Re: Have any 156 Non GTA drivers driven a 156 GTA?
Right then, first of all I'd say the 156 V6 SP3 I used to have was already a very sporty car - the early SP suspension combined with the V6 was if anything lower and stiffer and more likely to ground than the GTA! I think all 156's are true sports saloons, from the handling to the interior and dash - unlike say low-end 3 series that are just comfortable rep cruisers.
When I got the GTA, the first thing I noticed was the facelift interior is light years ahead of the original 156 one, especially with the various bespoke GTA bits like the high-back sports seats. The second was that the bodykit has both made it sportier-looking and more modern, without the need for the new nose.
To drive, I was suprised by the relative comfort - not at all the bone shaker people make out, except on really bad roads. Even then it's way ahead of say the civic type R. The steering feels notably more sensitive - you can grip it lighter and get more feedback - and the car feels more planted at speeds. The damping and spring rates - while not ideal for a real roller-coaster road - are a huge improvement.
Partly due to the "planted" feel and partly as the 2.5 engine is such a snorter at high revs, I initially didn't think it felt much quicker than the 2.5, but that was mostly just the fact it's a lot faster throughout the rev range and doesn't quite have the same high-rev "hit" as a result. The 2.5 is a tad smoother too. But the GTA sounds way bassier, the exhaust note in the 2.5 always left me a tad deflated, even if the induction roar was great.
The GTA brakes (the 330mm ones) are light years ahead of the standard car, which lacks power and feel - plus the ABS ECU on my old car got confused easily on bumpy roads.
The GTA handles more neutrally as well, and I'd swear it gets the 250bhp down better than my old one did the 190, I think all 156's have great traction and little torque steer unless driven awfully, I've never seen this as an issue.
Overall, I'd say the GTA is more sporty, special and naughty-feeling than the standard car, but the standard car is itself fantastic especially in V6 form, and for the money you can pick a tidy 2.5 up for these days they are a great bargain.
Peter K should have an insight into this - he modded a standard 156 extensively but was really blown away by how good the GTA was when he got one. The mags in the UK may have slated it, but it wasa significantly reworked car so it should be good, and is!