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Now I've always been a huge fan of Alfa's and defended them when many an older member of my family has done the teeth sucking and called them dodgy, unreliable rust traps. But I've always argued that the ones they refer to are the ones back in the 60's and 70's when they did break down and rust the first time they drove through a puddle. Fact is that the design guys at Alfa live and work in northern Italy where the climate is much more favourable to being an Alfa owner than it is here back in Blighty. But now they do think more about their customers who aren't blessed with the sun 300 days a year and the rust worries of yesteryear are behind them.
The time had come when I needed to put my money where my mouth was and show the old duffers that a 2nd hand Alfa is a bargain buy. Armed with the Autotrader and the phone I set off in search of the one that was to become my Eleanor (remember gone in 60 seconds? I named it Eleanor because it felt like it was impossible to capture) but this was only due to the research I'd put in before hand and not because there aren't plenty of them out there. Some checking is needed to bag a good un.
Not being a fan of saloon cars I didn't look at the 156 and 166, both a lot of car for not much money mind, and the smaller hatchback Alfa's didn't have much appeal as I'm a coupe man, so this left me with one obvious choice; the GTV.
The GTV for me is one of the best looking Alfa's and while considering which version I should have adorning the drive way I found the first of many surprises that this car was to deliver; the insurance. The three versions that I was aware of are the 2.0, 3.0 V6 and the cabriolet (both 2.0 and 3.0 versions of the drop top are out there) but a line was drawn through this option as I'm a balding bloke. Sorry to all the male owners of the cab's out there but I think you just look daft, so leave going topless to the girls please. Plus anyone who's driven the same model of a car in both hard and soft top will know that the soft version is always the worse drive of the two. I did find a 2.0 turbo but I believe this is an import and was never officially sold through UK dealers. Anyway this left me with the 2.0, or so I thought as the insurance group on the V6 is either group 19 or 20 (the two litre is group 16), difficult to say which as some magazines say 19 and some say 20 but either way that will mean Mr insurance man will be getting his new yacht courtesy of your visa card right? Well no, not in my case. Having called a few companies I managed to get the annual fee for a 3.0 V6 Lusso model with all the toys worth £6000 for a meagre £390, third party fire and forget it, fully comp would have set me back double that. So don't rule this car out just because you think the insurance will be higher than a crack addict at a free drug tasting fair, shop around you might get a bargain. Just for your info I'm 29 with full no claims and a clean licence (somehow?!?) and the car was parked overnight in a private driveway with only the manufactures alarm/immobilizer to keep the naughty boys from taking it.
Which one? The first GTV's were produced in 1996 and continued until 98 when it got the ever popular 'face lift' and you can tell if it's a late 97 or newer 98 as they had colour coded side skirts and bumpers, chromed (silver plastic) surround grill and teardrop alloys. With the interior the centre console is aluminium grey as are the speedo and rev counter surrounds and you get kick plates down the sill with 'Alfa Romeo' in sliver plastic with a black background. In 1999 the 6-speed box was introduced and offered with 17" telephone dials alloys and some were fitted with the rear spoiler (avoid the rear spoiler ones, it realty is a 'spoiler' and does spoil the look of the car). 2001 saw the release of the special edition GTV cup which was linked to the racing series in Italy, these where only available in red and had a numbered plaque on the dash. Very limited and the most collectable and of course the most expensive, saying that I've never seen one for sale. 2003 saw the phase 3 version which had the 3.2 V6 and a new nose job but this was the last and production ended this year (2005) to make way for the new GT.
