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Alfa 156 vs. Audi A4 vs. BMW 325i, a GT2 battle by Matej
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Alfa Romeo 156 2.5 V6 24V vs BMW 328i vs Audi A4 Quattro

Host: Gran Turismo 2

By Matej of GTP

 

Alfa Romeo 156 2.5 24v

The introduction of this gorgeous model back in 1997 resolved many speculations among Alfa Romeo enthusiasts, in regard to the uncertain future of this manufacturer's existence. Alfa Romeo had gone through some really difficult times, always struggling to keep its own place on the market. When it appeared, the 156 was a sign that Alfa Romeo seriously planned to emerge from its crisis. And indeed, the 156 had a very successful career on the market, more than any other model before or afterwards.

It also received numerous acclaims and awards in this or that segment, giving the manufacturer's reputation a wealthy dose of refreshment. Journalists were impressed, along with Alfistas, commonly called Alfa Romeo supporters, who spent the next several years searching for their favorite 156 model. More importantly, overall sales justified the entire development, allowing key people of the manufacturer to sleep peacefully at night, and be open for some more pretentious ideas.

For instance, how about challenging some main holders of the premium saloon segment to a battle?  Could Alfa score some points there too?  Mind you, until that moment Alfa Romeo had very little success in this class, basically none at all if we compare it against verified German products. That is why today we are going to face the 156 against two German flagships: the BMW 328i, and Audi A4. Some of you may mention how this comparison isn't really fair, but many journalists of that time conducted similar tests very accurately, which means they had been assured that a test like that could produce very interesting results.

Three different cars, three different drivetrains, almost identical performance figures, and one intruder among VIP personals. Let's see how that goes in Gran Turismo 2.

Because this review is dedicated to the bravery Alfa Romeo demonstrated back then, we are going to start with the 156 first. Some parts of the review may not appear in natural order as you would expect, but that is the approach I used specifically for this occasion.

 

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Let's start by clicking on the East City icon, and heading straight to the Alfa Romeo dealership. Usually, this is a very exciting move for any Alfa Romeo supporter eager to try out his favorite machines in the game. Imagine that, free of charge, you get to drive one of many fast Alfas you might never be able to afford in real life.

 

Especially if one of them could be the 3.2 liter V6 156 GTA model that debuted in January 2002. Oh yes, for true supporters of this year (and of that month) are being preserved in a very special place, inside their hearts. From that date, it finally became possible to lay their hands on the just-recently revealed higher-performance 156 model, that would soon raise numerous discussions regarding FF drivetrain abilities once again.

Until that moment, we all had to rely on the 2.5 liter V6. This model may seem a bit under-powered, but in reality it does offer quite a powerful punch to 156 owners. Young generation of gamers used to driving GTA models from GT4 onwards could complain about this, but back in 1999 that was all we had, which is why inclusion of the 2.5 liter V6 156 in GT2 is reasonable.

Another sports-oriented 156 model in the dealership is powered by Alfa's 2.0 liter Twin Spark engine. Because that model delivers substantially less ponies, it is not going to be a very popular choice. Besides, if anyone would want to drive a 'Sparky', both the 146 and 155 (powered by the same engine) are still very engaging models, in spite of their age. You have to keep an eye on diversity, too. Two Alfa Romeo models contain enlarged 3.0 liter V6 units, but neither of them can actually outclass the 2.5 liter V6 model, especially once you tune them to their maximum levels. Size is not always important, you know.

Now, there is one factor that makes Alfa Romeos fans prone to headaches - the price. You see, Alfas tend to be quite expensive. And even though we are playing with virtual credits here in GT2, if we start comparing cars of other manufacturers, we can find potentially uncomfortable conclusions that won't go easy on us. For the price of the 2.5 liter V6 156, nearby house icons offer things like the 'Coupe Turbo' and 'Delta Integrale', both which offer perceptibly more for almost identical cost.

Ah, whatever, at least we don't have to pay for the gas. Not that Alfa Romeo enthusiasts would care about money expenses that much either, but with the Croatian gasoline price of around 1.32 USD per liter, they shouldn't take their wealth for granted.

