Looking Back: 2000 Alfa Romeo 147

I had high hopes for this car, the 147. It had 156 underpinnings and a noticeable increase in quality compared to its predecessors, the 145/146 pair.

2000 Alfa Romeo 147: gochecks.org
2000 Alfa Romeo 147: gochecks.org

The 147 appeared in the press in July 2000 and went on sale in October. As well as being a markedly more mature car than those it succeeded, it owed a little to the Tipo platform from 1988. Alfa declared that from the next model onward, the Multipla’s spaceframe system would be used. That didn’t happen.

Alfa also wanted the 147 to be the best handling car in its class. The 147 used a shorter version of the 156 platform, ending up 4.1 metres long, a little bigger than a Golf. Double wishbones served up front aided by a multi-link set-up at the rear. It had the 156’s quick ratio steering system promising Ackerman geometry and a terrible turning circle. There were four 4-cylinder engines: a 105 bhp 1.6, up to a 155 bhp 2.0 litre device. A V6 eventually materialised, with 3.2 litres and Selespeed transmission. Eventually a 1.9 diesel was added over the course of the car’s decade in production.

The styling paralleled the 156’s combination of soft shapes and vaguely retro feel, especially about the grille (the front one, of course) which harked back the 1950s Giulias. The five door had hidden handles. At the rear Walter da Silva did subtle things with the tail-lamps which had small chamfers to give the car a substantial, solid character that the flatter-surfaced 146 lacked. The front received a re-style in 2004, one of few in the annals of car design that improved the look and gelled well with the retained bodywork. The headlamps lost the indistinct circle-and-rectangle form to look more like the 159 and Brera.

Inside, drivers were treated to a genuinely special interior with cowled instruments, a smart steering wheel and, if selected, the kind of leather upholstery that a proper Italian car should have. The instruments had Italian labelling, a reminder of the car’s USP and heritage.

So, how did the car fare when put up against one of its arch rivals, the Golf GTi? John Simister concluded his review saying the 147 was neither as rapid nor as effortless as the Golf but was more entertaining. It’s a classic heart versus head situation for Alfa. The Alfa also lost out in speed to the Peugeot 306 GTI-6 which cost more and lacked the quality of the Alfa. He gave the nod to the Alfa because “you can’t help lusting” after it and because it “looks such a feast of fun.”

Simister also drew attention to the consequences of the heavy structure inherited from the 156 and the poor turning circle. The Golf simply zoomed ahead on the winding Monaco test roads, with a lack of torque holding the Alfa back. On the plus side, the Alfa cost a whole two thousand pounds sterling less than the Golf: £15,000 or thereabouts. Jason Barlow decided the 1.6 was a patchy car but the best small Alfa since the Sud. He also criticised the turning circle and jerky low-speed ride. The compensations were decent manners at speed and a very charismatic cabin.

Richard Hammond reviewed the car for Men and Motors and like Barlow went with a snooker-inspired theme (that 147 number did the trick). Hammond disagreed with Barlow on the interior: he liked the quality of the plastics. He also thought the seating position to be typically Italian while Barlow considered it good. And finally, Hammond awarded the car 147 points (having over-worked his metaphor) despite the 1.6 litre test car lacking some get-up-and-go. Was it because he got to test the car in Italy while Barlow remained in rainy Britain?

2001 Alfa Rome 147 in 1.6 litre guise. Yours for very little money: mobile.de
2001 Alfa Rome 147 in 1.6 litre guise. Yours for very little money: mobile.de

Today you can have a 1.6 litre Twinspark with 128,000 km on the clock for a shade under €800. There are others around the 200k mark for the price of a few suitcases. And it was even Car of the Year 2001 and won Germany’s Die Goldene Lenkrad award.

The Alfa Romeo 147 ended its production after a decade, by which time the Focus, Astra and Golf had all been replaced. The 147 didn’t set the market on fire but just ticked over until the Giulietta arrived and managed to be a disappointment in pretty much every way possible for an Alfa. These days the 147 is still looking good and will probably assume classic car status in 2020, with the eye-catching styling, good build quality and startling driving character among the main draws. That’s pretty much the conclusion of Parkers.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

14 thoughts on “Looking Back: 2000 Alfa Romeo 147”

  1. A decent summation. I would posit that the 147 was the last “great” Alfa. It was also proof that humble underpinnings need not compromise driving characteristics. As to where all that engineering talent has gone, who knows?

