There’s a moment in Alfa Romeo’s press launch video that stretches incredulity. Lilli Bertone, widow of Nuccio, who now runs the famous carrozzeria, tells us, apparently in all seriousness, that Alfa’s new GT is ‘as significant to Bertone and Alfa Romeo as the 1954 Giulietta Sprint’.
Impossible. Bertone’s beautiful Sprint, styled by the great Franco Scaglione, set Alfa on the path to becoming a true volume manufacturer, and Bertone as a serious constructor. Why is this important? Because the new GT was pragmatically conceived by Bertone, largely to help keep its Turin assembly operation profitable after the death of the Punto Cabriolet. Alfa already had the GTV and – pre the 2005 Brera – no alternative coupé featured in its future product plans.
Bertone’s idea was for a four-seater coupé, positioned independently of the 147 and 156. To make the project feasible, Bertone cleverly created the GT from a mix of 147 and 156 parts and clothed it in an (almost) bespoke body. In fact, front fenders are 147 GTA and the bonnet nearly, but not quite, identical to the 147’s. Under the body, the firewall, steering column, climate control, pedal box and much of the dashboard are 147, but the platform borrows the longer 2596mm wheelbase of the 156 to retain its roomier cabin.
In the end, much to Bertone’s disappointment, Alfa decided to assemble the GT alongside the 147 in its Pomigliano d’Arco plant, near Naples. It just didn’t make sense to move production away, when Alfa had invested so heavily to improve quality there. No matter how you approach it, the GT remains no more than a niche model. Production is set for 20,000 a year with around 1500 earmarked for the UK in 2004, and surely destined to be no more than a footnote in Alfa’s history.
So how does it look, this new Alfa GT? Low slung, sleek, and certainly pleasing from most angles. The new chrome grille is contemporary Alfa, but the deep flanks and shallow glasshouse lack the grace of many of the innovative coupé groundbreakers that litter Alfa Romeo history. In profile and from behind, the shape is distinctive, the three-box outline suggesting a conventional boot opening. Instead the GT features a hatchback door that reveals a decent-sized 320-litre boot that’s much more spacious than the 147’s and just 60 litres shy of the 156’s. Inevitably, the bigger the wheels the better it looks. Alfa offers 16-, 17- and 18-inchers.
The problem is, the 147 and 156 are still both immensely attractive, notably cheaper and, for any given engine, quicker, because the 147 is 75kg lighter, while the 156 offers the 175bhp JTD that’s not (yet) offered in the GT. The GT comes to the UK in March next year with either the 162bhp 2.0-litre JTS petrol or the revised 1.9-litre 148bhp JTD – now called M-Jet 16v – with the 3.2-litre V6 (effectively a GTA in all but name) and entry-level 1.8 joining the line-up in September. Prices will range from £18,500-£27,000.
The decision to overlook the 175bhp in-line five for the GT is a strange one. Alfa admits the powerhouse could come later. Not that you’ll find an engine badge on the GT. The V6 gets twin exhaust pipes and the fours a chrome-tipped oval outlet.
For now we’re left to enjoy the measured performance and economy of the 1.9 M-Jet, it’s output stretched 10bhp to 148bhp by adding a little more boost, reducing the air temperature at the intercooler by 5deg and fine tuning the turbo.