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BMW 328i

Okay, let's head North and see what BMW has to say in defense. Hm... was I trying to explain that the 156 is not a reasonable choice? Oh, allow me to apologize, it certainly is reasonably priced when we reckon the price of the 328i. That thing demands around 16 grand more for exactly the same performance numbers. Of course, we are paying for the brand here, just as we partially did for Alfa Romeo. Just notice how certain models do not hesitate to display 6-digit sale price to customers. Should I mention that those particular models are (performance-wise) sometimes disappointing? Hm, better not. Ups, too late...

The 328i is backed by several other Series 3 models, of which I would highlight the Compact (323ti) for people wishing to drive something smaller and lighter, and the Coupe (328ci) for cost-effective nuts. The 320ci and 323ci models are under-powered, notwithstanding still very expensive, so they can't be recommended. Honestly, I'm not sure why they even appear in the game. To boost reputation of the brand?  Ah, yes, that is what it is.

You may have noticed how there are no high-performance M-badged roosters to be found in GT2. It has been believed how this had something to do with licensing issues, or more precisely, Electronic Arts's rights on M models. Naturally, we aren't happy - although decently powerful, all 'Beamers' in GT2 are still overly slow for video game standards. Even so, if they weren’t here, we wouldn’t be able to do this review, so I’m glad they're here somehow.

 

 

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Audi A4 2.8 Quattro

And while you're there, lurking around North City trying to find the most affordable product, you can inspect how Audi keeps its own house icons clean. And 'clean' this one really is, because there aren't many models that would keep workers occupied. Plus, almost everything is visually-based on either Audi's A3 or A4 model, not allowing for much diversity. There are no high-performance RS models here, but we do get to buy S-badged ones. Sadly, today we are not dealing with any of them, but for the purpose of keeping a thought in your head, just check out the price of the Audi A4, and its sportier brother, the S4. Their prices are completely out of proportions, almost as if they were accidentally replaced one with other. I wonder what kind of excuse Polyphony would bring to redeem for the loss this dealership has suffered because nobody wanted to buy such a ridiculously over-priced A4...

Hm... even if the A4 really is that expensive, it is still cheaper than the 328i, which doesn't even offer 4WD. Yeah, if we look from that perspective, I presume its cost can be justified.

There is another amusing fact about the A4. Regardless of what color you pick, the bottom side of the car is always darker, just like it is on crossover cars, which usually arrive with plastic or metal protection for their undercarriages. The A4 as a crossover?  I checked the entire history of the A4 squad, and it seems that crossover editions weren't available until 2009, with introduction of the A4 Allroad Quattro. Well, Polyphony's mistake at least tried to be sensible this time; with those sweet-looking 5-spoke wheels and 4WD system, the A4 is not a bad candidate for off-road missions. Certainly it would be the most useful of the three.

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We have now seen how even in a video game, a car's price can be of crucial importance for those seeking opportunities to buy something useful at bargain prices, something Gran Turismo has been successfully rendering since earlier days of Gran Turismo 1. Alfa Romeo is naturally going to be more expensive than Fiat models of the same range,  due to the sportier character Alfa advertises.

 

BMW and Audi are pushing things even further, demanding slightly more for the luxury you get within them. I'm not stunned by this, given how the same situation is present on Croatian market too. That is why people over here tend to wait for the price to drop before commencing with the purchase of one of those 'privileged' vehicles - buying a car brand new is never a good decision, especially in this case.

Alfa Romeo is naturally more vulnerable on our market, as you can't find many people willing to live with an almost irrational call to buy a car that demands too many compromises, to become simply an affordable daily commuter. Both BMW and Audi can always rely on abundant number of government people or rich entrepreneurs that tend to glorify German products as par excellence among everything else. How can Alfa Romeo possibly survive on market like ours? Or anywhere else?

Um, they can.

They can because the community involved with Alfa Romeos is always lively. And most importantly, devoted to what they esteem. Discussions revolving around certain model, parts, or engine are usually very interesting and lengthy. Tons of useful informations await those who are ready to spend some time taking care of their favorite pet Alfa. The Croatian Alfa Romeo club is not an exception either - if you need any information, there is almost certain chance you will get it. I wish I could verify the same for BMW or Audi forums, but there was no way of entering without registering myself. You know, privilege, VIP, black-suited snobs and all that...

