Recent review of the 156 GTA.
The name of the article says it all:
Italian psycho thriller
By Bill McKinnon
The Sun Herald
Wednesday January 29 2003
Alfa returns to its roots with the 156 GTA, a raunchy, hard-edged sport sedan with a heart as big as your mama's.
Stroked V6 delivers great performance, a wide, responsive top end and a beautiful sound. Nice match with slick, six-speed gearbox. Great handling and one of the most responsive steerers in the business. Virtually no torque steer. Excellent tyres.
You need access to a racetrack to properly appreciate it. The ride will rattle your brain, especially on a rough road. Uncomfortable driver's seat. Insufficient reach adjustment for wheel. Tight rear seat space. Air-con/ventilation system inadequate on a hot day.
Since the 156 came to Australia in 1999, the car's shape has changed little. But underneath it has been extensively upgraded, most recently with the lovely 2.0-litre JTS engine.
It's an appropriate time to launch a high-performance model. Alfa needs to show that it hasn't become timid and respectable with age.
Four (out of five)
Alfa has resurrected the romantic GTA moniker, which starred in touring car championships around the world in the 1960s and 1970s, for its new 156 hot rod.
The "A" stands for "alleggerita", Italian for lightened. It was part of the go-fast GTA tweak in the 1960s to remove excess weight -- mainly interior frills -- from the production Giulia GT.
The 2003 GTA, at just over 1400kg and equipped with the usual luxury gear, is hardly faithful to the original concept in this respect -- but its 184kW 3.2-litre V6 certainly is.
The standard 156 suspension, brakes, steering and electronics have also been extensively re-engineered to make the GTA a much narrower, more focused performance car.
The objective is to make the GTA feel like a proper production/club racer, retaining a modicum of civility for everyday use.
Track days -- at which owners get to do what the law won't allow on public roads -- are big business in Europe. Alfa had such a purpose in mind when deciding what type of car the GTA would be.
The GTA's exterior treatment, though, is fairly subtle. There's no rear spoiler, for example. The front and rear skirts feature airflow splitters; mildly flared wheel arches and side skirts also distinguish the GTA from other 156 variants.
Priced at an ambitious $89,500, the GTA is, for the moment, available only with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The Selespeed version will be here in mid-year, as will the 147 GTA costing $65,000-$70,000.
The 3.0 V6 (used in the GTV coupe, Spider convertible and 166 sedan ) is fitted to the 156 GTA with a longer-stroke crankshaft and new pistons to increase its capacity to 3.2 litres.
Other work includes intake and exhaust tract tuning, a revised engine management system and an engine oil cooler. The clutch is larger and the six-speed gearbox has been strengthened to cope with the increased engine outputs.
As a fully-fledged hoonmobile, the GTA doesn't get the skid sensing and correcting system fitted to the standard 156. Traction control is provided but it can be switched off.
The car requires a few revs and some clutch finesse to get away smoothly but once mobile, the V6 is outrageous fun. Quick, too.
Drive clocked 6.6 seconds from zero to 100kmh -- anything less than seven seconds is at the pointy end of the performance scale.
It will pull sixth from just under 2000rpm and around town is quite docile. Relatively low gearing means you don't have to row the gearbox and overall tractability is fine.
The fireworks start when it passes 4000rpm. From here you have another 3000 howling, glorious revs to play with as the GTA delivers.
The close, short ratios, plus the engine's flexibility and responsiveness, make the GTA a forgiving device and easy to keep on song in tighter corners.
On the highway, sixth gear pulls 2400rpm at 100kmh -- hardly lazy revs for a V6 with close to 200kW -- but open road fuel economy is better than expected. Thrash it and it drinks like a V8.
The six-speeder has a slick, easy shift and the clutch is fairly light. The test car had more than 8000km on the clock -- all extremely hard ones and the clutch was showing the first signs of wear, as were the brakes.
The GTA shares the base 156's suspension layout -- independent double wishbones at the front and independent MacPherson struts at the rear -- but its geometry, virtually all the components and their mounts are different.
Obviously, firmer springs and dampers, a lower ride height and thicker stabiliser bars are part of the rework. The steering is the most direct fitted to a production car at only 1.75 turns lock to lock. This also produces a turning circle the size of a suburb.
The brakes have larger discs and twin piston Brembo calipers at the front.
Steering is scalpel-sharp, but the chassis is sufficiently uncompromising and taut to accommodate it.
There's tail-happy entertainment built in, rather than the usual front-drive understeer, and no body roll whatsoever. The Michelin 225/45 tyres on 17-inch alloy wheels grip hard, wear well and provide great feedback.
Sending 184 kW/300 Nm through the front wheels is usually a formula for uncontrollable torque steer and chaotic handling.
Alfa has minimised such misbehaviour. Only when the engine hits peak torque is there a gentle tugging at the wheel. Elsewhere, including at the top end, the engine feels effectively separated from the steering.
The test car's brakes had seen better days. Though powerful when warm and given a shove, pedal feel was inconsistent, and a slight pulsing indicated the discs may have warped.
The downside of the GTA's take-no-prisoners suspension set-up is a rugged ride. All is forgiven when you find smooth road, but the distances between joy are tedious and uncomfortable. Moderately sized bumps give the suspension, body and those within a horrible bashing.
You're not paying for a five-star cabin with the GTA, so you don't get one. Decor is black on black with some fake-metal relief.
Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, dual automatic air-conditioning, a Blaupunkt/Bose single CD, the JTS's efficient trip computer, metal pedals with rubber inserts, six airbags, Xenon lights and rain-sensing wipers.
The driver's seat looks like something from the 1970s, with a tombstone-style head restraint and a horizontal tube design on the cushion and backrest. The cushion is also extendable.
Power adjustment is provided for backrest angle. Seat height and travel, plus lumbar support, are adjusted manually.
It complements the ride. After a couple of hours it's a relief to climb out because the cushion is hard and unevenly padded.
But lumbar support is substantial, as is bolstering -- exactly what you want when streaking around Monza's curves.
Long legs don't benefit from the extendable cushion because the wheel has insufficient reach adjustment.
The dash is as per the JTS, with three hero gauges -- Aqua, Benzina and a clock -- in the centre, two recessed major instruments in front of the driver and small vents which, on a hot day, take a while to cool the interior.
Cruise control is provided as a concession to the reality of 21st-century motoring but there's no covered storage, except in the small glovebox.
The back seat is heavily contoured and equipped for two passengers. Leg room is tight, given that many drivers will use a fair amount of seat travel. The deep boot has a relatively short floor, with a space-saver spare underneath.
The 156 GTA makes few concessions to comfort, and as a day-to-day proposition will sometimes make you wonder why on earth you ever bought it.
But if your body's tough enough -- and if you get regular opportunities to use the GTA as Alfa Romeo's engineers intended -- you'll probably never want to sell it.
Original Article from Drive.com.au