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.
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?
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.