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Alfa Romeo


Although only about 1,500 examples will be registered this year – the majority to company funded user-choosers – this £20,995-£26,695 two-door coupe represents a revitalisation of the Alfa brand.

Its launch here at the end of March coincided with the launch of a multi-million pound media campaign incorporating city roadshows and prime-time TV ads designed to whip up greater public awareness of the Milan shield and to give prospective Alfa retailers food for thought.

This kind of support is the biggest any Alfa product has had in the UK for decades and there are still a few open points to be filled in the network. From the outset, three engines and four models are offered for the 156-based car: 1.9 JTD M-Jet diesel, 2.0-litre JTS petrol and 3.2-litre V6 petrol. A 1.8 Twin Spark petrol will be introduced in the autumn.

Early indications are encouraging – more than 100 GTs were registered in March, even though not all of them found their way on to the SMMT official figures for the month, thanks to an underground cable fire in Manchester that toasted BT's link to the DVLA's automated system. Insiders say dealers have orders for more than 600 and have been surprised by the model mix.

Alfa Romeo (UK) initially expected petrol to outstrip diesel by 75% to 25% but it has been a 50:50 split so far, indicating a fleet thumbs-up for the 150bhp turbodiesel. The flagship V6 accounts for a little more than 10% of the petrol orders, but right-hand drive models won't now be available in the UK until the end of May or early June, as a result of a supply hitch at the factory.

Another surprise is high demand for upgrades from a long options list. This is despite generous equipment on all models which includes as standard ABS and EBD, vehicle dynamic control (VDC) with anti-slip regulation (ASR), driver, passenger, front side, window airbags, follow-me-home lights, 16in alloy wheels, electric front windows and heated mirrors, dual zone climate control, driver seat lumbar adjustment; cruise control, leather steering wheel, immobiliser and alarm, RDS radio CD, comfort pack (three rear head restraints, centre rear three-point seatbelt, rear armrest) and space-saver spare wheel, although not in the 3.2 V6 which comes with a puncture repair kit instead.

Leather or Alfatex synthetic leather upholstery, bigger alloys and Connect CD/sat-nav systems are top of the add-ons.

Alfa hasn't produced what can be described as a true Gran Turismo coupe since Bertone's Giulietta and Giulia Sprints of the 1960s and the new GT is designed to exploit the nostalgia for what are now seen as classics.

The carmaker's UK arm sees the BMW 3-series coupe as the natural rival and has gone to some lengths to demonstrate how its GT outperforms the Bavarian on spec and price.

Behind the wheel

Although the GT is based on the 156, and is roughly the same length, what the Centro Stile designers have achieved is a happy blend of 147 and 156. It matches the agility and fire of the small hatch with most of the comfort, tradition and capacity of the saloon (the latter, almost – it can seat two adults in the rear and there's a centre lap belt for another very small person, but the sculpted back-seat accommodation is for occasional rather than family use). Boot space, however, is big for its class and the 60:40 rear seat folds flat to almost triple load capacity.

The driver sits low in the GT in a cabin more 147 than 156 and there is chrome overload, soft-touch matt plastics and classy detailing such as the three-spoke steering wheel. Most of the UK launch cars were decked out in full leather – very chic, very Maserati.

We were unable to get a drive in one of the two apparently very quick left-hand drive V6s provided, but spent sufficient hours in the diesel and JTS to come to the conclusion that the JTD is the superior drive.

The refined and smooth 150bhp turbodiesel is slightly heavier than the 165bhp 16-valve petrol model and therefore is not quite as sharp entering and exiting sharp corners at speed, but it has the advantage of prodigious low-down torque of 225lb-ft at 2,000rpm, which makes it a calmer everyday drive, with more flexible overtaking capacity.

Its sub-10sec 0-62mph time feels quicker on the road than it looks on paper and there's no doubting its ace over the petrol model – combined fuel consumption of 42.2mpg (JTS 32.2mpg). Another plus: the JTD has a slick six-speed manual: close ratios promote sportiness and suit the engine's early pull.

The petrol model's five-speed 'box is harder work as it requires very high revs to extract performance. The Selespeed paddle shift option is available only on petrol models – it's certainly worth consideration for the JTS. The £2,550 premium brings with it a full leather interior and a Bose sound system with stereo radio/CD and an MP3 player.

Alfa has sorted out the 156 suspension on the GT to bring it up to 147 standard: stiffer anti-roll bars, softer springs and revised damper settings have produced a nicely balanced but still sporty ride.

Driving verdict

There is little doubt that the 3.2 V6 will provide the rush of blood the dedicated Alfisti requires, but both the 2.0-litre petrol and the 1.9-litre diesel entertain the enthusiastic driver. On balance, the JTD is the most rounded performer, as it combines reasonable fuel economy with sporting spirit. It's a true grand tourer.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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