Well, I doubt it would be the same. Nothing beats the traffic of Italian manufacturer forums. It is just different surrounding, different people.

And a lot can be learned about these three manufacturers by inspecting the' image' you allegedly get while riding one of their cars. I'm going to summarize how it works in our country, mostly by collecting data from my friends and other car forums:

Alfa Romeo - irrational and childish boys that should prioritize their daily activities and grow up. They appreciate women only by looking at 'exterior', never what is inside;

Audi - pretentious politicians or entrepreneurs. In Croatia, where Audi and VW have been dominating German manufacturers of premium level for several years, this gets to be of even higher magnitude. I can't even tell how many times I have seen suited drivers with obnoxious sunglasses, driving a gasoline-powered Q7 or Touareg around the streets, condescending to the 'little people' whenever they would get a chance - the worst type;

BMW - Never deal with those guys unless you want to receive an unexpected call in middle of the night, or get your car booby-trapped, they could be gangsters or mafia members. Chances of survival are higher if a BMW is painted in one of those happy colors though, the owner is still thinking over whether he should join the 'mugs' or stay on the 'good side'.

Of course, these standpoints exaggerate true views, generalize to a rough degree, but at least you understand how it works in general in my country.

Ah, yes... have we mentioned anything about those colors and overall visuals yet? Time to deal with that matter then.

Our 328i can be bought in one of the several colors BMW generously provided from their extensive list. Naturally, because this is a premium product, those colors tend to be just as dark and 'serious' as government puppies and criminal bosses would want. Red, yellow, and green shades can allow for happiness to occupy the exterior of the car, and remove some of its gloominess and strictness. If you want something neutral, try BMW's Titanium Silver sample; for some reason all those Beamers look very good in silver.

The A4's color list ain't shabby either. Many interesting colors can be picked, and almost all of them will suit the car because they match its gray bottom panel, and fore-mentioned wheels. Still wishing Polyphony didn't make a mistake there?  Of course, I would love to see bright yellow and blue on the S4 model, but it can work this way too.

Alfa Romeo is a different player here. I never understood their color policy that well, it can be undefined at times. Or to an eye: awkward in GT2, where graphics weren't that sophisticated. Nevertheless, either silver or bright red will match perfectly. Many owners always dream of owning an Alfa Romeo painted in Alfa Rosso, I hope GT2 will supply them with what they crave for.

As for visuals, German cars are a completely different pot when compared to Italian ones. I still remember one of many amusing Opel commercials they used to run on Croatian TV channel. Claudia Schiffer, famous German model, would appear saying:

It is not a secret that others have a better sense of humor than the Germans. They don't take things so seriously. And that is exactly the way they build their cars.

Ha-ha, that still gives me a chuckle. Likewise, another commercial featuring the recently released Opel Karl portrays Germans as impassive and serious people. Of course, these kind of commercials often tend to overly-emphasize certain stereotype, but partly they are also true. It is hard to perceive a German automobile design as emotional, when they so stubbornly insist on being discreet as much as possible. With the exception of high-performance models, you can't really tell if something exciting can be found beneath their hood, or not until you carefully examine their exterior badges, often their only way of identification. All German cars suffer from the same problem to some extent, even our 328i and A4.

The 328i belongs to the fourth generation 3 Series (E46), often regarded as the most attractive generation of them all. Additional fat on the body greatly reduced 'cheap' appearance of the previous (E36) generation, without interfering with the original directives of design we used to love so much. That was well executed, I have to admit.

Are we going to shout 'well executed' for the A4 too? Well, the entire B5 generation (to which the A4 belongs) was well-modeled, but personally, I think they achieved bigger attention with the introduction of the B6 palette. Or B7. Or B8. Basically, each generation made one step further towards the image that Audi allegedly promotes in first place. Nevertheless, the B5 generation still remains to be popular, particularly among video gamers. I don't blame them, honestly. After so many years, I still can't complain about the design pattern they used to decorate sporty S4 and S3 models. Why would I complain about the base A4 then?

Okay, so we do agree that our German saloon representatives are still holding quite well against age and rust. But would you ever depict them as emotional cars?

