Alfa Romeo GT

Gran Turismo. To the videogame generation, it's a name that conjures up imagery of screaming Japanese supercars in high-speed computerised duels.

The GT could be just what Alfa Romeo needs - an affordable sporty offering that slots in the range below the aged GTV and delivers a rewarding driving experience, distinctive looks and above-average quality. If Alfa manages to deliver reliability and keeps prices reasonable so the car can undercut its rivals, the GT could well be a contender for the best-value coup� on the market.

Gran Turismo. To the videogame generation, it's a name that conjures up imagery of screaming Japanese supercars in high-speed computerised duels.

But to those old enough to remember the days before games consoles took over our TV sets, the name carries an entirely different meaning.

It recalls a golden age in which the badge was exclusively reserved for the finest motoring machines ever built - all-time classics such as the Ferrari 250GT, Maserati 3500GT, Ford GT40 and Alfa Romeo's own Giulia Sprint GT.

Now we have climbed behind the wheel of the latest machine to carry this famous name - and looking at the past masters, it has plenty to live up to.

Based on a modified 156 chassis, the Alfa Romeo GT is one of the most exciting cars to come from the Italian manufacturer in years. Its looks are sure to polarise opinion. Styled by Bertone, it recalls the sporty Alfas of old. There's a hint of the original GTV in its side profile, the roofline resembles that of the Alfasud Sprint and there's a definite look of the radical SZ supercar about its curvy hind quarters.

But the conflicting angles work well together in the metal. This is pure Alfa Romeo - dramatic and, in a world of anodyne styling, a welcome and re-freshing break from the norm.

Inside, the story is much the same. The dashboard is dominated by four hooded instruments and a sporty three-spoke steering wheel, while the door panels and seats are coated in a new Alcantara-like fabric called Alfatex.

The more you look, the more styling touches you find to admire. The simple chrome gearknob, metal-effect air vents and funky handles for tipping the seats forward are things that some manufacturers wouldn't even think of, yet they're an essential part of this Alfa's rich character. But practicality hasn't been overlooked. The basic rear seats will fit a pair of adults, providing they don't mind being too cramped, while the cabin is well planned and provides plenty of storage for oddments. Somewhat surprisingly for a GT, even the boot is a decent size...

Build quality is solid, too. The interior may not be up to German standards in terms of fit and finish, but most of the materials feel well made and the column stalks and minor controls are robust. Although the sat-nav buttons are a little fiddly, equipment levels are good, with even base models getting climate and cruise control, a multifunctional head-up display and a high-quality Bose sound system. In fact, the only disappointment is overall visibility. The body's high waistline and narrow windows mean you do feel cocooned in the snug interior.

We drove a 2.0-litre JTS version of the car, which goes on sale in the UK in the spring. Also available at launch will be a 1.9-litre JTD diesel, while 1.8-litre Twin Spark and 3.2-litre V6 variants will hit UK showrooms before the end of next year.

But it's the 2.0 JTS that's expected to account for most sales, as it offers the best compromise between exciting performance and sensible running costs.

It's certainly no slouch. Like all Alfas, it thrives on revs, but sharp throttle responses and a precise five-speed gearbox make for swift progress. Under acceleration, the gutsy unit sounds more like a V6 than a four-cylinder. But it's not all good news - if anything, the GT would benefit from an extra gear, as the close ratios mean it lacks motorway refinement.

And that's a shame, because it's at high speeds where the GT really excels. The suspension is lifted from the 156, but with a few modifications to give the coup�'s performance a more sporting edge. There's a stiffer double-wishbone set-up at the front, while the rear uses a high-tensile aluminium crossmember to aid lateral stiffness.

As a result, the GT feels incredibly secure. Though the steering could offer more feedback, it is sharp and responsive, while the chassis demonstrates excellent levels of grip.

There's no denying that the latest Alfa is worthy of the GT name and, providing it's priced right, it promises to be a significant car for Alfa in the UK. It might be controversial to look at, but we think it will hit the right note with performance car enthusiasts.

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