As the miles rolled by under the GTA's wheels, I also had time to reflect on how supple the ride is despite all the lowering and stiffening work. The car is taut but never jittery at low speeds, and as you pick up the pace, things smoothen out and everything snaps into focus. Porsches are like that, too, and it is a consistent characteristic of really fast cars.
Development engineer Lorenzo Minelli was on hand to explain the changes. "The basic 156 suspension is double wishbone in front and MacPherson strut beam axle at the rear with anti-dive, anti-squat geometry. The uprated suspension is a mix of production 156 and some new parts," he said. "The lower arms and uprights are pressed steel, the upper ones alloy. The springs are the same rate as the 2.5-liter V6 156, but shorter," he continued. "The dampers are uprated, so the front and rear end up 30 and 40 percent stiffer. The anti-roll-bar diameter has been increased to 23mm and 17mm front and rear, which is 1mm up from the normal 156 2.5 V6."
To help contain the much greater power and torque, two reinforcing struts are solid mounted between the front subframe and the bodyshell. The GTA also has different suspension top mounts and bump stops. The car weighs about the same, and the 3.2-liter engine is only about 10kg heavier. On the other hand, the new alloy wheels are lighter.
"Understeer is very linear as you approach the limit," Lorenzo explained. "We needed to balance out the quick steering, so the kinematics were changed by taking the steering closer to pure Ackerman. The inclination of the rear beam axle is greater. and we have more stabilizing toe-in per degree of lateral force with progressive rear bushes. The castor angle is the same, but we actually reduced negative camber at the front from 1 degree 20 minutes to just 15 minutes."
It all works very well in practice, and contains the 250 rampant cavallini very well indeed. Going from 2.5 to 3.2 liters is a massive jump for the 156, and the base motor is the 3.0-liter V6 from the larger 166 saloon and the GTV coupe.
"The block itself is unchanged, and we achieved the capacity increase with a new long-throw crankshaft, and lightened and balanced rods and shorter pistons," Lorenzo explained. "The new camshafts have higher lift, 9.3mm for both intake and exhaust, and compression ratio is up to 11.3:1, so 98 octane super unleaded is a must. We retain the hydraulic tappet, and there is no variable valve timing arrangement. Finally, the Bosch M3.1 engine management system has been reprogrammed to cope."
The car I drove had the six-speed manual transmission, which proved swift and positive, but you can also opt for the Selespeed clutchless shifter. Made by Magneti Marelli, its paddle shifter makes life easier on mountain roads strewn with hairpin bends, as well as in heavy traffic. I personally like it even if many motoring writers seem unable to get to grips with the concept. The GTA's Selespeed system has been recalibrated for faster shifts, and the mechanical components have been beefed up to take the greater torque of the 3.2-liter motor.
This 3179cc V6 is one of the best engines I have ever driven. Creamy smooth from DC to light, it burbles into life with a fruity howl and then orchestrates a fabulous multi-layered warble from off idle to the redline and beyond. It is pure mechanical music that makes enthusiasts swoon with ecstasy.
The lighter internals certainly play a significant role, as this motor revs faster than other Alfa motors despite its larger capacity. It is still so smooth as you approach 7000 rpm, it gives the impression there is still more to come. The 250 bhp is developed at 6200 rpm and 221 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm, but the beefy torque curve and crisp throttle response ensure that impressive urge is present right across the rev band.