This is where Italian products such as Alfa Romeo come to play. As opposed to the two above, the 156 poses strong identity and charisma, which can easily sweep anyone off their feet in no time. Those lines are trying to speak, reach your mind and captivate it, by relying on hope that each and every one of us will sense and thus unleash the wild and artistic side of our humanity - something neither BMW or Audi could achieve that easily. If you want to learn something about their history, you'll have to depend on the reputation and testimony of previous owners. There is no need to do the same for Alfa Romeo; just glance at each model, and the presentation of its strong magnitude will display itself immediately. That is how Italian design takes effect on a driver. Well, at least on me.

Anyway, I think we had enough of this blabbing, it is time to move on to actual testing in GT2. Time to scoop those engines first.

 

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ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN

Remember how we said that the 156 is powered by a 2.5 liter V6 engine?  What we didn't say is that the engine produces 190 reasons to become juvenile again. Now, the 328i also delivers exactly the same amount of authority albeit using its slightly larger 2.8 liter L6 engine. Once again, size doesn't matter because our 328i cannot be upgraded with turbo kits, meaning you'll have to bear with 370 ponies provided by NA parts when all of them are installed. For some reason the Coupe version (328ci) does get turbo parts. Ah, who can possibly understand Polyphony...

I searched the internet in order to find some informations regarding the 328's engine, but without much success. I presume that wouldn't be the case if the engine in question was a diesel-type, dominant option for BMW owners. It doesn't matter anyway, a few tests carried out in the game efficiently proved how good this engine really is.

It delivers smooth torque delivery from low to mid rpm range, all that you need to successfully launch a car in dashing manner, in case the police arrives and you get caught unprepared. Power occupies its high rpm area, with slight drop-off before redline. Nothing you should be worried about, this engine is generally very smooth in operating, so the automatic transmission can be used without doubts. However, below 5000 rpm the engine becomes less effective, so I recommend buying a Close gearbox as soon as possible. It is a perfect upgrade that shortens those gears just enough to ensure shifting will never cause our rpm needle to fall below the 5000 marker.

If you decide to leave the stock gearbox in operation, you may notice how it almost perfectly matches the German Autobahn's 250 kph standards - you will reach that speed in the highest, 5th gear, just before the redline. I'm glad to know BMW used the maximum potential of this engine while following Autobahn rule. Probably to ensure the car could be used for gateways effectively, without sacrificing potential at lower rpm range too much.

Audi was jealous of BMW, seeing how they're trying to defend the German homestead from the Italian invasion, managed by Alfa Romeo using larger weapons. In order to join the show, Audi thought and thought and finally decided to launch... (drum playing)... their 2.8 liter V6 engine!  Using the same power by combining virtues of the other two engines on test?  Interesting, but for the third time, neither size, nor the fact that we have a V6 unit on the field, won't make any difference.

First, just as the 328i, the A4 cannot be upgraded with turbo parts. Maximum possible power stops at 342, something I can't really welcome. I mean, that is good enough for touring cars in case you ever want to build one, but what if I want more?  Ah, yes... I should buy the S4. Forgot about that.

The 'first' leads us to the second; although delivery of power and torque follows the same pattern found on 328i (performance numbers are identical! ), on certain segments both values sharply change their slope, making this engine slightly less smooth. Just imagine someone drawing an engine chart for the 328i and while copying the same sample for the A4, someone nudges him here and there.

Moreover, the gearbox is composed of five, widely-aligned gears that don't match characteristics of the engine. At the Test Course I couldn't hit 5th gear at all, probably due to the fact that power-loss before redline significantly reduces potential of the engine to go through its entire rpm field as quickly and easy as possible. By using a manual transmission, that may be done, but I clearly doubt the car could reach 250 kph as easily as the 328i did.

On circuits with corners, going below 5500 rpm won't produce good results. Again, it is the wide gearbox that doesn't match well with its given power-torque chart. I bought a Close gearbox, hoping that would increase potential of the engine, but I failed to notice any improvements. You may try it by yourself, but if money is of big concern to you, I'd rather recommend collecting funds for the Fully Custom gearbox.

