Alfa Romeo 147

Debut: 2001
Maker: Alfa Romeo
Predecessor: 145/146

A new star has been born - Alfa Romeo 147. You might think AutoZine is quite pro-Alfa, but when 56 juries also chose it as European Car Of The Year 2001, you have to pay extra respect to this car. If you love Alfa Romeo 156, read this: 147 is not only cheaper than 156 but it is also the better one. 

It is unusual for a C-segment (Golf etc.) hatchback to be derived directly from a D-segment (Mondeo etc.) sedan. Fiat group’s accountants would have preferred the 147 to be based on Fiat Punto, however, their boss (Fiat CEO) Paolo Cantarella turned that down and insisted it should be derived from the highly-praised, if quite expensive, 156 saloon. Thanks a lot, Cantarella. Car enthusiasts will praise his wisdom in the next few years.  

The solid basis of 156 gives the little hatchback an unrivalled chassis and suspensions. Think about it, which hatchback has a rigid chassis derived from a 3-series-beater ? Don’t tell me Mercedes C-class Sports Coupe ! it is far from affordable, unlike Alfra 147. How many hatchbacks ride on front double-wishbones suspensions ? Civic is no longer so. As for chassis, no matter for market-positioning reason or for handling reason, Alfa decided the 147 should be smaller than the 156, so 50 mm was eliminated from the wheelbase while the tail was replaced by a lift gate. Undoubtedly, that result in considerably less rear leg room and 100 litre reduction of luggage space. 

But smaller dimensions doesn’t mean lighter, because extra strengthening is required to deal with the lost of rigidity in tail gate. Moreover, to make it cheaper to build than 156 it employs conventional steel lower links for rear suspensions instead of aluminium (accounts for 4kg) and steel seat frames instead of magnesium. As a result, the 147 weighs just 10 kilograms less than the 156. In other words, at 1250 kg (for the flagship version 2.0 TS Selespeed) it is some 100 kg in excess of class average.  

Such gain is worthy, because the cockpit is wonderfully packaged to deliver a real expensive feel. 156’s owner will be jealous about the build quality as well as styling of the cabin: Volkswagen’s style soft-touch plastic, damped-feel switches and grab handles, stylish gauges and air vents, best steering wheel, beautiful center console which houses a sophisticated trip computer, sat-nav and voice-phone. Leather seats looks attractive and sits supportive. Visually this must be the best interior design I have ever seen in a hatchback. What’s more, all the switches, controls and glovebox feel really solid and could last for a life, a thing hardly imagine for an Italian car especially Alfa Romeo. Well done ! 

The downside is lack of rear leg room and by lesser extent the rear shoulder room. Bearing in mind the wheelbase is just 2546mm, it is unsurprising the baby Alfa is not designed to be a family car like Ford Focus but it is obviously a niche personal car like Audi A3 and BMW 3-compact. 

Dynamic wise, 147 has been improved in various aspects from its donor. While suspension design is carried over, it has revised bushings, spring and damper setup to deliver tauter controlled yet slightly smoother ride, the latter must thanks to 10 mm increase in ride height hence more suspension travel. In the steering department, steering effort is lowered by 10% via using a revised servo pump. Of course, the reduction of 49mm wheelbase will undoubtedly benefit handling agility.  

No other hatchbacks can match its capable handling - Ford Focus (our previous handling champion) inclusive. Compare with Focus, the 147 rides on firmer suspensions so that it is not too comfortable on bumpy B-roads. However, it feels tauter, better controlled and more agile to steer. Steering is very quick (2.2 turns from right to left) and accurate, delivering the same sharpness as 156 but with kickback eliminated. However, you can still pick a few hot hatches more fun to drive, for instance, Peugeot 306 GTi-6. Unlike the Peugeot, the new Alfa deliberately eliminates lift-off oversteering in pursuit of a fluent and secured-style of handling. Therefore it won’t be as involving to drive as older generations of hot hatches but it’s a trend agreed by all car engineers - see the new Peugeot 206GTi and you’ll know. 

147 also has the best engines around - the famous 1.6 and 2.0 twin-spark. They are perhaps the only thing that may link back to the outgoing 145 and 146. Entering the new millenium the Super Fire twin spark series has been revised a little bit to cope with new emission regulation. The 2.0 unit gets smaller inlet valves but is added with variable intake manifold. Although power and torque dropped (now 150 hp and 133 lbft instead of 155 hp and 138 lbft) there is hardly any lost of punch can be felt. It is still revvy, smooth and flexible, and makes the most beautiful engine note among all 4-pots. Nevertheless, carrying some 1250 kg of weight you can only expect 9 seconds for 0-60 although subjectively it feels quicker.  

At launch, the 2.0 is only available with Selespeed gearbox. This second generation has improved shift smoothness in auto mode but is still no match for a regular manual gearbox. Upshift is slow and jerky in various conditions, such as part-throttle or in traffic at low gears. It still needs improvement before being another strong element of the car. My advice: wait for the 5-speed manual. 

