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Alfa Romeo GT

British buyers have been waiting a long time for the new Alfa GT. First, we were told it would be with us in 2002, European customers took delivery late last year, and UK cars will finally arrive this week. But has it been worth the delay?

The GT's Bertone-styled lines are daring and dramatic, yet it's surprisingly practical for a coup�. It may not be quite as well engineered as German rivals, but it appears robust - and for those who value character over clinical build quality, it won't disappoint.

British buyers have been waiting a long time for the new Alfa GT. First, we were told it would be with us in 2002, European customers took delivery late last year, and UK cars will finally arrive this week. But has it been worth the delay?

In the metal, the GT's Bertone-penned lines look much longer and leaner than in photographs, and they certainly turn a few heads. The rounded nose and stubby rear sit neatly with the car's wide flanks, while the 20-spoke alloys fill the arches effectively.

But style is nothing without substance, and Alfa needs to ensure its cars are as well built as they are designed in order to take on key rivals such as the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class coup�s.

And it's almost up there with its German challengers. The suede-effect seats are elegant and comfortable, and the quality of the trim is on the whole very good - only some poor finishing round the centre console and too much plastic on the air vents let it down.

The chunky controls have a precise feel, and the cabin is bestowed with the character for which Alfas have always been admired. The rear visibility disappoints, though, due to the narrow back window. Four versions of the GT are coming to Britain. A 150bhp 1.9 JTD diesel and a 165bhp 2.0 JTS petrol variant will be available at launch, followed by a 240bhp 3.2-litre V6 in May, and an entry-level 125bhp 1.8 petrol model in the autumn. We drove the 1.9 JTD, which Alfa expects to account for roughly one in three sales in the UK due to its low C02 emissions and appeal to company car buyers.

The 150bhp Multijet engine is the same unit that powers the Alfa 156. It's fairly noisy at idle, but the cabin is well insulated and does a good job of disguising the rattles. Once on the move, the diesel is smooth and refined, with plenty of low-down torque and civilised cruising abilities.

Performance is strong, especially in the mid-range, and while a 0-60mph time of 9.6 seconds may not sound quick, in real terms the unit's flexible power band means it loses little compared to the petrol model. The JTD's combined fuel economy figure of 42mpg will appeal to the cost-conscious, while Alfa has taken the unusual step of making the diesel its entry-level model, at least until the 1.8 arrives in October.

It's good to drive as well. Alfa has worked hard on striking a balance between ride comfort and sportiness, and although the car feels soft, it turns in well and demonstrates admirable balance through tight bends. It also has an incredibly supple ride, while a reasonable amount of rear legroom means it offers a relaxed environment for passengers. It might have been a long time coming, but the GT is one of the most appealing Alfas in years - it was worth its 'wait' in gold...

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