Alfa Romeo GTV (916) review

I’ve had ‘Alf’ almost 6 months so I thought it might be interesting to put my thoughts about this car and the Alfa GTV Twin Spark into words.

There’s no doubt this generation of Alfa GTV / Spider is starting to receive recognition as a classic car. This isn’t surprising given it pretty much arrived on the scene as a design classic with such a striking exterior. Its appearance divides opinion, but generally if you like the look of the GTV, you really like the look of it. Personally I love pretty much everything about the design, mostly because it is so distinctive.

In terms of its appeal the GTV straddles both ‘GT’ and ‘sports car’ criteria. It is comfortable enough to drive long distances, although the ride can jolt you a little over rough terrain and if you take a corner hard there is a small amount of body roll. Overall though it handles well thanks to its complex suspension setup at the rear. The steering is sharp, precise and it’s fun to drive on winding roads. Combined with the car being low slung, having a smooth free revving engine and some clever interior design features it certainly feels like a sports car to me.

Compared to its contemporaries the GTV is also well insulated from road and wind noise and generally everything has a feeling of quality to it.

GTV dashboard closeup
The interior details like the hooded dials gave the car a decidedly ‘classic’ look even when it was brand new. A digital odometer is the main giveaway here that this is a more contemporary car and even that is starting to look somewhat ‘retro’

All this sounds rather positive, and if you take the car for what I believe it to be - something fun to be enjoyed but not taken too seriously - it fits the brief perfectly. But it isn’t without its faults.

Firstly reliability and cost: This generation of Alfas were much better engineered than those that preceded them. However they do require very regular and quite expensive servicing and maintenance in order to achieve that reliability. If you like something to tinker with or modify this isn’t so bad because giving a tired GTV a little TLC can reward you with a transformed driving experience.

On the whole the car is enjoyable to drive but it’s not as slick as you might think. The driving position and location of some of the switchgear is a little awkward and the adjustment in the seat and steering wheel can only help so much. It’s probably cramped for very tall or large occupants. At low speeds and from a standing start the GTV can feel a bit lifeless and the gear change seems awkward at times. The clutch and throttle are a little on the heavy side, though the brakes are very responsive. All in all it just doesn’t flow on a B-road blast that well if you’re really pushing it, but that said my GTV is no spring chicken and further improvements and mods may remedy this to some extent.

Overall I get the impression the GTV is happier cruising along most of the time, but is perfectly capable of giving you a burst of excitement now and again. For me this makes it a great road car to own. Being front wheel drive it’s a ‘sports car’ you can use through the winter with relative confidence. It might not be the ideal car to drive through heavy rain or snow, but it’s a lot more likely to get you to where you need to be in comfort than most rear wheel drive convertibles. And in good weather you can get a lot of enjoyment out of it by just going for a drive.

Servicing and maintenance is not too hard to do yourself on this car; there’s loads of room in the engine bay, everything is very accessible and I’ve not yet had any issues with parts being particularly difficult to disassemble. The only downside is the cost of new parts.

When these cars were brand new I had no idea what the TS badge adorning many Alfas at the time meant. TS or ‘Twin Spark’ refers to the engine that has two spark plugs per cylinder, which allegedly makes it more efficient. It certainly seems smooth and revs up to 7000rpm very eagerly. Mine seems to achieve an average of around 30 mpg. For a fairly heavy nineties car with a 2-Litre engine and 150 bhp this is not bad. It can effortlessly reach motorway speeds. It also has a sizeable petrol tank which adds to its long distance ‘fast grand touring’ potential.

Finally as far as practicality goes it’s hard to be complimentary. It’s a 2+2 coupe which can hold a small amount of luggage and 2 people. Very occasionally it might accommodate 3 or 4 people, but probably only on short trips. There’s not an abundance of storage areas inside the car and the boot is an awkward shape. It looks like you could just about fit a child seat in the rear and on my 1999 model there is a key switch to disable the passenger airbag if needed. So it might be fine for occasional family use. The climate control and heating work well, but windscreen wipers and rear screen demister are underwhelming.

But you don’t buy a GTV by justifying it to yourself as a practical choice, you buy it in spite of its limitations because you want one.

On the note of buying one - the usual adage to ‘buy the best you can afford’ applies. Values are currently low enough that, unless you’re after a project, it doesn’t make much sense to go for something that’s not well sorted.

So has Alf won a special place in my heart and what does the future hold for this car? The honest answers are yes - I do really like this car, but I don’t know where I’ll go from here with it yet. There are certainly things I’m looking forward to doing to improve the driving experience further. However there’s no getting over the fact Alf has been around the block a few times and has a few underlying (mostly cosmetic) issues that I don’t have the capability to resolve myself.

However maybe the key to enjoying this car is to make the most of what it offers, and not get too hung up on imperfections - it was flawed in some respects from the day it rolled off the production line. Regardless it does a lot of things very well indeed. When you’re behind the wheel of a car like the GTV and its Twin Spark engine is zinging away all is forgiven. You’ll just have to watch this space if you want to find out what’s next in store for Alf!