*Just as a little side bar; ever wondered why an Italian car badge had a St Georges cross and a dirty great snake on it? I did so I looked it up for you if you fancy being a pub bore? The badge is really the coat of arms for the city of Milano, where the company was founded in 1907 and still has its headquarters today. The emblem is split vertically with the cross on the left and the serpent on the right and is the symbols of the two ruling families of Medieval Milan. Both the families financed armies in the 1st crusade and the local Archbishop gave one of the armies a banner of a large serpent to carry into battle as a symbol of divine protection. The other family carried the crusader's Red Cross on a white background. Now on the first Crusade's return and success a defeated Saracen was then placed in the serpent's mouth as a symbol of their victory, yep have a look at the Alfa badge and it's eating a little bloke. Sometime in the 15th century the two families joined forces to form the Visconti Dukes and joined flags too and to signify the royal consent of the merger the serpent had a crown placed upon it and the snake and cross remained as the symbol of the city. Forward to 1910 and Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (or ALFA) was looking for a badge to put on their first car, turns out that some bloke on the way to work at the factory saw the flag and thought it would make a good badge, told the bosses and they said OK putting Alfa across the top. In 1920 Nicola Romeo reorganised the company and to show what he had done added his own name to the badge, so there you go, yawn…anybody fancy another pint?
Ok what to look for
if you want one of these; As I've said there aren't any real rust worries these days but the paint seems a bit thin so do have a good look round the bonnet and headlamp holes (I'll explain later) and the wheel arches too for stone chips as this car seems susceptible to them. Do of course all the usual checks for outstanding finance, insurance claims and crash damage but as to the condition of most GTV's all you need to do is have a good look round them. Not many (if indeed any?) are going to be ex-company cars and if you find a one owner one there's a good chance they will have looked after it, but a word of warning; do check them thoroughly as they may have been getting rid of it due to problems mounting up, check everything works.
The trim and interior build quality is iffy but then always has been on Alfa's and they still do have a long way to catch up to their European counterparts so check all the panels are still in place and that nothing is loose. The one I bought the A pillar trim fell off in the first month but that was the only trim problem and soon sorted with a new clip. What surprised me was that for a car that was £200 shy of thirty grand when new was the plastics in the interior not only look cheap but feel it too. The panel which houses the heater controls, fuel, temp gauge and clock felt really cheap, they tried for a brush aluminium look but it looks more like something that's been painted with a tin of model paint. I do like the way that the gauges and clock are angled slightly towards the driver and gives you a feeling that the passenger isn't allowed to see or touch things in your car.
The other thing which isn't allowed in this car are passengers in the back, well not unless you happen to know two limbless dwarfs? The car is a 2+2 which is a manufactures way of saying you can have a coupe with four seats, yeah right! Ok there are four seats but the rear two are for storage purposes only. With my drivers seat adjusted to where I wanted it (I'm 5'11) the passenger seat behind mine had just about enough leg room to squeeze a fag paper between, not a good car if you've got kids. And if you do manage to bend your child's limbs to fit into the space from years of practice by playing Tetris, then little Timmy won't be able to see much anyway. The rear windows are a tiny triangle that offers the same view of the planet that a World War 2 pill box does, so only a car for two really. The front seats are a different matter though. All of the V6 GTV's come clad in leather and the front seats are Momo's, a company more used to making racing seats but they have done a good job of these road ones. They do lack lumber support though and in hard cornering you find yourself bracing on the steering wheel to stop nutting your passenger. Each of the seats has the Alfa logo carved into the back rests which is a nice visual touch and made me come to the conclusion that this is where the budget for the interior was spent. Not electric but normal 6 way adjustment with, as I discovered after two minutes of swearing and sweat, fixed headrests. No I didn't read the handbook, that would have just been the sensible thing to do. Make sure that the cow skin is in good nick and that the seat adjusts ok for you, I'll give you a tip here, getting in and out of the GTV can be somewhat of an art form (or a phenomenon if you get in the back seats). To get in you sort of have to fall in while you push your left leg under the steering wheel as the floor pan is raised near the seat and then drops away closer to the pedals, getting out isn't dignified either. You need to curl up and turn outwards, find the pavement with your right leg and then drag your left one out, but then with the cars I've owned I've yet to find a sports car that is easy to get in and out of. Once in you'll need to close the door and the handle just seems too far forward and the doors feel just about the same weight as a 16th century portcullis. Once you get the door to move and slam it shut, trust me everybody slams the doors on this car, you realise why the handle is that far forward, your arm would have snapped off if it was further back.
