Alfa Romeo GT 2005 review
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The Italian is a bit too costly, but it does the rest of the job.
It is a two-plus-two coupe with an emphasis on style. It has a 2.0-litre engine that's not too wild and it's good to drive.
The GT is doing the same sort of job as the Celica: setting a style and direction, luring customers into showrooms, and getting people to think about a brand even when they are not shopping for a car.
We have driven the GT before with the high-performance V6 engine, so we are keen to see how it goes with a 2.0-litre JTS engine and the semi-automatic gearbox system called Selespeed.
Most buyers in Australia are going the Selespeed way and, even though we've had dramas with it, we have heard plenty about improvements.
The gearbox is a full manual but with a sequential shift system that takes over the clutch work and decisions on shifts when you use it as an automatic.
The driver can always override the system with a flick of the steering-wheel paddles or by bumping the gearlever.
And the latest software forces the car to hold a gear through to redline when it previously upshifted on its own.
Selespeed was developed for the Ferrari F355 to turn a manual gearbox into an automatic for city work and for customers who don't want to shift all their gears all the time. It was lumpy at first, but is much better now.
"Eighty per cent of Alfa Romeo sales in Australia are with Selespeed. It is fitted to all our models except the luxury 166," Alfa Australia spokesman Edward Rowe says.
"Australia vies with Japan as the No.1 Selespeed market. GT sales are doing 12-20 cars a month, depending on supply, and 70 per cent are the JTS with Selespeed."
But Australia is still tiny business for Alfa. Sales are less than one per cent of annual production.
The GT is part of a style revolution at Alfa Romeo and has taken over from the very old GTV (above right). It shares its basic mechanical package with the 156 Sportwagon, but the great-looking coupe body is new.
The JTS Selespeed model is $64,950 and the engine is a hi-tech hummer, producing 121kW but with lean-burn technology and direct injection to boost its all-round efficiency.
Alfa says it sprints to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds and has fuel economy better than 7 litres/100km in European trials.
For customers, there are other benefits, including the full luxury package from the GT V6 for $15,000 less. Only four or five people a month are going for the V6.
The JTS Selespeed comes with airconditioning and leather seats, CD sound, anti-skid brakes and traction control, airbags and all the rest of the fruit, so Alfa hasn't done a wind-down on the deal.
The only obvious mechanical change is to 16-inch alloy wheels, which the company says is a choice for comfort over maximum cornering grip.
ON THE ROAD
You cannot question the looks of the Alfa GT. It turns lots of heads.
The GT has a fantastic shape with all the traditional Alfa triggers, from the bold grille and bodywork that looks best in racer red to tan leather seats and a dashboard with two big dials to monitor the essentials.
The ride and handling is good, too, and the 2.0-litre JTS engine in our test car was suitably responsive and light on the pumps.
It's not the quickest thing around, but it is quite swift and overall economy of 9.8 litres/100km is good on a car that likes to be driven. The JTS engine is very responsive and it has a typically Alfa note, but it isn't quite as charismatic as the V6.
We also enjoyed all the equipment, particularly the sound system and the shape of the seats, and the price is pretty good for what you get. It's not nearly as affordable as a Celica, but you wouldn't really expect it to be.
But then the Cars Guide team splits on the GT, mostly over the Selespeed transmission.
The older and gentler drivers were reasonably happy and liked the chance for some Formula One-style paddle action. But others hated the slow-paced city changes, the conflict between the driver's brain and the computer brain, and the need to worry constantly about little things such as the clutch take-up on hills – the car will roll backwards if you're not careful – and selection of reverse.
The gearbox did baulk a couple of times during forwards-to-backwards shifts during parking, and that worries us.
In a real manual you would jiggle the clutch to get going, but the Alfa needs a shutdown and restart, like rebooting a computer.
So the message to shoppers is to try before you buy.
Moving away from the gearbox, the GT JTS is a little lighter and easier to handle than the V6 car.
The GT fights a range of coupes if you look at the price, but it's nowhere near as sporty as a Nissan 350Z or Mazda RX-8 and it doesn't have the same bragging rights as a Benz or BMW coupe.
Which puts it into the middle ground, where it needs to be assessed on its own as much as up against its rivals.
It scores top points for looks and equipment, pretty well for the engine and solidly for value.
The Alfa GT is one of the best-looking cars in the country, but it still won't be first choice for people who really need a Celica.
THE BOTTOM LINE
THE GT is a great looker from a classic brand, but the Selespeed car still doesn't drive as nicely as we would like. Alfa is giving people a manual with an auto change, but the move now is to automatics with manual response, so it is driving against the traffic.
Range and Specs
|3.2||3.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$6,500 – 10,010||2005 Alfa Romeo GT 2005 3.2 Pricing and Specs|
|JTS Selespeed||2.0L, PULP, 5 SP||$5,500 – 8,580||2005 Alfa Romeo GT 2005 JTS Selespeed Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data