Generally, the engine feels slow and inactive, so I'm not happy with it. It becomes peppy once you install all those response parts and additions, but until that happens, the engine will be the most responsible factor for overall lap times. I never found anything wrong about this engine either, people rarely emphasize anything, apart from its reliability. Eh, but nothing is more important than that, right?

Another V6 engine lurking by a nearby pit entry awaits for my inspection and sympathy. Unlike the two previous engines, this one does have an information sheet regarding history of its roots. We know that the 2.5 liter V6 unit belongs to Alfa Romeo's so-called Busso V6 family. This family generated many offsprings, ranging from 2.0 to 3.2 liters of displacement, initially debuting in 1979 on Alfa Romeo's 6, as a 2.5 liter unit. The 2.5 gradually developed through years, reaching climax of its development in 1995, when engineers decided to install an additional set of valves (12 to 24 V). This boosted overall power from 150 to 190 hp, and that is what we get to ignite on the 156.

The engine also received positive feedback from critics for its smoothness in operation, and even became International Engine of the Year reward in 2000. Some connoisseurs claim that the V6 engines of Alfa Romeo are one of the best engines they have ever made, and even one of the best V6 samples in the world. Do you really need more?

And look at that, this engine really is something else!  It offers its familiar 190 ponies from its slightly smaller block, in contrast to the two German executives. Not that the Accord SiR models couldn't embarrass it with their own VTEC 2.0 powerplants, but who would ever want to challenge a Honda in engine domain?  The fact that the 156 has outmatched two Germans cars in displacement is already more than enough. You even get to upgrade its turbo kits, and boost overall power to 463 hp. If you prefer NA machinery, a wealthy 387 hp is still above what the 328i offered, let alone the A4. Mind you, there is no such Accord in GT2 that can reach over 340 hp, regardless of the upgrade. In your face, Honda!

But is it really recommendable to install turbo kits?  That is another question which requires another answer, obviously. Torque happily sustains the entire rpm field, to ensure an owner would never complain about lack of punch. Power, on the other hand, aims for the high rpm range only. Even though there isn't any power loss on that field, the tachometer should never point below 6000, below this, the engine begins to grumble, losing its efficiency. Upgrading turbo kits can only make the chart spikier than it already is. Besides, I couldn't stand driving an Alfa Romeo with turbo upgrades, unless it is factory built. Those driving Hondas should understand this well.

Another problem is the gearbox. The 156 features a sports 6-speed manual transmission (!), a rarity in this class. However, because those gears aren't aligned properly, you can hardly take advantage of the extra gear, or feel need for it anyway. 3rd gear, for instance, is the one you'll be using the most, yet also the one that negatively affects acceleration. Our situation improves as you move through higher gears, but because you rarely use them, this is not really a good argument to justify the gearbox. Installation of a Close gearbox is mandatory. Although it may not deliver enviable result as on the 328i, the effectiveness of the engine will increase, nevertheless.

In sound department, engineers of our three car manufacturers were hard-working in order to bring good compositions to our stores. GT2 always had sweet tunes, among the best in the series, so I wasn't afraid of poor 'vacum' sounds.

The 156 sounds good while stock, better if you keep revs lower. By installing the Sports muffler tip, you get a really deep and frightening sound, that still stands as one of the most memorable tunes from the entire GT sound collection. If you can't stand the brutality of that pitch, switch to the Semi-racing tip, it leans towards realism more.

The A4 sounds the best without any muffler tip. Sports is trying to replicate the sample from stock 156, others are not that memorable, but they do sound better on higher revs.

The normal sample works best on the 328i too. Other muffler tips could do the job too, but for some reason I forgot them quickly.

To conclude this part; the 328i owns the most refined engine, one that could be used effectively whether tuning is being considered or not. The 156 poses many interesting attributes, but neither of them can be used to your advantage, really. I would recommend using NA upgrades to raise the power, and focusing on  the fun you can experience in the handling department. The A4 isn't that good either. Its unusual gearbox wasn't cooperative during the test, and I don't like being a solo player in all this, you know. I'm sure this engine owns some virtues in the real world, but in Gran Turismo 2, you'll have a better future if relying on those great turbocharged engines Audi is known for. Basically, what I'm suggesting is to keep an eye on that S4 model, yes.

