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Don't need it. Do want it; Road Test

Rationally, it doesn't make much sense - but the new Alfa GTV V6 24V is something that shouldn't be rationed.
If you regard a car as merely a means of transport; if you think driving is a chore; if you think your driveway would be more attractive if it was empty; if you are tone-deaf - then do not bother reading further. But if these strictures do not apply, and I hope they don't, then let me tell you about the Alfa GTV V6 24V.

Rationally, this is a pointless car. Its maker claims it to be a two- plus-two, with room for children in the back - but they would have to be children with no legs and no desire to peer through the high side windows. There is little room for luggage, because much of what should be boot- space is taken up by the moving skeleton of beautiful aluminium castings that is the rear suspension. And it costs a lot: pounds 30,000.65, to be absolutely precise.

You enjoy many things of which you have no rational need, I expect. Eating out, drinking decent wine, listening to music, watching a good film, reading an imagination- expanding book, that sort of thing. May I suggest, then, that you add driving this Alfa Romeo to your wish-list of uplifting experiences?

First, though, you need to know why it's now, particularly, that you need the experience. The GTV, and its open-top Spider sibling, gained a few cosmetic modifications late last year, which made for a tidier interior and a greater feeling of all-in-oneness (earlier versions used to rattle and creak a bit). At that time, members of the press also had a chance to drive a more exciting version of the V6-engined GTV, fitted with a six-speed gear- box and fatter wheels with lower- profile tyres.

Alfa Romeo's UK importer was still debating with itself whether or not to bring in this ultimate GTV V6, and how it ought to look. That debate is now over; the six-speed GTV comes here early next month, complete with those 17-inch wheels and an aerodynamic body kit which includes a rather visible rear spoiler. It looks brash and thrusting, but the Alfa has the physique, both visual and aural, to take it.

Aural? Yes; this is a very "aural" car. Its engine growls deliciously even when idling, and blares a tasty chord as the revs rise, a sound you will want to hear time and time again. This might sound daft, but the engine has a voice, a singing voice. It is also pleasingly powerful, with 220bhp and a hefty dose of pulling power right across the speed range such that you don't really need those six forward gears.

They are good to have, though. With their help, you can keep the engine spinning right near its sweet spot, blipping up and down through the gears with an accelerator whose eagerness borders on the abrupt. If the GTV could tackle corners with the same intimacy of communication, life would be sweet indeed. But it doesn't, quite.

Some cars let you trim your cornering line with the accelerator. Ease off the power, and the nose tucks into the corner. It's good fun if the suspension engineers have done their job properly, and it can be useful if you have arrived at a bend too quickly because it will help you get round. In the Alfa, though, steering is done through the steering wheel alone. And it's a steering system which just gives you a resistance to work against, not a proper feel of the road.

Your awareness of cornering effort comes instead from the side forces on your body, and the sound of the tyres munching at the road surface. At lowish speeds, you just point and the Alfa tracks round the bend. At a more frantic pace, you can feel how the rear suspension, that intricacy in aluminium, uses its geometry to quell the front wheels' desire to drift wide. So the steering alters your course accurately even when you think the limit of grip must be drawing near. Forget the accelerator. Just steer.

Technically, this is terrific. Actually, it makes you feel you're more observer than participant, which is at odds with that soulful engine. Nor does it help that the brakes, despite being high-prestige Brembo items with smart red calipers (a favourite of racing-car designers), feel soft and springy.

So you seek other delights instead, such as an interior trimmed in soft leather and a dashboard full of cowled, recessed dials redolent of something from the 1960s. That the components of this interior are better screwed-together now makes the ride seem smoother, too, because there are no bangs and rattles to emphasise the bumps.

All is not ideal, though. The front seat cushions are too flat, and despite costing pounds 30,000 the GTV lacks an adjustment to put this right. Loosen the steering wheel's height adjuster, and the wheel will wobble worryingly sideways as well as up and down.

An imperfect package, then. But parts of this car - the looks, the engine - engage the soul and scupper sense. That's excuse enough to love the Alfa GTV V6 24V. Drive one, and be uplifted.



Make and model: Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0 V6 24V six-speed

Price: pounds 30,001

Engine: 2,959cc, V6, 24 valves, 220bhp at 6,300rpm

Transmission: six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive

Performance: 155mph, 0-60 in 6.5sec, 20-25mpg

BMW 328i Sport Coupe: pounds 28,795. Unusual nowadays in having rear-wheel drive, the BMW is fast, fun - but obsolete. The new model will be arriving soon.

Fiat Coupe 20V Turbo: pounds 22,850. The Alfa's biggest problem is this Fiat, which is equally striking to look at, and equally quick - but much cheaper than the GTV.

Peugeot 406 Coupe V6 SE: pounds 27, 270. Styled, like Alfa's GTV, with Pininfarina's help, the svelte Peugeot is roomier. But it's far less sporting, so has a different type of appeal.