After a short, but very testing, drive in the latest car of the Alfa Romeo GTV series, I would recommend it to anyone with about £10,000 to spend wanting a sporty, occasional four-seater. It is a delight to drive and is every bit an Alfa, right down to the crisp and very Italian exhaust note emanating from the 2.5-litre V6 engine.
The external appearance follows that of the existing GTV range very closely, but with detail refinements and improvements such as slow impact absorbing polypropylene covered bumpers front and rear, a bib spoiler at the front, altered lamp clusters at the rear, a black moulding along the lower edge of the body linking the wheel arches, to protect the sills, black opaque window frames and a power bulge in the bonnet. This latter is necessary to give clearance for the new engine, and is about the only unsatisfactory part of the car — to me, at least, it foreshortens the bonnet and upsets the previously sleek appearance. Others may prefer to describe it as “blunt and purposeful”. or “aggressively attractive” — I just think it spoils the shape of a very elegant car. The wheels are of light alloy, made to an Alfa Romeo design by Campagnolo. and are fitted with Pirelli P6 tyres.
Inside, the trim is improved and purchasers may opt for either velour or leather facings. The seating arrangement remains much the same, with the driver’s seat being adjustable for height by means of Alfa’s ingenious lever and cam arrangement, the access to the rear seats being assisted by the way the whole of the front seat slides forward when the back is tipped down. The rear seats are comfortable, but are restricted in size, and would not suit large people, or even medium sized people if the front seat passengers were being selfish over legroom: for the man with two children in their early teens, it would be ideal. The luggage space, however, is not so good. The larger capacity engine has dictated a larger fuel tank, this is situated behind the rear seats and encroaches significantly into the luggage area. The remaining space will accommodate far more than a couple of toothbrushes, and would be adequate for most holidaying couples, but not for the man with his wife and two teenagers.
The steering wheel has three wide spokes emanating from a large circular centre pad which incorporates the horn push and has a polished wooden rim. Personally, I am not keen on wooden rimmed wheels as they tend to become slippery in hot conditions, but this one is very elegant, and a pleasure to handle. The column is adjustable for height, but not for reach, which is a pity as I would have liked to have had the wheel about half an inch closer to the seat for the perfect position.
Undoubtedly the most noticeable alteration inside the car is the completely revised instrument panel. Gone are the separate consoles for speedometer and tachometer. In their place is a wide panel, well shielded, with a crushable moulding, containing three large and very clear instruments (speedometer, tachometer and clock) directly in front of the driver, with the secondary instruments, switches and warning lights grouped together over the centre console but still within the crushable moulding. The heating and ventilating controls come below this, directly above the space for a radio. Wipers and lights are stalk operated and there is a dash mounted cold starting control. The centre console reaches back to between the front seats, the area between the radio and the short wooden-knobbed gear lever being carpeted for use as a capacious oddments tray — this being particularly useful as the glove box (not lockable) and the map tray above the passenger’s feet are both of rather limited size. Behind the gear lever, and alongside the hand brake lever, are a cigarette lighter and the control for the electrically operated driver’s door mirror — something of an unnecessary luxury, I feel, as it is very easy to adjust the driver’s mirror manually from the driving seat. Mercedes have the right idea with their new S Class saloons where the passenger’s door mirror is electrically operated, while the driver’s is manually adjustable from within the car. The pedals are well spaced, and are light to control and a rest is provided for the left foot.
The engine is the same basic unit as that used in the Alfa 6 saloon, but in fuel injected form. Apparently, Alfa Romeo considered using fuel injection on the saloon, but found that the performance in the lower engine speed range was inferior to the carburetter version and affected the flexibility of the larger car. With the lighter and sleeker shape of the GTV, and its more sporting character, low engine speed flexibility is no longer a problem and the benefits of Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection can be enjoyed — for a start, this well tried system must be simpler to set up and maintain than the six individual carburetters fitted to the Alfa 6, and the fuel consumption and exhaust emission are both improved. The compression ratio is 9:1. the same as the Alfa 6, and maximum power is quoted as 160 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. — the Alfa 6 is quoted at 160 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. It is a beautifully smooth engine, which revs extremely easily making the automatic rev. limiter in the distributor of the breakerless ignition system a useful fitting — it operates at just over 6,100 r.p.m. The nitrided crankshaft runs in four main bearings, and, as would be expected from a very oversquare (88 x 68.3 mm.) and compact 60-degree V6 engine, is very short and stiff. With the low compression ratio, this engine should have great potential for the tuning enthusiasts. Crankcase/block and cylinder head are of light alloy construction and the very tall but broad heads contain a single belt driven o.h. camshaft which operates the inlet valves directly and the sodium-filled exhaust valves by way of short pushrods and rockers.