 

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 HANDLING

The last and most important part of this review is going to give the priority to the Audi A4. Any complaints?  I thought so. Better not provoke the man with obnoxious sunglasses, ha-ha...

Before we start, I would like to remark how I have driven the sportier S4 model on numerous occasions, and have always been satisfied with its potential. The Quattro system supporting its body is not strictly aiming for the understeer, plenty of other interesting things can happen if you give yourself enough time to examine its potential. Because the A4 is not that different from the S4, I want to detect similar ideas on the A4 too. Am I demanding? Not at all.

I would never expect the A4 to be supported by a fairly stiff suspension backing, given how many of these models often serve their very ungrateful job of towing insensitive VIP personals from point A to point B, in luxurious manner. Maybe that is the reason why I don't see many Audi models at local motorsport events. Some of them may smoke competition at drag challenges every now and then, but on circuit events they pretty much stay at home, salvaging their owners of the embarrassment they would have to face in front of other rivals. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but we have to admit that most of those models were built to be useful on high-speed highway sections, where gross weight won't be as important as big power and good stability, something that Audi can provide without sweating at all.

But I shouldn't digress too much from the topic; even though the A4 lies on very soft springs, its cornering abilities aren't affected at all. You do have to pay attention to the speed you're using to clear corners, but that is mostly because the chassis leans from one side to another in a very comfortable, dare I say, carefree way, making executives driven in it believe how they didn't regret buying an Audi, par excellence among everything else. That leaning is visually rather noticeable, so upgrade your car with a suspension kit to reduce this movement. Not that this should be your primary task (considering how the A4 is not affected by body roll as much as you would assume), but it can be very helpful on high-speed tracks, such as Tahiti Road.

Soft suspension configuration is not going to impel the A4 to show off its usefulness when going sideways with the rear end, but once that happens it will allow the A4 to be rather useful on technical circuits such as Seattle Short, one of the tracks I used to test all three cars.

Using oversteer to beam the car towards one direction is eventually going to force its front axle into understeer, but you can - get this - suppress it by keeping your foot on the acceleration pedal constantly and steering towards inside of a corner. Tires will squeak and smoke abundantly, but they will keep the car on line. I have to admit that not all 4WD cars allow their front tires to borrow some of the limelight usually allocated to rear tires. Good job, Audi.

 Above in the engine section we mentioned some 'touring cars'... We know that A4s competed in touring championships, so I think it is about time we 'build one', as mentioned. I upgraded my A4 with sports tires, semi-racing suspension kit, all available power as well as drivetrain upgrades and racing modifications. The last upgrade is really engaging, it reminds me of days when I used to play old Toca games, I wonder if I could have some fun again with this reincarnation.

All those upgrades began to urge the car towards understeer, particularly if brakes were applied on a corner approach. Bounciness was another visitor that blessed my touring car; on Grindewald and Deep Forest, the A4's rear trunk would often skip over the road more than I had anticipated. Suspension also succumbed on certain corners, causing body roll, just to remind me how serving to wealthy community is still something the A4 should keep on doing. Or to remind me how the S4 is still available for purchase. I'm not sure anymore...

Anyway, I did perceive all these things above as negative traits, but luckily, this isn't something that can reduce lap times of your run significantly, so I didn't bother with it. Good news is that oversteer can be initiated by lifting off the acceleration pedal, just like on recent Lancer Evolution models. Combine this with four-tire understeer-suppression methods we prescribed above and you get one really entertaining 4WD saloon. People would expect to get this on Evolution or Impreza models, yet the same (and even better) principle is almost unexpectedly offered by the simple A4. And that is why I love it.

Before I went out on the track to test the 328i I knew I was going to be surprised somehow, considering how Beamers are known for having almost ideal weight distribution and occasionally direct steering, which makes things much easier as we won't have to experiment too much to cause effusion of their hidden sports-oriented temperament.

Indeed, although more power would be a welcome gesture for a car that heavy, 50.8% of weight set on front (according to the Carfolio.com website) will ensure that at least in corners, you won't have to daydream of boredom. After all, BMW models are common subjects on various amateur competitions, whether drift trial or simple circuit racing. Older models decorated with 328i or 330i badges are particularly popular due to their now already favorable ratio of price and performance, but I have seen very few mint M3 beasts too, probably hiding in peaceful and secluded garages somewhere around Croatia. Too bad we can't drive one in GT2, it would make things very interesting.

