The 156 GTA the most powerful sports sedan Alfa Romeo has ever sold in Australia. Chris Fincham takes to the Top End to unleash the sporting spirit of this $90k Italian stallion.
The Alfa Romeo 156 GTA has a speedo in the style of the original race-bred GTA. But unlike its '60s namesake, a stripped-out version of the Giulia Sprint, the dial goes all the way to 300km/h. And rightly so.
Over an extremely brisk 600km drive through the Top End at the launch of the new 184kW GTA in August 2002, we took the mid-sized, four-door sedan to a knee-shaking 250km/h. It could have gone faster, yet the increasing likelihood of hitting one of the fat feral cats common along the Stuart Highway put an end to our experiment.
Above 200km/h, the GTA was a touch twitchy but remarkably stable for a road car, no doubt assisted by the front airdam and rear bumper's central splitter, both designed to keep the GTA nailed firmly to the tarmac. No useless boot spoiler here - the GTA is all business, from its finely-tuned suspension to its specially-designed Michelin tyres.
Getting from A to B in a hurry is the GTA's reason for existence. Under the bonnet is a highly responsive 3.2-litre V6 that propels the 1410kg sedan from rest to 100km/h in a WRX-like 6.3 seconds. From 4000rpm it surges with a low, throaty growl, and revs incredibly quickly to its 7000rpm redline. This is no peaky, turbocharged donk either, it's flexible enough to accelerate from 30km/h in sixth gear with little fuss.
The 156's tweaked 3.2-litre engine is backed up by a race-track tuned chassis. Reinforced and revised 156 suspension results in a satisfying compromise between comfort and control. Even when pushed along at 180km/h down the sweeping Daly River Historic Highway it remained flat and composed, steadfastly glued to the road.
The GTA is a front wheel drive car, yet Alfa Romeo engineers have tuned in an amount of oversteer so the rear end can be flicked into a corner and then powered out with sure-footed confidence.
Pinpoint steering with only 1.7 turns lock-to-lock provides instant feedback and super-quick turn-in, although the turning circle is relatively large as a consequence. The six-speed manual gearbox, beefed-up like most of the mechanicals, is slick and precise - the Selespeed auto version will arrive in 2003.
Powerful Brembo brakes, six airbags and unobtrusive electronic braking and traction aids provide reassuring back-up at breakneck speeds.
The $89,950 GTA is not all race-style engineering though. Inside is a well-trimmed, well-built interior with one of the most comfortable and supportive leather sports seats in the business, plus a long list of features including top-notch CD player, trip computer, and cruise control.
From the outside the GTA's subtle styling, including a GTA badge, lowered suspension, body kit, twin exhausts and wider guards to accommodate the distinctive, five-hole 17-inch wheels, provide clues to its hard-edged nature.