I can sense your cynicism. All too often 'limited editions' are just a cheap way of making some tired old box look slightly more appetising. Your average Saxo 'Wheee!' or Corsa 'Splish!' is little more than a marketing ploy, often cobbled together by the dealers, and the only thing that limits its lifespan is the arrival of another limited edition, the 'Kazoo!' or 'Chutzpah!' or some such.
This one's a bit different. For one thing, it's based on one of our favourite cars, Alfa's glorious V6-engined GTV. For another, the GTV Cup, inspired by an Italian one-make race series, is a genuinely limited edition (the UK allocation is 150, all in Alfa Red). Question is, with the new GTV due in 2003, can Alfa persuade a few more of us to buy a car which, let's face it, is in the twilight years of its production life?
Alfa's coupe still turns heads, more than five years after it first appeared on UK roads, and the Cup, peppered with sexy, purposeful-looking vents, emboldened with aggressively trimmed spoilers and skirts, and rolling across the tarmac on dramatic, 17in 'telephone dial' alloys, has even more visual clout though mechanically it's the same as the regular V6.
Inside, there's a small metal plaque on the dash confirming the GTV Cup as a limited edition - our car was no. 100. The big news is the new 'sports' seats, which bear the mark of Momo. They look a bit low-rent, but they're a major improvement on the overstuffed leather-wrapped chairs that blighted the last GTV Lusso we drove. Those seats held you in place about as convincingly as a truss fashioned from gossamer. At least the new seats actually support you in spirited cornering, so you can use the steering wheel for steering, not as a handily placed grab-rail.
The wheel itself is wrapped in leather, as are some of the trim panels. The interior still looks good, though it's starting to show its age. For example, it obviously wasn't designed to have a passenger airbag - the cover doesn't match the rest of the facia plastic. And the driving position is perfect - provided you normally walk with your knuckles dragging along the ground. There was also a good deal of wind roar from the frameless side windows on the test car.
What the GTV V6 does best is accelerate - and make the most wonderful, soulful, brass-laden noise while it's about it. This is a genuinely quick car, don't forget - 0-60 in around 6.5sec and over 150mph all-out. The previous day I'd been driving the Aston Vanquish and to be absolutely honest the GTV didn't feel a whole heap slower, though obviously it is. There's a decent spread of torque, but if you really want to keep it on the boil you'll be whipping up and down the six-speed box - it's a rather loose and long-winded shift, but it slips through quickly enough when you're really trying.
Just as impressive as the engine is the way the Alfa puts its power down - front-wheel drive, and no trick diffs or traction control, remember. Unless you're determined to be a complete hooligan, you can make rapid progress without the lashings of wheelspin and the torque-steer you'd expect. On dry, reasonably smooth roads, the fact it's front-wheel drive really isn't an issue. The handling's more benign than, say, most recent hot French hatches, but you can still tailor your line by playing with the throttle. The steering requires fairly big inputs, and lumpen surfaces reveal a lack of the ultimate composure that marks out the very best chassis, but the GTV makes a decent fist of most roads. The ride's actually pretty comfortable, though the shallow-walled 225/45 Goodyear Eagles pitter-patter over coarse tarmac.
All my instincts tell me to be sceptical about what is, after all, a fairly superficial makeover. And you can't help wondering if the Cup is really worth a couple of grand over the regular V6. Trouble is, at Î‚Â£26,995 it's almost as dear as the BMW 330Ci, which offers almost identical performance and all the bulletproof build/residuals that anyone with any sense could possibly crave. Fortunately we're not all that logical about our car purchases.
Any GTV with that V6 engine is something to lust after. The Cup package has just enough of the right stuff to add an extra layer of desirability. The GTV Cup oozes the passion and bravado that makes even a flawed Italian car somehow more covetable than its just-so German or Japanese equivalent. Long may it be so.