Now that I am soon due to retire my GT after nearly 2 years of ownership, I thought I would review my time spent with her, mainly for the benefit of any forum members considering buying one, or for anyone else who is in the market for one and searching for info on Google, which can sometimes be hard to find.
Tell people you drive an Alfa and you usually get one of two sound bites:
1) * Sucks teeth: "It will never be out of the garage and electrics will be dodgy"
2) "Top Gear says you’re not a true petrol head unless you've owned an Alfa..."
Unfortunately the tired old clichés still persist, even if the marque moved on years ago.
I made my first foray into the Alfa Romeo brand early in 2009. I had run a number of performance cars prior to that, some quite hardcore, but a new job dictated that I change my car for something frugal and ideally something from a premium or semi premium marque for use travelling to client meetings. With a modest £10k budget the usual suspects were considered; 3 Series Coupe, MK5 Golf TDi, Audi A3/ A4...
Then I suddenly realised (probably like most people) I had completely forgotten to look at Alfas. The Alfa GT looked like a conspicuous bargain compared to ‘ze Germans’ and I felt the brand resonated with me due to the performance and driving pleasure bias. The GT is also to my mind infinitely more appealing than the rather clinical and ubiquitous alternatives - a rare and somewhat leftfield coupé with beautiful lines and dare I verge on hyperbole, a bit of soul. So, a deal was struck and here I am nearly two years and over 20,000 miles later.
The first thing that strikes you about the GT is (inevitably) the way it looks. It is low and purposeful, but with sculpted lines which really flow nicely, leaving no sharp edges, but still retaining an aggressive look. The proportions are in my mind close to perfection, though the rear of the car can sometimes look a little bare due to the slim tail lights. It still turns heads on the road and people assume it has a substantially higher price tag than it actually does. Mine has the 18" wheels which look especially nice, (though they leave rather too much of a gap between tyre and wheel arch) and she is finished in Nuvola Blue, a pearlescent that causes the colour to shift between silver, pale blue and gold depending on how the light hits it, further singling it out on the road as something out of the ordinary.
Open the long driver's door with its frameless windows and you are greeted with an attractive and visually interesting cabin, if a little dated by comparison to more modern cars (most of the parts are from the 147 and 156). The ambience is lifted by the all red glow of the instruments at night and the dials sit deep within cowelled tunnels visible only to the driver. The steering wheel is slim and leather trimmed with multifunction buttons for operating the radio and CD player at your fingertips. Unfortunately the sound system itself delivers pretty poor audio quality and the fascia appears to have been designed by Fisher Price, which is a little disappointing if you are a music lover (I have also driven one with the Bose as a loan car and sound quality didn’t seem much better). Other gadgets include dual zone climate control, air con and parking sensors (the latter are optional).
My car has leather heated seats which are the best of any car I have owned - comfortable on long journeys and with great lumbar support for those times when you are driving with gusto on good A and B roads. I do however wish they could be adjusted to go even lower as I still find the driving position a touch high. If you are a regular gym goer you also might find them a little tight on your lats! The cabin also has an adjustable arm rest in the centre which really adds to the comfort factor. The only real complaint I have with the interior is storage, or rather the lack thereof. The glove box is tiny and impractical for anything other than an actual pair of gloves. The other assortment of cubby holes meanwhile seem to have been designed with another species in mind, as they don’t seem to correlate with the shape and size of any of the everyday items a human might want to store in a car.
Turn the key and the engine rumbles to life with a rather agricultural sounding idle which is noisy and rather unbecoming of such a svelte coupe when cold. The unit itself is the same basic 150bhp oil burning power plant used by Saab and Vauxhall. Once under load however, it sounds less coarse than other diesels I have driven (including its related cousins above, which I have driven) and whilst not given to a rousing exhaust tone, it is far from unpleasant. Apparently Alfa engineers spent time trying to improve the engine sound and it does show if you have driven other four pot diesels from the same era. I have always thought that the on-paper performance figures (0-60 in 9.5 seconds) for the GT JTDm belie its real world flexibility. Whilst not massively quick in the traffic light Grand Prix due to the short gearing of first and second, once on the move it provides a fair bit of urge, particularly in third and fourth, though as with other diesels power tails off at the higher end of the rev range. Being an enthusiast I soon had mine fettled with to take the power to circa 200bhp, providing considerably more torque and less drop off of power higher up the rev range, though I expect the standard unit will be sufficient for less enthusiastic drivers. The car is a truly versatile performer, both content to eat up the miles loping along on the motorway with the cruise control on (I can get around 50mpg on long motorway journeys at around 80mph.), whilst being an equally enthusiastic partner on A and B roads.
I am always hugely impressed with how the car handles in the bends with little lateral movement and tonnes of grip, yet never failing to feel involving and fun. The steering is weighted perfectly to my mind, and it doesn’t feel like a big car at all. It would take a powerful car indeed to shake off a remapped GT on a good back road due to the in gear punch and cornering ability. The handling is not always perfect however and at very high speeds the nose can sometimes feel a little light. Also around town the ride quality can be pretty poor over rutted surfaces, though this is largely due to the 18” wheels – you’ve got to pay for your vanity I guess.
The brakes are also very impressive. At first they felt a little feeble as they lacked the immediate ‘grabbiness’ of some other modern servo assisted systems I have found in other cars. Once you get used to them though this actually gives you more versatility and finesse when on a good road, as the braking power is certainly there, just further down the pedal, allowing more subtle use of the brakes than other cars which bite harder higher up the pedal.
In terms of the drive, I think the only other thing to let the car down is the gear change which is too long in my opinion and feels like it belongs more in a transit van than a low slung coupe! It seems this feeling was shared by Alfa as the box in the GT’s replacement, the Brera (and it’s close relations the Spider and 159), is a short shifter and much nicer for it I think (though not everyone agrees).
As a car to live with, the GT is great on the whole – comfortable, quick, frugal and overall fun to drive. The hatchback style boot swallows all sorts of things, especially with the seats down and mine has taken suitcases, furniture and my mountain bike on numerous occasions, making it really very practical. On the matter of running costs, the car is astonishingly cheap to run, averaging around 35 mpg around town in rush hour traffic, but capable of 45 to 50 mpg on long journeys. An enthusiastic 200 drive to South West Wales on mainly A and B roads recently returned 48 mpg on the computer, which translated to just obver a quarter tank of fuel according to the gauge! I would point out however that insurance is bloody expensive for what it is and I think the car is group 14 from memory.
In 20,000 miles the only real mechanical issues have been the replacement of consumables (although the drivers door handle coming off in my hand one day was an interesting experience) and some slight wear to the sixth gear retaining clip.
The fact that my first foray into Alfa Romeo territory has led me to seek another replacement from the same stable says a great deal. For those unfamiliar with the marque and considering dipping their toe in, the best advice I can give is forget the outdated stereotypes and clichés propounded by people with no experience of the cars and just try for yourself.
I am glad I did…