Alfisti who enjoyed the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA’s swift return to the winners’ circle in SA production car racing are keenly awaiting the commercial launch of the 184 kW saloon in mid May.

Alfisti who enjoyed the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA’s swift return to the winners’ circle in SA production car racing are keenly awaiting the commercial launch of the 184 kW saloon in mid May.

Alfa Romeo returned to circuit racing in South Africa after an absence of 18 years when the LG Flatron Plasma-Alfissimo team entered one example of the 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), 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.

The GTA, which was first seen in South Africa at last year’s Auto Africa motor show at Nasrec, will become the flagship of Fiat Auto SA’s Alfa Romeo 156 range when the 3,2-litre V6-engined machine is added to the manufacturer’s line-up in May.

According to Fiat Auto SA spokesman Rella Giuricich, the GTA is one of eight models Fiat Auto plans to launch this year. The car is equipped with race-developed suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels and 225/45 Z-rated tyres, as well as distinctive sports body panelling.

Guiricich told CARtoday.com this week that the 156 flagship would retail for about R380 000 and its 2,4-litre five-cylinder JTD turbodiesel sibling, which will be launched at the same time, will cost approximately R240 000.

Price-wise, the 156 GTA is in a different league than the BMW M3 (R536 000) and Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG (R525 000) and the 250 km/h Torinese saloon will probably compete against Audi’s A4 3,0 Quattro (R347 500) and perhaps TT (of which a 3,2-litre V6 derivative is apparently in the pipeline).

Other 156 GTA competitors are Jaguar’s all-wheel-drive X-Type 3,0 Sport, which retails for R356 380, and Subaru’s R364 950 Impreza WRX STi, of which a road test appeared in the February edition of CAR. On the face of it, the 156 GTA appears more passionate than the svelte Jaguar and less brutish than the testosterone-charged Impreza, but will the Italian thoroughbred have the performance to match its good looks?

The GTA’s transversely-mounted four-valves-per-cylinder 3,2-litre V6 engine is mated to six-speed gearbox. According to overseas reports, the powerplant develops a maximum of 184 kW at 6 200 r/min and 300 N.m of torque at 4 800 r/min.

Top speed is reportedly in the region of 250 km/h and a zero to 100 km/h dash takes 6,3 seconds.

It is expected that the car will feature leather upholstery, automatic climate control, Bose sound system and ABS with EBD among other things.

In Europe, the 156 GTA has been on the market for more than a year and sources suggest that an even more powerful version, dubbed the 156 GTA Autodelta, will see the light of day.

According to , the 156 GTA Autodelta will feature a stonking 3,5-litre V6 engine and uprated brakes and suspension to cope with a power hike that will bring output close to 224 kW. It is due to go on sale in Europe later this year.

The Autodelta name was first used in 1963 for the Alfa Romeo division that prepared works entries in motorsport championships.

A source said: "The models will be more than a cosmetic makeover. The cars will use larger, more powerful engines than the current GTAs and, while they will not quite match the BMW M3’s performance, they won't be far off and they'll be more affordable."