Strongest element after all is perhaps the styling - it wins our Styling Of The Year 2001. Ice on the cake must be the beautiful-yet-unique V-shape grille. It might be the reminiscence of the 6C 2500 Villa d’Este of 1949, but Alfa studio succeeded to incorporate it into a modern hatch is hardly imaginable by anyone. Like the interior, the exterior design deliver a strong sense of Latin emotion which makes it far more desirable than any prestige German opponents.  

Thanks Cantarella again for bringing us the most desirable hatch in the world.

 The above report was last updated on 22 Mar 2001. All Rights Reserved.

147 GTA

If you are familiar with the regular Alfa 147 and the 156GTA, you can easily see that the new 147 GTA is nearly a hatchback version of 156 GTA with shorter wheelbase. To create the fastest 147, Alfa Romeo simply transplanted the 250-horsepower 3.2-litre V6, 6-speed gearbox, suspensions (with wider track, lowered, revised geometry and spring / dampers), quick-ratio steering rack, Brembo brakes and 17-inch fat rubber from the 156 GTA to the 147. It becomes 147 GTA, may I say, the best overall performance hatchback currently on sale. 

Some people may criticize that it carries over the flaws of 156 GTA, namely, poor ride quality on bumpy roads. Forget that, because in the whole world only British journalists complained about that. Roads on the European mainland seemed work perfectly for the GTA, no matter 156 and 147. Anyway, to calm down the British, Alfa softened the damping slightly, making the 147 GTA more compliant than its bigger brother. Now it rides better than 2 of its main rivals - Volkswagen Golf R32 and Ford Focus RS, especially the latter. 

Compare with these two rivals, you can easily see the advantage of the Alfa. Firstly, the famous Alfa V6 is not only powerful (10hp more than Volkswagen and 35hp more than the Ford), it looks beautiful and makes the best music. Although not as torquey as Volkswagen’s V6 of the same capacity - due to the lack of variable manifolds and variable valve timing, the Alfa V6 loves to rev to its 6900rpm cut-out and always encourage you to squeeze power out of it, by its sharp throttle response, by its free-revving manner and by its lovely mechanical sound. The best engine is always the one engage you, not necessarily the one delivering the highest efficiency. 

147 GTA is an all-rounder. Unlike Golf R32, it delivers function without forgetting desirability. The engine is one example. The smooth-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox is way better than Golf’s clonky unit. And undoubtedly, the 147 body looks far more beautiful than the boxy Golf. Both cars got aggressive bumpers and wider tracks to aid visual appeal, but I suppose the standard 5-ring alloy wheels of Alfa Romeo are the sexier ones. Inside, seeing the Ferrari-style leather bucket seats and the high-quality-yet-beautifully-styled dashboard, you won’t look at the Golf anymore. Alfa knows so well about desirability. 

Compare with Focus RS, you will find it has better balance between performance and drivability. The Focus might have strong mid-range torque, but it is still a turbocharged engine with four-cylinder. There is no comparison with the throttle response and linear delivery of a normally-aspirated 3.2-litre V6, let alone smoothness and sound quality. At low rev, 147 GTA storms pass the Focus easily. Even at maximum boost, the Focus fails to run away from the Alfa. Turn into corners, on any roads other than glass-smooth ones, the Focus can easily suffer from bump steer and crashy ride. The Alfa has a very good manner. It steers accurately, has tremendous grip and good stability. In extreme case, the VDC stability control (156 GTA does not have this) will correct under or oversteer. Don’t worry, this system only intervenes at very extreme conditions. Its braking is nearly as strong as the Focus RS, which is still class-leading. 

The only criticism about the 147 GTA is the lack of steering feel at low speed. This is probably the trade-off to improved ride quality, as we notice 156 GTA is better in this respect. However, the feel improves as speed increase. British journalists still criticize its ride quality, but it seems totally unfair because even themselves admit their beloved Focus RS has much harsher ride. To be fair, I would say Alfa Romeo 147 GTA beats both Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R32 as the best performance hot hatch. It is still some way from the mighty Lancer Evo, but it is also considerably cheaper.

 The above report was last updated on 4 Dec 2002. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque

Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tyres front/rear
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)

147 2.0 Selespeed
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4170 / 1729 / 1421 mm
2546 mm
1970 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
150 hp
133 lbft
5-speed automated manual (Selespeed)
F: double-wishbones
R: struts
1250 kg
129 mph (c)
9.0 (est)

147 GTA
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4213 / 1764 / 1412 mm
2546 mm
V6, 60-degree
3179 cc
DOHC 24 valves
250 hp
221 lbft
6-speed manual

F: double-wishbones
R: struts
1360 kg
153 mph (c)
Performance tested by: *Autocar

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