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Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Roadtest

I could write a book, and Alfa Romeo nearly did, about the Euclidian geometry of the GTA suspension system. Hugely complex, it is determined to keep you planted and to make the most of the sizeable footprint of the 225/45 low-profile rubber. To avoid boring you with endless details, I shall crib from Alfa Romeo and quote their own appraisal of the net result of all the number-crunching. ' These cars have been designed to enhance everyday driving experiences with a true racing feel and authentic driving satisfaction,' it says here. And further down the page: ' The aim was to offer thrilling performance and very quick responses in terms of dynamics, ride and handling.'

For sure, it does all those things but not in an unmanageable way. Even if you are not a closet racer, there is ample emotional dividend to be derived just from the sheer pleasure of being in charge of such an icon. Which is what it is. Forget all the German alternatives - the GTA offers visible racecraft heritage and a certain scarcity value that will make your neighbours wish they had chosen the alternative driving machine.

But it's not all about performance. The GTA pays careful regard to the needs of active safety and has engaged that nice Hr. Bosch to install some of his crafty hardware to keep you out of the scenery should enthusiasm overcome common sense.

Chief amongst the supervisory gizmology is ASR - Anti Slip Regulation - the purpose of which is obvious enough. It can be disengaged, which is handy If you live in Manchester and wish to fit snow chains. Or you might be like me and need to remind yourself what it's like to be in control of your own destiny. The third option could be that you fancy playing with the torque steer on a wet and bumpy road. The latter is one of the endearing features of the more-powerful 156s and it is a testament to the ASR device that it can be so successfully attenuated.

Also on board is VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control), which is like ASR with knobs on and fiddles with the torque and brakes if the scenery beckons. Brake assist is also fitted along with, of course, ABS and EBD. Brakes loom large in the Alfa agenda and vented discs are fitted all-round, gripped by bright-red Brembo 4-pot calipers that look particularly fetching when viewed through the spokes of the 17-inch alloys.

The GTA also boasts MSR, which is new to me, and Alfa too, apparently. None of us knows what it stands for but we do know what it does. Miss-timed down-changes in a car with a torquey engine can lock the driven wheels, and if that happens on a greasy road you will encounter what racing drivers call a 'moment'. To stop that happening, MSR balances the engine speed with the road speed to prevent the wheels locking. It's like double-declutching without the need to engage your brain.

As well a pair of antimetallaro devices to protect front-seat occupants, the passive safety bundle also includes twin front and side airbags, Fiat's fire prevention system, the usual pre-tensioners and ISOSPROG fixings.

With so much lustful metal under the hood, you might be expecting to dig deep to keep the GTA on the road. It ain't necessarily so. The combined fuel consumption of 23.3 mpg is bearable and the extra-urban figure of 32.8 is almost reasonable. It's only when you consider the urban figure of 15.6 mpg, CO2 emissions of 287 g/km and the Group 18 insurance rating that you might try and resist the seductive, broad-beam, low-slung looks.

This is not a family hack with more power than is good for it. Every nut, bolt and washer has been thought about. This car has been tried, tested and fettled by people whose job it is to win championships. They love their work and have bolted together a truly outstanding car that rightfully deserves the GTA badge of rank and the £26,000-plus price tag. When the GTA appears in the shops in July 2002, look upon it as money well-spent.

In fact, I wish to congratulate the company for producing such a thrilling and awe-inspiring car and I cannot wait for a re-run.

Posted on 07.05.2002 by Graham Whyte
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