The Alfa Romeo 147 has been an underrated quasi-premium hatchback from the very first moment it arrived in South Africa. A legacy of dodgy build quality has been hard to shake, and it has consequently not made such a big splash in its segment, as its bigger 156 sibling had done when it was originally launched. And yet, it’s an undeniably charming car that will please the Alfisti. The looks are distinctive and the driving experience, particularly as a result of really lively steering, very engaging. Now, with a few tweaks here and there, and the addition of a powerful turbodiesel engine and a very high specification level, Alfa Romeo hopes to turn more longing glances into signed OTPs.
Subtle cosmetic changes for Alfa Romeo 147The original Alfa Romeo 147, penned by Andreas Zapatinas who has since moved to Subaru, was a really pretty car, but with a slightly blunt face. The redesign appears to exist to some extent for the sole purpose of addressing this “bluntness”. The facelifted car’s nose has grown by 50 mm and this is quite noticeable when viewed from the front three-quarter, because the extra length is accentuated by the more sharply angled headlamps, too. The rear lights are slightly different as well, but overall the Alfa Romeo 147 has retained its quirkiness and visual appeal. In top-spec Distinctive guise, the car’s shape is further enhanced by the fitment of striking multi-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels.
The changes to the cabin are perhaps not quite as successful. The old individual triple-dial layout has made way for a single cluster that incorporates all the dials, which is perhaps in line with the competition, but certainly not as sporty. Alfa Romeo has also changed the texture of the facia plastics, and in some places it actually now looks a bit cheaper than before. Furthermore, this test car exhibited a rattle or two, mostly emanating from the centre section of the facia and the doors, and the overall impression is therefore not quite as upmarket as Alfa may have hoped, especially considering this particular model’s high price.
But that’s pretty much all the bad news dealt with right there. The seats remain superb and in the case of this Distinctive version, are clad with leather. The side bolstering, in particular, is excellent. With good adjustment on offer from the steering wheel as well as the driver’s seat, the driving position is near-perfect and a far cry from the much-criticised short-legs, long arms posture demanded by Italian cars of old. The facia controls, however, generally lack the strict ergonomic efficiency of its German rivals, especially the sound system with its numerous small and fiddly buttons, but after a few days most drivers will be used to them.
Space-wise the Alfa Romeo 147 is one of the more compact cars in this segment. Rear legroom is probably below average, but nonetheless sufficient for shorter trips. The rear seats, by the way, are also very comfortable. Unfortunately the boot is not very big, a victim of the car’s compact and curvaceous styling. Then again, a Golf’s boot is not much larger. A space-saver spare is fitted.
Smooth turbodieselThe star of the show is undoubtedly this car’s new 1,9-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. It’s a state-of-the-art unit, with common-rail direct injection and intercooling, and develops an impressive 110 kW and strong 305 Nm of torque from 2 000 rpm. Power goes to the front wheels via a very slick six-speed manual transmission that’s a delight to use. Although the engine is clearly (read, audibly) of the diesel persuasion at start-up, it is very refined and loves to rev. It also provides stunning performance, with a 0-100 km/h time of 8,8 seconds, which will surprise some petrol hot hatches out there. The engine is also beautifully flexible, providing strong overtaking power without the need for constant gear changing. And with a consumption figure of around 6,0 litres/100 km, fuel economy is excellent too…
The Alfa Romeo 147 has always been a fun car to drive, with very sharp and direct steering, a nicely balanced ride and good grip levels. The suspension set-up works best on smooth surfaces, however, with ridges upsetting its composure noticeably. Usually a heavier engine at the front will result in earlier understeer, but the Alfa resists this very well and feels agile, yet superbly planted upon corner entry.
Alfa Romeo - VerdictAge has done little to diminish the Alfa 147’s appeal. It remains one of the sexier offerings in this segment, and while it can’t match the premium build of Audi, Volkswagen, and BMW, it makes up for this with bags of character and plenty of emotional appeal. The MultiJet engine is a gem, probably the best of its type on the market, providing superb refinement, economy and a good deal of power. It is a pricey car, however, and for some the stigma of poor build quality is simply too big a hurdle. Alfa Romeo now offers a three-year maintenance plan to illustrate its belief in its products, and this may well tempt a few more buyers. They’re unlikely to be disappointed by their purchase.
- Still good looking
- Engaging drive
- Standard specification
Engine: 1,9-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 110 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 305 Nm @ 2 000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 208 km/h
0-100 km/h: 8,8 seconds
Fuel economy: 5,9 litres/100 km
- Volkswagen Golf 2,0 TDI: This German rival boasts a more practical, better-built cabin as well as a fuel consumption advantage. What it lacks, however, is the Alfa’s flexibility and refinement.
- BMW 120d 5-dr: Only about R20 000 more than the Alfa Romeo 147, and sports the very attractive BMW badge, as well as a more powerful engine and slightly better economy. But the interior is poorly packaged, a consequence of the rear-wheel drive layout. And then there are those looks...
- Audi A3 2,0 TDI Ambition: OK, so the Audi has only three doors, but if you’re considering the Alfa Romeo 147, perhaps practicality is not such a high priority? In that case the Audi may be the nicest of all, being beautifully made and boasting the Golf’s powerful and economical engine.