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Alfa's new Q2, a quintessential GT?

2008-02-21 08:47

Lance Branquinho

Alfa Romeo has added some American sourced differential wizardry to their GT range. Has it enhanced the Turinese magic or not?

The GT range has received a third model, designated 1.9 JDm Q2, which features a minor exterior and interior styling upgrade, as well as the addition of a Torsen sourced limited slip differential.

Prettier detailing

Fiddling with the renowned exterior styling of the GT would have been unwittingly courting disaster, and fortunately cosmetic changes have been limited to the addition of chunkier 5-spoke, 18-inch alloys wheels, a satin finish on the grille inserts and mirror housing and dual chromed exhaust terminals.

The GT remains an achingly pretty car, with Bertone proportions and traditional Alfa styling cues synergising perfectly.

The interior receives obligatory red-stitching to contrast and offset the starkly dark black leather cabin, and you have Alfa badges embellished into the head restraints to remind you exactly of the heritage resting against your neck.

Taming torque steer

Beyond the minimal styling upgrades the Torsen limited slip front differential, which you can't see obviously, nestled snugly under the fabulously nose of the GT, is the undercover trump card.

The brainchild of American Vernon Gleasman, who patented the torque sensing limited slip differential idea in 1958, it's currently manufactured in Rochester, New York, by Torsen traction, owned by the giant Japanese conglomerate JTEKT.

Essential designed to cure torque steer, understeer and generally wayward handling brought on by applying copious amounts of torque through the front wheels, the Torsen limited slip differential fitted to the Q2 has its work cut out.

Only available on the turbodiesel model, it has to ensure the smooth transfer of 305Nm of torque to the road surface through the front wheels only.

Aided by sophisticated double-wishbone front suspension, the Q2 limited slip differential quells unruly handling characteristics by transferring torque to the front drive wheel with the most traction during dynamic cornering - more often than not the 'outside' wheel.

Does it work?

On both a wet and dry dynamic handling course at Gerotek we sampled both the standard GT 1.9 JTDm and new Q2 models.

The benefit of the limited slip differential was plain to see in tight first and second gear corners in the wet, where a haplessly spinning inside front wheel - the bane of torquey front wheel drive cars - was conspicuous by its absence on the Q2.

The narrow dry handling track allowed one to indulge in the full spectrum of petulant teenage behaviour, ranging from mid-corner braking to ridiculously overambitious second gear, full-throttle applications with the steering slip angle anywhere but in the straight, dead-centre position. Despite this the GT coped admirably, with nobody having an 'off' and the handling remaining generally benign.

Out on the Kromdraai ride and drive the 18-inch wheels hummed along with road noise, and proved perhaps to be an overly ambitious choice for South African B-road conditions, heralding a very firm, fidgety ride. Handling was neat enough though, with plenty of surfeit grip.

Along the open sections fifth gear provided strong incline flattening cruising performance, whilst a quick shift to forth effortlessly called upon the turbodiesel torque reserves to dispatch slow moving trucks with seamless overtaking performance. The six-speed 'box could do with a meatier feel though.

Diesel Grand Tourer?

Without stating the obvious the Q2 is still closer to its GT model designation than an all-out sportscar.

The interior can accommodate four-adults, and despite the awful headrests, ergonomics - oddly for an Italian car - don't drive you completely insane, whilst the boot space is decent enough at 320-litres. Being front-wheel drive means there's no intrusive driveline tunnel running down the middle of the interior either, freeing up legroom for the rear passengers.

It's a grand tourer, designed to devour great distances in comfort, with lashings of style and surprising economy in Q2 guise, thanks to the 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine.

Whilst many still cringe at the idea of a diesel powered Alfa, the cruising benefits are irrefutable, which suit the character of the GT perfectly.

With its added dynamic ability, especially considering the limited slip differential starves off interference by traction and stability control systems, providing a purer driving experience, the GT Q2 remains a very alluring choice, with few, if any direct competitors.

You could buy a much quicker hot hatch for less money - Q2 retails for R299 000 - but for heading out to the Lowveld or Knysna for a weekend out of the city, the Q2 provides an uncompromisingly stylish, economically sensible transport solution.


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