"Subtle, yet devastatingly effective"

Lets start with subtlety. Look at one and you know its not a standard 156 yet you have to stare closely to understand why. No garish spoilers or side skirts, though slim skirts have been added and the front chin spoiler is deeper. Essentially however, the changes have been achieved simply through using more aerodynamic redesigned front and rear bumpers and employing a lower stance with wider 225/45 ZR Michelins on 17" alloys. Circular front foglamps set like jewels into the new front spoiler, wider wheelarches, xenon headlamps, twin chromed exhaust pipes and red brake callipers bearing the Alfa Romeo script complete the visual package. Inside, the GTA benefits from all the latest 156 interior revisions. These include a revised centre console which at last features dual-zone climate controls so that driver and front passenger can set their own temperatures.

There are new fabrics too, as well as an impressive Bose eight-speaker stereo system and the option of the clever CONNECT telematics system, offering satellite navigation, internet use and access to the emergency services. There are six airbags as standard, plus the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) stability system, brake assist and Isofix child seat mountings. None of this however, is alone really enough to make the GTA feel particularly special, so we also get special leather seats and carefully pleated door inserts, as well as bespoke alloy pedals and different speedo and rev counter graphics. No change to the steering wheel position though, so despite four-way adjustment, many will still find it positioned too far away.

Trying to get 247 braked horses through just two front-driven wheels is never an easy task but in this case, the engineers at Alfas Balocca test track appear to have done an outstanding job. Theres no one thing that makes it all work: just a careful combination of detail differences. Specially designed new front suspension struts for example, as well as revised attachments for the rear suspension which have created a wider track. The steering is more responsive too and, fortunately, the brakes have been beefed up. A longer stroke (increased from 72.

6 to 78mm) has taken the venerable 3.0-litre V6s capacity up to 3179cc and this, along with changes to the exhaust and intake ports, accounts for the increase in power (and torque to 221lb ft) over the standard V6. Mind you, its necessary to work the engine hard to get it, the maximum torque figure not achievable until you get to 4,800rpm. Still, youll enjoy doing that: this engine is as wonderful to listen to as ever. The automatic Selespeed option is worth considering too, with its F1-style steering wheel paddles and involving design: if I had a largish percentage of urban driving to do, I wouldnt hesitate. Whichever transmission you choose, this car is one of those which just begs to be driven. Maybe its the wonderful steering, that glorious engine wail, the prodigious grip or the well-controlled body roll. Whatever it is, the whole thing adds up to an intoxicating mix nor must you put up with a harsh, unpleasant ride as a penance for it.

Alfa took too long to come up with a sporting flagship really capable of doing the 156 justice. In the GTA it has just the thing. Try an Italian as a lighter alternative.