Ben Whitworth drives the stunning new Alfa GT – a new breed of diesel supercar
The work of Bertone, the GT takes Alfa’s traditional styling clues – the shielded chrome grille, scalloped bonnet, complex light units, creased flanks and taut rear end – and amplifies them more than any of the current Alfa models. Alfa has tweaked GT’s 156-derived front wishbone and rear strut suspension with softer springs but firmer dampers for a slightly less athletic and more cushioned ride and handling qualities. The chassis has also received some further bracing to enhance rigidity and the alloy suspension sub-frames are now lighter and stiffer. The surprise and delight count climbs higher when you swing open those big doors and slip down into the cabin. The GT’ cabin possesses a wonderful has yet to be finalised, but in keeping with the GT’s luxury remit, expect dualzone climate control, a top drawer CD/radio sound system, anti-lock brakes, traction control, eight airbags, alloy wheels and metallic paint, and expect them all be fitted as standard.
Alfa quite correctly bills the GT as a full four-seater but while front passengers have plenty of leg, elbow and head room, those sitting in the two sculpted rear seats will find accommodation a little tighter, and matters aren’t helped by the feeling of claustrophobia made worse by the thick rear pillars and high sills. But for a couple or a young family the GT’s packaging should be ideal. When it arrives in March there will a choice of two engines – the 165bhp 2.0- litre JTS petrol that will be familiar to Alfa drivers, and an uprated version of the 1.9-litre turbo diesel that (now called M-Jet) that develops 150bhp – up 10bhp from the current 1.9 JTD.
While the JTS petrol unit is an effervescent and sprightly powerplant that relishes zinging up to its 7,000rpm red line, it’s the torquey new M-Jet diesel that’s easily the more engaging engine. It’s fitted with Alfa’s second generation common rail injection system that features a more powerful fuel injector control unit. Instead of two injections of fuel into each chamber during the ambience, marrying deep-hooded dials, soft-touch matte plastics, delightful detailing and robust build quality. Opt for the full leather package and the entire cabin is swathed in top-grade and fragrant leather to create a cabin of Maserati-rivalling atmosphere.
The driving position is good – lower than the 156’s long-arms-short-legs stance, with the GT’s thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, long-necked gear lever and the pedals which are just about perfectly positioned. Specification for right-hand-drive cars combustion cycle, the injectors can now introduce up to three injections of differing size and at different times, according to throttle inputs and engine load, which of course feeds directly into the real world by boosting power and increasing throttle response. Not only is the same amount of diesel burnt inside the cylinder but the introduction of several fuel injections smoothes out the combustion process, ridding the engine of diesel’s traditional ‘clatter’ soundtrack.
Multiple injections also mean that it’s easier to keep in tighter control of pressures and temperatures developed inside the combustion chamber and more efficient use of air taken into the cylinders to improve fuel economy. It may sound pretty complicated but the result is a terrifically refined and powerful engine that revs with almost the same gusto and enthusiasm as its petrol stablemate. There’s no real off-onoff power delivery– as soon as the revcounter needle swings past 2,000rpm the engine zips around quickly and cleanly to its 5,000rpm cut out without any noticeable drop in power.
Once on the go, the Alfa really shows off its tight lines and pedigree. It really is seriously quick which is welcome and necessary in such a fast-looking car. And the engine continues to impress once moving – there’s 225lb ft of burly torque to flatten inclines and annihilate slower traffic. Overall the car feels effortlessly quicker than the JTS petrol, assisted as it is by a slick six speed transmission. Suffice to say that it should ensure that any lustful driver who wants gusto out of the car, will be able to keep the engine in its meaty powerband. In September the current 150bhp 2.4- litre five cylinder engine will also get the M-Jet treatment, boosting its output to 175bhp, and if demand is high enough Alfa will introduce this in all-wheel drive.
On the rain-slicked roads on our test route out of Monaco, the GT rode with a welcome assurance and security as it reeled in one switchback corner after another. It felt taut and integrated, with less of the 156-like pattery, fidgety ride quality. It was impossible to ignore the enthusiasm of the GT’s scalpel sharp steering, slick gearlever action and revhappy engine. Wet weather aside, only the lousy turning circle (the flipside of such quick steering) and occasional hints of torque steer as the front wheels struggled in the wet to handle the diesel’s hefty torque spoils what is otherwise, a rich and rewarding show.
On sale: March 2004 // Price £21,000 (est) // Main rivals: Peugeot 406 Coupe HDi, Mercedes 220CDi Sport Coupé
- Engine: 1.9 litre, 4-cyl common rail turbo diesel
- Max Power: 150bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 225lb ft at 2,000rpm
- Combined Consumption: : 42.0mpg (Extra-urban 52.3mpg, urban – 32.5mpg)
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 178g/km (C)
- 0-60mph: 9.6secs
- Max speed: 130mph