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Reader test: Alfa GTV

2008-09-10 08:23

Charles Swindell

So why a GTV?

Easy - I was looking for another car in 2004 as my Mazda MX6 had reached 280 000 km. The replacement had to be a bit quicker than the MX6 and it had to be at a reasonable price.

I found that Alfa's poor reputation was keeping resale prices low, so a two-year old silver GTV with only 19 000 km on the clock was cheaper than a new VW Golf 4 GTI, even though a brand new GTV cost R359 000 at the time.

I wasn't too worried about Alfa’s poor reputation so it was an easy decision after a short test drive.

After four years of ownership and an additional 90 000 km I have no regrets.


Although designed in the early '90s, the GTV still turns heads. It has the classic wedge shape and dramatic styling that shouts performance.

There is a full leather interior with typical Italian ribbed door panels and a little leather binnacle over the instruments just as in a Ferrari. All in basic black, of course, although a friend of mine has a black GTV with a bright red interior that wouldn't look out of place in a bordello.

Instruments are all nicely shrouded and there's even a proper analogue clock. And the seats have "Momo" and an Alfa logo embossed in them - although more lateral support would be nice, as would decent sun visors.

It's also quite a small car and is best treated as a two-seater where both driver and passenger can stretch out in comfort. This is as long as the driver is under six foot tall, otherwise he'll be banging his head on the roof.

The steering wheel is height and reach, although the pedals are very close together and you can sometimes find the accelerator instead of the brake with entertaining results.


Suspension is independent all round with struts at the front and a very fancy fabricated double wishbone setup at the back. The rear also incorporates a passive rear wheel steering system that is based on no less than 14 rubber bushes. Both ends are adjustable for toe-in which gives a lot of setup options and dampers are extremely firm!

The GTV has a reputation for having a "crashy" ride, which is thoroughly deserved.

On smooth roads, it cruises along quietly and smoothly with barely a ripple, but on rough roads the CD often stops abruptly when a particularly bad section is traversed. The secret on trying road surfaces is to keep the speed up (only 120 km/h, honest officer) and bounce from bump to bump as you would in a go-kart.

The car is built on a super hatch platform that gives it a short wheelbase and makes it very nimble. Roundabouts are approached with eager anticipation and can be navigated very quickly to the distinctive soundtrack of the rasping Alfa exhaust.

Alfa traditionalists don't like this version of the GTV because it has front wheel drive. Mind you, don't expect power off understeer in corners. The first time I went into a corner a bit quick and had to lift off I was startled by sudden oversteer.

A lot depends on tyres and wheel alignment, but the car can be set up to delight an experienced racing driver. Of course this means you can really nail it round corners with minimal body roll, which is the only real benefit of that crashy ride.

Long corners taken under power also bring the passive rear wheel steering into play and the car actually tightens up into the corner as long as the power is maintained. Great fun!

Braking is good with power assisted discs all round, ventilated at the front, each with a red painted caliper.


The engine is an Alfa classic. It's a 3.0-litre V6 with 24 valves giving 160 kW and reasonable torque. The red line starts at 7 000 r/min and the engine gets there very quickly through the gears.

It's also great to look at with chromed induction pipes and red painted stripes on the cam covers.

With the six-speed gearbox of this Series Two model (Series One had a five-speed) the 0 - 100 km/h sprint takes around 6.8 seconds with a top whack of 240 km/h. At 3 000 r/min in sixth, the car does around 130 km/h, which makes for relaxed and economical cruising on freeways.

Of course, being normally aspirated means that the advertised performance is only available at the coast, so on the Reef you can expect to be challenged by every turbocharged hot hatch you can think of.


The GTV is surprisingly docile in the morning traffic. I use it as my primary car so it trundles into Johannesburg and back every day.

Fuel consumption is not too bad either. On the daily commute expect about 8.5 km/litre, whilst on the open road this can rise above 11 km/litre.

As long as the spare wheel is left at home there's also reasonable boot space. Not wide but deep - I can even get my golf clubs and a caddy car in without straining and the rear seat can be used for additional storage.

Don't expect an on-board computer or cruise control by the way, this is a driver's car. What you do get is (nicely weighted) power steering, ABS, air conditioning and a CD player.

Standard wheels are 16 inch "telephone dials" with 205/50 tyres, so replacements are not too expensive. The tyres also last quite well.

Build quality is far better than I expected. Nothing has fallen off or started to rattle although BMW owners would doubtless find lots to dislike.

Servicing at Arnold Chatz in Hyde Park every 20 000 km is reasonable and their customer service is pretty good.


I bought this car because I felt that it offered great "bang for the buck" as a low mileage two-year old car. After four years I still think I made the right decision. The car is now out of production, but good, low mileage examples are still available, although far from common.

Should you buy one? Well if you think the automotive world starts and ends with the BMW 320i then no, the Alfa's not for you.

But if you like excitement, hard acceleration, being stared at and throwing your car around corners (and know a good chiropractor), then you would enjoy owning a GTV!

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