Being 5'11 I had amble headroom which was a surprise for a car that has a low profile, sits a lot lower than other cars which comes in handy if like me you forget where you've parked it. Look along the line in the supermarket car park and head for the one with the lowest roof, good chance it's yours. The only other niggles I have with the interior are at first you may find the windscreen rather small giving you a claustrophobic feel, you soon get used to this. Due to the small screen the sun visors are tiny strips which when you first need them you find yourself clawing at the roof to find the little buggers. Also they don't unclip and turn to the side window either, this is the only car I've ever seen with this set up and it's a big annoyance to have the sun in you right eye through the side window. Italian style again? Best to get yourself some designer shades to go with the car and don't bother with the sun visors.
The radio sound was quite poor too but in all honesty I didn't have it on unless I was sat in the daily traffic jams to work, once you've got some open road switch it off and just listen to that engine, stunning sound. Back to the outside and the boot space with cars of this nature are always tiny, this has just 5.5 cubic feet but this is down to just 3.8 with the space saver spare wheel in there. There was an option of a tyre kit which is a tube of sealant and a little electric compressor which plugged into the cigar lighter as a 'get you home'. But most owners will have gone for the spare tyre route as that actually more likely to get you home and possibly cheaper than the compressor. I found that if it's just the two of you (high chance if you own one of these) that you can just about get a weeks worth of shopping in the boot but the French breadsticks will need to go on the rear seats, sorry, storage space.
Now we get to the good stuff, the looks and engine. This is what attracted me to the GTV and will be the most reason people will buy one. It looks fantastic and even motoring guru Jeremy Clarkson once said about this car "it has the kind of looks that make a grown man wet his pants". You still don't see many of these on the road and that adds to the exclusivity feel of them, it's the Italian way of designing some cars that are more form than function.
Looking round you'll see little detailed touches that looks like the designers really thought about how this car should look. I love the way they have done away with conventional outer door handles to give it a cleaner profile and keep the swooping line from the bonnet to the rear. The rear lights are nicely done in the form of one complete thin strip across the rear which again really flows but the front lights? Well I'm still divided as to what to think of them. Part of me can see that they were trying to keep the flowing lines of the bonnet and in doing so they forgot that headlamps, mama mia! we forgota abouta delights! They are a legal requirement so they just drilled holes in the hood so you could see where you were going at night. But no doubt the real reason was that they wanted to make the front different from anything else out there again adding to the exclusivity.
If you are going to buy a V6 I can't stress this enough; make sure it has a full Alfa service history! It will give you some piece of mind and it will show that the previous owners have looked after it so make sure you have a full set of rubber dealer stamps as a minimum. If you find one with a full history and a shed loads of invoices even better. When I was looking round for one of these I noticed that a lot of them for sale seemed to have between 60 and 70,000 miles on the clock, this is no coincidence. The V6 has service intervals of 10,000 and both the 60 and 70 are big bill time. At 60k the spark plugs need replacing and there's how many? Wanna take a guess? 12! Two per cylinder and they will be platinum types which are expensive. At 70k the timing belts are due and because the car I bought had new ones fitted there was an invoice from the Alfa main dealer for an eye watering £560, the belts are cheap but it's a good five odd hours in labour so try to find one with them done. Before you buy ask if both of these jobs have been done and if they can't provide evidence like an invoice you will have plenty of ammunition when haggling over the price as you'll need to get them done. Ensure the car as had plenty of oil changes as Alfa's are fond of drinking the black stuff and is the key to keeping this engine sweet. Should you buy it make sure you check it at least once a week too and keep the level spot on. This engine has been around for a long time and as a result any major problems have been ironed out of it. You will need to get on the floor and have a good look underneath for oil leaks which should be pretty obvious but do check for them before and after the test drive.