  2. Nice to see a rear-view of this pleasing car. It sired the not quite so right GT, I think. Alfa felt like it was getting somewhere at the point that this was launched.

    As I recall, it actually started to go wrong in the planning of the 159 – nice as that car looked – as Alfa was forced to share the development of that car’s platform with GM-SAAB. In one of those sad ironies, its anticipated SAAB twin never happened, leaving the 159 with the legacy of an over-weight but very strong platform, and a not-so impressive GM based V6. Then came the Brera coupe and Spider on the same platform (the former design I liked – the latter was a mess), again stifled by excess weight. Since then things just fizzled out.

  3. Thanks Richard for shining some light on the 147. It’s one of my favourites and I agree with Chris & S.V. on what went right and where it went wrong. In the Alfisti spirit of helping out with a spot of necessary maintenance: the 147 was replaced by the GiuliETTA (aka:”pretty enough, rorty turbo-four but not as fun to drive as a Focus, as tasteful good value as a Golf or as German as a 1-series or A3. Three Stars”). Grown-up Giulia (“pretty enough, grunty Ferrari-fettled V6 but not as fun to drive as an XE, as tasteful good value as a Passat or as German as a 3-series, A4 or C-Class. Three Stars”) turned up in Quadrifoglio activewear last month.

    Thinking of Selespeed makes me wonder – why do European carmakers dislike using conventional automatic transmissions in small cars? Is it because European customers prefer manuals?

    1. Hi, I did not mean to write that the GT was so bad, actually it was rather nice, but, being an obvious derivative of the 147, it’s exterior always seemed a little constrained and less cohesive than the 147 from which it was derived. Am I meaking any sense?

  4. Good to read an appreciation of an under-rated car; in fact when it comes to styling a very under-rated car. My wife bought one, red of course, in 2001 and loved it. The cabin was very pleasant and performance brisk if not overwhelming but ,with air-con and a decent radio with controls on the steering wheel, it was a revelation after two Golfs over the preceeding 15 years. Alas it fell foul of the cliches of poor dealer and iffy electrics. In 2005 a month of random non starting and random error messages on the on board computer was followed by a £400 labour bill (no parts required) to repair a faulty earth. Two months later it was replaced by another Golf and to complete the cliche in 10 years no repairs, no faults and only service items replaced.

    Still, I would have it again in a shot. Best Alfa since the Sud that I put through a hedge. How sad to see the present state of Alfa Romeo.

  5. Hi B.Mark – I am glad you liked the article. The 147 had excellent styling inside and out. At the time it seemed so close to being good enough to be one of the mainstream hatches. It’s frustrating that silly details like wiring and connectors ruin the car’s reputation. I am pretty sure there must be sorted ones out there. And for €700 too. The car is still destined to be a future classic. Even now it has the air of a car untouched by the passing years. Does it look 15 years old? I don’t think so.

  6. The GT was a nice car hampered by a slightly odd rear glasshouse treatment. It was also slightly too obviously a parts bin special that appeared quite late in the 156/147 lifecycle. Nobody wants warmed leftovers, especially if they’ve been sat on the side too long.

    1. It didn’t strike me as left-overs. I didn’t notice anything wrong with the rear. It all looks correct to me. I saw one today (and lots of 147s). The interior is delightful. I don’t often get to say that.

    2. I always thought the GT was much nicer than the heavy and large looking Brera – although I liked the latter’s rear windscreen treatment very much. Nice coincidence, I also just passed one on the street a few minutes ago. Very nice example in a special dark greyish-brown colour with beige leather seats. A very beautiful car indeed!

    3. I perhaps should have leavened my original comment by saying that the GT was still a handsome car with an outstanding interior. The Brera always seemed rather flabby in comparison.

  7. The 147 was presented around the time when Citroën disfigured its already mediocre Xsara with that googly-eyed facelift. Boy, was I envious of the Alfa people…
    A friend bought one of these, and he seemed to be very pleased with it. I never drove it, but I was a passenger on some occasions. While I could imagine it was really great to drive, I found it a little cramped inside, especially on the rear seats. It stays in my memory as one of the first cars I encountered that had the now common high waistline and small oval rear windscreen. But, if you wanted the car rather as a sporty hatch than as a family car, I think it’s OK to fit quite tightly.

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