Anyway, because of the almost ideal weight distribution and FR drivetrain, the 328i is prone to oversteer on corner entries. Basic braking skills are all you need to possess to cause some disturbance at the rear end, and allow the car to petrify gangsters sitting on its back seats. If coming from a high-speed corner to a sharp, low-speed one (such as the first one on Seattle Short) you may even lose complete control over the car, so carefully estimate when to start steering with brakes applied. Power-oversteer, which should be used to continue an initiated slide, is unfortunately not possible, as general power is too low to keep those tires spinning out of such a corner. This will make drifting very hard to execute, not only because GT2's handling pattern focuses slightly more on understeer, but also because the 328i still refuses to leave the usually composed and elegant character it still radiates in the first place. I have driven the Coupe version in GT3 (328ci) too, and have to admit the same situation applies there; the 328i is set primarily for safety and comfort, where its body does not allow negative handling traits to endanger any passengers driven in it. Good, but that just means we'll have to increase power and switch those rear tires to simulation compound, to capture some wild drifting photos.

The BMW 328i features the hardest spring ratios of the three (3.5 - 2.6 against 3.0 - 2.4 [Audi] or 2.7 - 2.0 [Alfa]), but it sounds a bit funny when we throw in the word 'hardest', considering how this ratio is still soft enough to be used on public roads. Once you go out to a track you'll be swept away by direct steering and sweet response from your controller, making you think how the 328i really is much stiffer than the numbers tell us. That being said, you don't really need to upgrade the suspension unless you start dealing with tuning. Understeer while the car is stock almost never appears; weight distribution takes care of this. On certain occasions, when the weight loads on the front axle while in mid-corner section, the suspension system feels a bit 'rocky', which ain't that fun, but can be digested easily. Uh, I'm glad to hear that. All those attempts of mine to create some spectacular corner entries by going sideways has made me vulnerable to motion sickness. Be sure to use it for slightly looser entries, but never while lap hunting.

There is one thing about the 328i that may discourage potential buyers from... um, buying, yes?  No Racing Modifications option available! The only BMW models in the lineup that can be endowed with this modification (and thus use adjustable downforce) are those three 3 Series Coupe (ci) models. Ah, that is bad because downforce is just what our 328i will need once you start increasing its potential by means of the tuning shop.

Should you waste most of your money on power upgrades and weight reductions, upgrading the brakes is going to become a mandatory move. Braking power won't be strong anymore and you'll have to use them to control brake-induced oversteer (that's now become very pronounced). It is not that you can't control it, but it can ruin your lap times if you're not skillful enough to the control results of it. Large and aggressive slides will affect grip of the front tires, producing body roll that may throw you off-track. This happened many times even with a semi-racing suspension kit, so make sure you find a comfortable setup on which the oversteer can be used effectively. And finally - the understeer. Usually it won't bother, but in case it decides to do so, stay away from accelerating unless you're 100% sure nothing unexpected can happen. Its unpredictability can make your cornering line really wide...

Last but not least - the Alfa Romeo 156. Unlike on BMW models, sports handling tendencies are explicitly emphasized, something that has been defining Alfa Romeo models for many, many years. That is why Alfas are often supported by quite harsh springs; to fulfill needs of sports-oriented driving. I have driven in an Alfa Romeo 146 several times and can undoubtedly confirm that roads have to be of decent quality to avoid having quirks on the suspension system.

Hence why I was surprised to see the 156 having very soft spring ratios, softer than on the A4 or 328i. Even that luxurious French  saloon, the Renault Laguna V6 (which is heavier and more orientated towards comfort) is barely softer on its front side than the 156. This makes me wonder if Polyphony took into consideration ratios of certain cars at all. I believe 'no' is the right answer, as I haven't found the same problem to exist in GT4, for instance.