While on the test drive check that the air flow meter is working as these have known to be a problem area and a common fault on the V6. The air flow meter is an engine sensor that rather obviously monitors the amount of air entering the engine and if it's knackered you can't repair them and a replacement one will set you back about 200 notes. The way to check them is to accelerate hard in any gear and you'll feel a flat spot at around 4-5000 rpms. The GTV is a drive by wire system (meaning no throttle cable and uses sensors) and should accelerate smoothly and very quickly so if you feel a step in the power at these revs it's probably a faulty AFM. The throttle response is fantastic on these and will be really crisp, when driven hard the gears just eat the revs and the gearbox will need to be shifted quick to keep up with them. The V6 lump feels just pure torque and pulls with low down grunt and most of the time no need to change down to overtake. Torque? What you talkin bout Willis? Ever wondered the difference between torque and power? Torque and power are intimately related, torque is the ability to do a job (in this case make a car of a given weight travel up a hill) while power is the rate at which it can do that job. Two cars with the same torque figures (petrol and diesel) will pull the same weight (i.e. a caravan) up the same hill, but the one with the torque at higher revs will have the most power, therefore do it faster. When you look at those little graphs the salesman shows you don't think that bigger peaks are the best, it's the shape of the line. Dips, jagged peaks and sudden falls will make the car harder to drive while a smooth progressive curve will be easier to drive. That's why diesel cars are so slow up hills, all the torque but its delivered in one big lump and their petrol counterparts with the same torque is delivered over higher revs, you'll be up the hill quicker and smoother but the engine will be screaming. Yawn yes pub bore, is it your round?
Having an engine with torque can be a good thing as it makes this Alfa excellent on the motorways and your only doing 3000rpm at 70mph (would be even less with the 6 speed box) and it doesn't feel strained in any way. You could easily spend all day on the motorway with this car and the only annoying thing is that the crap radio won't drown out the tyre noise, but it's not a noisy as other sports coupes I've had in the past.
The ride is mid to hard but the main thing I've found with it is if you start to push it into the bends it won't do anything else but under steer. This I feel is down to it being front wheel drive and the front suspension has to cope with
Pictures of Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0
a lot, 220bhp, the steering and the bumps in the road. Sometimes when you are trying to transfer that much power to the road and steer it seems to overcome the front dampers and you end up feeling that you're fighting with it. You do get some torque steer but not as much as I had originally expected. And if it's raining and fancy a Schumacher start you'll just get wheel spin, very skittish, this car would be a lot easier to live with if they had fitted traction control. Still quick in the dry though; 0-60 in 6.5 seconds and if you had a private test track (where else officer?) it will get you to 155mph at the top end. That aside slow the pace down and drive it in the way the Highway Code suggests, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about, feels smooth and relaxed. Another point on suspension if you're looking at one of these, take it over some rough ground and listen at the rear for knocks and clonks. They have a problem where the bolts wear through the bushes at mounting points and the bushes will need to be replaced. This was more of a problem on the 2.0 GTV's as the 3.0 had beefier parts fitted but it still needs checking on the test drive. And if you do go over rough ground watch the nose, quite a few times I scraped the front bumper on speed bumps.
The steering feels light but has a lack of road feel and then we come to the turning circle, this is bad due to the front wheel drive layout and big suspension. Forget turning it round in the street, best to just carry on into the countryside and find a big space to turn around in and go back. It's a real struggle in car parks and dead end streets. The gearboxes are slick and long, really need to move the lever far between gears and the clutch is nice a light even on a big engine like this. On the test drive check that the clutch is OK as this again is another expensive job and I would think that they will wear out quicker than smaller engine cars as they have a lot of power to deal with. No major problems with the gearboxes though.The brakes are big Brembos at the front and discs at the rear too and those red brake callipers look so good behind the alloys. Shame they don't work as good as they look and if you start to hammer the brakes they soon feel spongy and you soon run out of feel.
