BMW 520i SE first drive review
Embarking on a schedule of autobahn pounding and climbing tight switchbacks in the southern German…
Standing up here on the edge of this windswept, remote Scottish valley, there are only two things on my mind. One: the Alfa Romeo GT I’ve just jumped out of which is now pinging gently after our first drive on UK roads. It’s a deceptively tasty-looking coupé, with a subtle but well-executed collage of traditional and contemporary Alfa styling cues. Two: the single-track road that threads its way across the valley floor, a never-ending succession of crests and compressions with the clearly visible scars of a thousand crunched sumps.
Just how worried would Alfa’s parts person in charge of sump procurement be were they standing here now? It’s been a recurring theme with Alfas of late: both the 147 GTA and 156 2.4 JTD were blighted by insufficient damping revealed in poor body control at speed and a fidgety ride. But the GT shows a rethink by Alfa’s engineers, with stiffer anti-roll bars, revised dampers and, interestingly, softer springs.Straight away, a suppleness to the GT’s ride is apparent: the car flows down the road in a far more relaxed fashion than its siblings. Smaller surface imperfections and transverse ridges still elicit the same under-floor tremor, but it’s markedly reduced over a 156. Body control is better, too. Up the pace and the GT makes a decent fist of being a driver’s coupé.
The usual over-quick Alfa steering (2.2 turns lock to lock) promotes a slightly false impression of agility – and it’s light with little genuine feel on offer – but the abrupt direction changes it can emphasise don’t upset the GT’s composure.
Cue the aforementioned roller-coaster road and it’s clear that some of the problems remain: take a couple of undulations at speed and the front gets floaty. Add in a change of amplitude and the nose is all too easily brought into contact with the tarmac. But this is when you’re really pushing on and the GT isn’t that kind of car. Get ragged and you’ll only incur the wrath of the non-switchable VDC (stability) control; take it easier, keep it fast but clean and the GT hangs together respectably well.
We already know the 2.0-litre JTS engine from its 156 incarnation. Direct injection gives it the archetypal granite edge to its induction voice compared to the usual lush Alfa melody, but a useful 165bhp is the outcome. It revs with a thoroughly well-oiled smoothness to the soft 7000rpm cut-out, and while you’d never call the 2.0-litre GT quick – at low revs it’s as slothful as a student after three plates of spaghetti – it’ll happily zing between 5000-7000rpm all day and its pace is never frustrating on the road.
Step inside the GT and the 147-esque cabin massages the senses with the usual Alfa cocktail of red lights and lettering. Someone’s gone a bit crazy with a suede-like material last seen being worn by the finest funk bands of the ’70s over the doors and seats, but the Alfa shrugs with a typically Italian insouciance and makes it all work really well. The dash design is attractive, the sports seats offer good support, there’s decent room by coupé standards in the back and the boot’s a fair size, too.
At £21,495 the GT is slightly more expensive than a BMW 318 Ci ES but, for a similar power output from Bavaria, you’d need the £23,865 320 Ci. Alfa Romeo has been generous with the specification, too, so you get VDC, six airbags, climate control, cruise and a CD player as standard.
It’s a likeable car, the GT. Dynamically, it still falls some way short of a 3-series, but it offers a fine mix of style, performance, practicality and, crucially, enough chassis competence to make it a valid coupé choice.