Anyway, the 156 provides plenty of grip for a FF saloon, but you do feel it requires more braking once the weight fully loads that outer front tire. This is not necessarily understeer, but rather a simple tendency of this car to be more comfortable using wider cornering lines due to the' fluffy' feeling of its springs. As a result, loss of grip can be hard to detect, so be sure not to overdo it. Hm, I never imagined I would need to say something disturbing against the handling scheme of an Alfa Romeo, this is a bit unusual...

Obviously, the car's suspension needs to be upgraded. Sadly, neither sports or semi-racing kit will increase its ratio sufficiently, or get its ride toward more of a 'relaxation' feeling (because front to rear ratio enlarges), so you'll have to open your wallet and spend some money on the Fully Custom suspension kit. Well, at least parts are bit cheaper than in the German case.

The rear end often signifies that it may lose its temper, but this never becomes anything greater than a threat. It is said how the car's rear axle features an active toe, so I understand why its rear end would like to play too.

Tuning can make the 156 either a very good or a decent machine to drive around, depending on how far you plan on solving any quirks it has. The Fully Custom. suspension kit should be mandatory equipment at this level, as you won't be able to drive fast otherwise. It does not understeer on entries as the A4, but its 'fluffiness' is going to force you to close that throttle and wait, until the car returns to its path. That can last for too long, trust me, so upgrade the suspension as we said. I changed its ratio to around 7.0 - 8.0 and immediately noticed massive improvement. Understeer may still appear once the weight goes off the front tire, but you'll learn to deal with that. After all, I would never expect an Alfa to corner sedately, there must be some quirks around, testing your skills and fun factor. That is what Alfa Romeo is all about.

Ah, one more thing. On corners, you can apply some handbrake while keeping that throttle open. This will allow for decent slides, and increase cornering speed. In GT2 where FF cars have very good grip - it can be done.

Before we conclude this review, we should focus on lap times, for people who care about speed only. The 156 is going to have the edge over the other two, but I have seen lap times dropping competitively in favor of the 328i too. The A4 seems to be the slowest in the group by small margin; very good driving skills are required to match times of the other two. However, once you increase abilities of all three cars to similar specs, the A4 will be as fast as the other two.

 

Conclusion

Now it is time to draw the line and pronounce the winner. I have to admit that doing so isn't really easy, as I had enjoyable moments with all of them. The A4 is interesting to drive as long as you keep an eye on the engine and its response; it may be a bit tiresome otherwise. The 156 was okay, but I felt Polyphony didn't incorporate enough soul of Alfa Romeo as it should have, not on this model at least. Plus, the V6 engine is not that good as real life suggests, it requires careful gearbox tuning and decent knowledge about engines to unleash maximum potential. This all reduces the Alfa's overall verdict, in contrast to what I wished for. The 328i was a good companion, but its competence to truly entertain the driver is limited only to certain parts of corners. I enjoyed its pedantic bearing and acting though.

In other words, the A4 left the greatest impact on me, which is why I would probably pick that one. The 328i was close, lacking in small areas while the 156 slightly failed to invoke that 'thing' from Alfa Romeo. The game developers bear the responsibility for the last one, but hey - the car still managed to complete its task successfully, it paralyzed our German duo temporarily. No matter how you look at it, there is no doubt that Alfa Romeo at one point had a great weapon to jolt the automotive scene, and reach boundaries no one else expected it to do. And that is something no bug in the game could dispute or change.

 

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TEST RESULTS
Alfa Romeo 156 2.5
BMW 328i

Audi A4 Quattro

PRICE
38,910
55,310

50,530

ENGINE

V6 DOHC, 2492 ccm

L6 DOHC, 2793 ccm

V6 DOHC, 2771 ccm

REAL POWER

195 hp at 7500 rpm

188 hp at 5500 rpm

191 hp at 6000 rpm

REAL TORQUE

22.4 kg/m at 5000 rpm

28.7 kg/m at 3500 rpm

28.7 kg/m at 3000 rpm

WEIGHT (kg)

1320

1460

1430

Wheelbase

2595 mm

 2725 mm

 2617 mm

TIRES

205/60 R 15-16

205/55 R 16

205/60 R 15

DRIVETRAIN

FF

FR

AWD

0-400 M (seconds)

15.327

15.359

15.937

0-1000 m (seconds)

28.185

28.053

29.033

TOP SPEED (kph)

241.09

249.29

240.60