But saying all that if you are a true petrosexual you want one of these for the engine sound alone (it's why I got one). That engine I think is one of the best orally sounding engines ever made and it's great if you want to upset the environmentals too who think that cars should sound like sparrows tweeting, cows mooing and squirrel farts. Hey and just wait to see their faces when you tell them about the fuel consumption. The books and guides say 21-25 to the gallon, nah, did a quick sum with mine once an even if I drove as if Miss Daisy herself was in the car the best I could get was 17. Give it some welly with a lead foot inside, slap the air con on and you can get it as low as 8, great sounding engine but you do pay for it. In fact while owning mine I discovered a new game, hunt the lowest priced petrol station as every time I went to fill up it was like I was out on the lash with Oliver Reed and I was paying. 70 litre fuel tank will cost you £50-60 to fill depending on what you pay and for that you'll get 350-400 miles if you're easy with it.
What to pay? Mine was a 99 on a 'T' plate with 67K on the clock, FSH and they all pretty much all come with air con, ABS, power steering, electric windows, mirrors and driver and passenger air bags. I got mine for £6000. I've seen some at £3000 for really early examples with high miles and they go all the way up £10,000 plus for a three year old with low miles. As with most things you get what you pay for but don't fall for the pretty looks and get one that's not been pampered and make sure that book is stamped up. Also make sure you can have the petty cash at hand to keep it running and give it the drink it likes.
With all the bad points about this car I still recommend it, I love it because that engine is just so good and the looks, that in itself are worth paying for, it really does cancel the faults out. It even looks good under the bonnet and that is something that only the Italians seem to be able to do, a good looking engine. This car is all about design details and when it comes to looking good they always get it right. You be noticing little touches for a month after you've bought one, like the washers are infused with the wiper arms so they didn't spoil the bonnet with two black blobs. And the way the wipers drop an inch when not in use so they are hidden under the bonnet line from the outside. The rear badge that slides to the left to expose the boot key lock, pure style.
My best advice is that you should have a look at a few before you buy. As these cars respond well to being looked after you'll soon know a duff one from one that's been pampered. Go for one of the two best selling colour combo's too, black with tan leather or silver with red leather and don't be put off by the photo's, the red isn't that bright it's more darker than it looks in the pic.
Of course things went wrong with mine; it's still an Alfa after all. The heater panel lights did a Christmas tree impression but once I'd figured out the sequence of hitting the dash like a game of Simon I could get them all on. The trim fells off and the air con packed up, needed to be re-gassed and it had an oil leak too, more the fault of the grease monkey who not worked out that the sump plug needed to be tight rather than a fault. When this car is right and you have a fast A road to yourself it's one of the best driving experiences in the world. But then this is how I would describe being an Alfa owner, no actually thinking on Richard Ashcroft put it better; it's a bitter sweet symphony.
Would I change my Alfa for the world? Well in fact yes, I'm doing just that. I've sold my Alfa and now a pedestrian as I needed the cash for a round the world trip. But I can take comfort in that I've promised myself another Alfa V6 at some point in my motoring career.
And as a final note; Alfa's are cool too, I never once felt embarrassed to say "I've a three litre GTV" where as a friend of mine always seemed sheepish to tell about his faster, more refined Volvo C70?
I really really wish you had written this review before I bought mine back in 02!!!!! However it cant be helped. Everything you suggest I didnt do and ended up with a heap. It worked well and was enjoyable for approximately 3 months and then it all went to pot. Never mind I learnt from my experience.
kmc25_1 24.05.2006 15:57
Well worth a diamond. Can't see myself fitting the baby seats into it though. Perhaps I'll get one when they've all flown the nest.