To cope with the extra power of the V6 engine, the transmission has been uprated. The propshaft, which runs at engine speed the whole time as the clutch is mounted at the back of the car, has been beefed up, and a two disc clutch has been fitted because the required increase in diameter of the single plate clutch fitted so the current GTV would have meant altering the rear floor panels to clears larger housing, resulting in reduced headroom for the rear seat passengers. The five-speed gearbox has a lower bottom gear and a higher top gear than the current 2000 GTV, but the other ratios are identical, as is the final drive ratio. I suspect that bottom gear is lower to comply with legislation making it essential for the car to be able to re-start on the steepest Alpine road when fully laden and towing a trailer of the maximum specified weight — it could usefully be half a ratio higher. The rear suspension is of the de Dion type, with coil springs, the front is by torsion bars. Telescopic hydraulic shock absorbers are fitted all round and there are anti-roll bars front and rear — just as an the current GTV. Steering is rack and pinion, 3 1/2 turns lock to lock, and the brakes are disc all round, servo-assisted.
Our test route took us up into the hills to the north-west of Rome, before looping round onto the Autostrada for the return to the capital. The roads were very well chosen for their variety and character, and we were able to assess the ride on poor roads, the handling on mountain lanes, the roadholding on wide open curves, the acceleration when passing other motorists, fast cruising speeds on the Autostrada — and in all respects, the GTV 6 came out well. The steering was light and precise and totally in keeping with the Alfa Romeo tradition of near perfection in this respect. There had been talk of fitting the car with power steering to cope with the 195 x 15 60% profile P6 Pirelli tyres at low speeds, but this would have completely wrecked the beautiful balance achieved with the unassisted set up — and the steering is not heavy at low speeds anyway; only those who use power assistance to jack the car away from kerbs will miss it. The brakes were good, but with rather a long travel to the pedal and without the superb assurance of those of the Alfa 6.
The clutch control is very light and progressive. Bottom gear, as has been mentioned, seems somewhat low under normal conditions taking the car up to 30 m.p.h. at maximum r.p.m. The change from first to second is light, but not fast, and second goes to just over 50 m.p.h. Maximum revs in third and fourth represent slightly over 75 and 100 m.p.h. respectively, while fifth, on a dog-leg right and forward, takes the car to its quoted maximum speed of 128 m.p.h. at just under 6,000 r.p.m., although the car I was driving seemed quite happy to go right up to the speed at which the rev. limiter came into operation — some 135 m.p.h., if my calculations are correct. The gear change linkage must have been modified from the early GTV’s, for the change is now very pleasant particularly the downward shift from fifth to fourth, often so unsatisfactory with the dog-leg top gear configuration. Reverse, however, was sometimes very difficult to engage.
Acceleration matches the top speed and whisked the car past other traffic in an effortless manner. As previously mentioned, bottom gear feels slightly low, but this is no disadvantage as the engine pulls very well throughout a wide speed range — it is only those who love the snarl of the exhaust as the engine pulls hard in the upper speed ranges who will be upset!
The ride is firm, as one would expect, but the suspension and seating have been arranged so well that no road harshness is transmitted to the passengers and there is no body resonance at any road or engine speed. The car handles well, tending to understeer initially to encourage the driver to apply a little throttle to balance the car. Power induced tail slides are easily caught, but are not easy to achieve, as the P6 Pirelli tyres are extremely difficult to unstick under normal conditions and provide the car with rail-like cornering abilities in the dry. It was only on tree-shaded, dew-damp roads that I was able to make the tail break away.
Thus the 2.5 GTV 6 is a delightfully Italian Italian car — a worthy vehicle to carry the Alfa badge. A revamped 2000 GTV will continue alongside the larger engined car with the same styling changes (apart from the humped bonnet) and interior improvements, but with the same mechanical set up as the current 2000 GTV. Both cars are due in the UK in May or June next year, and the forecast prices are £10,200 for the GTV 6 and £9,300 for the 2000. — P.H.J.W.