cars), but if it is possible for a heap of metal, plastic and glass to possess a tangible character, then the Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0 V6 has it in spades. And it's not just the Alfa's stunning looks that have got me all gooey. The thing is a joy to drive - it's sole purpose seems to be to communicate with, and bring pleasure to, its driver.
The Alfa Romeo GTV has been around for a couple of years and is a fairly familiar sight on British roads. What's new is that it is now available in the UK with the magnificent 3-litre, 24-valve, V6 engine. The cheeky dragster stance and radical side slash of the old four-cylinder model remain, with the new car distinguished by chunky, easy-wash alloy wheels through which you can glimpse the red flash of powerful Brembo brake callipers.
The interior, which seats four, is trimmed with pleated leather, and is a stylish distillation of all my favourite Italian sportscar interiors. It shares their faults, too: a legs-splayed driving position; seats with all the support of a park bench; poor visibility; shoddy materials and second-rate build-quality (an ill-fitting door seal ensured that the wind howled at speed, making it sound like you were standing atop Ben Nevis in a cagoule). Adjusting the fiddly stereo while on the move is like eating peanuts with gloves on.
But, frankly, I couldn't give a stuff. Compared to old Alfas, this car is built like a Mercedes, and as one who has suffered the slings and arrows of Alfa ownership (once-gorgeous cars riddled with rust and useful only for straining cabbage) this is a dream come true. And once you experience the engine- note turn from a low-speed burble to a 100mph yowl (the GTV will top 150mph) in, literally, four flicks of your wrist, other priorities melt away. This car is nothing less than a baby Ferrari.
As with Alfas of 20 years ago, the pounds 28,000 GTV 3.0 V6 has a willing gear change (six-speeds are an option), instantaneous steering and the nimbleness to compliment the performance. It doesn't roll, and grips exceptionally well, too. Given that 220bhp is being fed through the front wheels without any traction control, the absence of torque steer (where the wheel wriggles in your hands as you accelerate), is a remarkable engineering feat. Also remarkable is that for such a fleet and precise sports car, the Alfa is docile around town, the clutch and steering are light, and the oomph entirely user-friendly. Stiffened at the front to take the extra weight of the larger engine, the suspension does crash over sharp bumps, but, generally, the ride is more comfortable than you've any right to expect from a car that corners so thrillingly.
In spite of the horrors produced by Alfa Romeo during the past two decades (the Alfa Arna, a re-badged Nissan, for instance), the company's name has been blessedly untarnished. People still think of Alfas as truly great sports cars, even though, until the GTV, they hadn't made such a thing since 1975. Now the future looks rosier than ever for Alfa. A motoring heritage that TVR owners can only dream of is assured well into the next century
Gary Holden, 38, policeman, and his partner's son Laurie Wilks, 12, from Horsham, West Sussex. Gary currently drives a Rover 800
"This is the business," said Gary, who currently trains police drivers. "You don't have to work hard at it. You almost think it rather than drive it, you feel so in command. It doesn't give you the relentless battering of some sports cars. It's a bit brash,but so what? It's quietly overstated, if you like. It's not too practical, but I wouldn't give a damn. Let's say that I'm no longer bothered that women can have multiple orgasms, it's like God has given men this as a substitute!" Laurie added: "It's quite cramped in the back, quite cosy, but I like it a lot. I prefer it to the Fiat Coupe."
Richard, 30, and Rhonda Young, 35, both teachers, and their son Harry, 11 weeks, from Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. Currently drive a VW Passat and a VW Golf
"I love the fact that you can see those red brake callipers through the wheels, and that exhaust burble is fantastic," enthused Richard. "It's like a baby Ferrari, so it would give me great street cred at school. You feel really cocooned inside, but the trim looks thrown together. It is effortless to drive, it corners exactly where you want it to go and you feel just enough of the road surface through the wheel without being jolted."
"It's rather different from anything I've driven before," said Rhonda. "The accelerator is very responsive, but I'm disappointed by the interior. And I couldn't get my Tesco's shopping in the boot."
Alison Newton, 40, film industry administrator, from Dorking, Surrey. Currently drives a Toyota Starlet
"I'd no idea what an Alfa GTV was," Alison admitted, "but it is fantastic- looking. The view out the front is quite restricted, though. You can't see the bonnet or the boot, which must make parking difficult. And it seems quite wide - so narrow roads would be a no-go. But the steering is excellent, and it sounds nice and meaty. I drove a new Jaguar recently, and this doesn't feel as smooth or classy as that, but it seems to grip the road better. It doesn't smell expensive, though. And I have an Irish wolf hound, so it wouldn't be too practical."
Cordelia Stratton, 47, primary school teacher, and her son Lloyd, 11, from Hove, East Sussex. Currently drives a VW Passat
"The driving position isn't too good, and there's not great visibility," observed Cordelia, "but then I've only ever driven VWs. I find the interior a bit cheap and tacky - it looks better on the outside, although a bit of a yuppie's car. It's certainly not for the school car-park. My family like to go on body-surfing holidays, so the size of boot would make this totally impractical. But it is easier to drive than I'd anticipated and it isn't hugely expensive. Ultimately, I think I'd rather have a new Golf." Lloyd, on the other hand, is far more impressed. "I think it's really good!" he beamed.
Road test If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.Reuse content