The sound systems fitted to the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA and Sportwagon, which were launched in SA this week, are upstaged by the sonorous shriek of the cars’ 184 kW 3,2-litre V6 powerplants.

The sound systems fitted to the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA and Sportwagon, which were launched in SA this week, are upstaged by the sonorous shriek of the cars’ 184 kW 3,2-litre V6 powerplants.

CARtoday.com reported in March that Alfa Romeo had returned to circuit racing in South Africa after an absence of 18 years when the LG Flatron Plasma-Alfissimo team entered one example then yet-to-be-launched 156 GTA in the production car series. A month later, at the second round of the series (held at a rain-drenched Killarney circuit on March 15), works driver Martin Steyn delighted Alfa Romeo fans by beating a gaggle of BMW 330i competitors to score a win for the mighty Alfa on only its second outing.

And now the Alfisti’s long wait is over... On Wednesday, Fiat Auto SA unveiled two variants of the transversely-mounted four-valves-per-cylinder 3,2-litre V6-engined machine - a saloon and a Sportwagon.

At first glance, the GTAs appear more muscular, taut and sporty than their elegant 156 siblings. Alfa Romeo’s designers have fitted aerodynamic skirting and deep rear and front spoilers with additional air intakes. The car is further equipped with a low-riding race-developed suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, 225/45 Z-rated tyres and racy red-coloured Brembo calipers. To accommodate the wider front air intake, the fog lights have been moved to the outer reaches of the bumper.

In a way, the GTA’s powerplant - a stroked version of Alfa Romeo’s melodious and potent 24-valve three-litre V6 engine - is the finest incarnation of the renowned engine. Some believe that the next series of Alfa Romeo saloons will have GM-based engines because the current V6 will not conform to future emission standards and is not the most fuel efficient unit around.

The inlet exhaust ports have been tuned, the control unit software has been rewritten and the cooling system upgraded with the addition of oil cooler. Mated to a six-speed gearbox, the GTA reportedly develops its 184 kW peak at 6 200 r/min with maximum torque of 300 N.m at 4 800 r/min.

However, even though the GTA is performance car that thrives on high revs, the engine’s torque delivery is flexible - even at 2 000 r/min. The six-speed gearbox has been reinforced to cope with the added torque along with stronger driveshafts and a bigger clutch. Alfa Romeo claim a top speed of 250 km/h and a zero to 100 km/h time of 6,3 seconds for the GTA.

The Fiat Auto Research Centre and Alfa Romeo Design and Development Department engineered a new front suspension for the GTA. Compared to the suspension used on the rest of the 156 range, the GTA’s features a reinforced lower beam, special wheel strut with a different steering link connection, new shock absorber and spring settings to suit the lowered ride height and a bigger diameter anti-roll bar.

The steering’s direct ratio of 13,7:1 has been reduced to 11,3:1. This results in sharpened handling, although the car did show a tendency to understeer when pushed hard.

Standard safety systems include ABS with EBD among other things and anti slip regulation (ASR). The ASR device computes degree of slip on the basis of wheel speed calculated by the ABS sensors and activates two different control systems to restore grip.

When an excessive power demand causes both drive wheels to slip (for instance, in the case of aquaplaning or when accelerating hard on a gravel road), it reduces the throttle opening. If only one wheel slips (such as the inside wheel following acceleration or dynamic load changes), this is braked. The resulting effect is similar to that of a self-locking differential.

As for the interior, the GTA is fitted with snug all-leather sports seats. Front seats are heated with electrically adjustable backrests.

Aluminium pedals and gear lever, the metalluro inserts on the three-spoke steering wheel and the special instruments differentiate the GTA from its 156 siblings. There is also an oil temperature readout on the multi-function display.

In addition to the driver and passenger front airbags, the GTA incorporates two seat-mounted side airbags and two window bags for a total of six airbags contributing to unequalled passive safety levels.

Further standard equipment includes bi-zone climate control, a Bose sound system with six speakers, rain sensor and Isofix child seat fastening. Optional are Xenon headlights, sunroof and CD changer.

The 156 GTA saloon sells for R379 000 and the Sportwagon for R389 000.