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MOTORNET: More Than Skin Deep – Alpha 147 Hatch

More Than Skin Deep


SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie - onlinefotos.com/neil


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Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini – Italian exotica that causes most men to go just a little weak at the knees at even their passing mention. Unfortunately, such exotica is usually well beyond the reach of most mere mortals, which is why Alfa Romeo is such a god send.

The gorgeous looks, the smell of the leather, the exquisitely machined and sexy alloys, everything about Alfa Romeos is alluring. Like an attractive woman whose perfume faintly lingers long after she has departed, Alfas have a desirable quality all their own. More importantly, they are relatively attainable.

Unfortunately, build quality issues during the 80s and 90s saw Alfa largely lose its way and buyers stayed away in droves. But Alfa took a major upswing with the launch of the 147 hatch and things continue to improve, most notably with the recent local launch of the 159 and Brera twins.


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The latest iteration of the 147, the JTD, has benefited – like most of the current range – from a mid-life makeover that has sharpened the looks in a subtle but effective fashion. It has a more defined front end, particularly the treatment around the nose and Alfa badge, which adds a degree of aggression lacking from earlier examples. It looks every bit the business, in other words.

It’s only when you’ve settled yourself in the sumptuous 147 leather driver’s seat though and turned the ignition key that the real difference with this vehicle becomes apparent. Unlike the high pitched whine you might expect from Alfa’s 3.2 litre six of the GTA, the engine emits more of a throaty low-end rumble, much more reminiscent of a diesel in fact…

That’s right, the JTD is an oil burner. Alfa have been late to the party in offering a diesel hatch in the New Zealand market, as virtually every other European has at least one on offer. And it’s high time they did as diesels are both practical and economical and generally make perfect sense any which way you look at it. But can a diesel Alfa be sexy?


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In this case, it’s certainly fast. Nail the accelerator and the engine responds like a plucked porcupine (quickly, in case the analogy doesn’t do it justice). The common-rail 1.9 litre diesel engine, or Jet Thrust Diesel as Alfa prefers to tag it, develops a solid 110kW (about 150 horsepower) and 305Nm of torque, which is the figure that really counts. There is a hint of torque steer as the front wheels wrestle with all that power, but the chassis feels more than up to the job. The 0-100km/h run comes up in a very respectable 8.5 seconds, and is even around 0.8 of a second quicker than its petrol brethren.

Apart from a good turn of speed, the JTD also delivers in the economy stakes. Alfa claim the 147 will manage an average of 4.8 litres on the open road. During my time with the vehicle, the trip computer recorded an average of around 7.1 litres. Admittedly, this was for mostly city driving, and very little thought given to economy. With a 60 litre tank capacity, you’re assured of a significant range between refuels and even taking into account road user charges, the 147 shouldn’t prove expensive to run. And the CO2 emissions are respectably low – enough to allow even the most ardent Greenie some measure of comfort.

In true Alfa tradition, the steering is quick and accurate and the chassis responds in kind, providing a rewarding drive with neutral handling and high levels of grip – impressive given the weight bias over the front wheels. It doesn’t enjoy quite the same road-holding as some of its more single-minded contemporaries (the Golf GTi springs to mind) but the upside is that the 147 has a supremely comfortable ride which makes short work of the many road imperfections road-users contend with daily. Similarly, the six-speed manual gearbox is a delight to use, with a crisp clean throw and light clutch action. Reassuring really as there is no auto option on offer.


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The top of the range Lusso comes with plenty of kit as standard, including good quality and attractive leather upholstery, six airbags, ABS brakes, electronic stability programme with traction control, trip computer, alloy wheels, dual-zone climate air, and remote stereo controls. The cabin is a pleasant place to be and despite a slightly unusual driving position, ergonomically pretty sound. The buttons on the stereo head unit though are just downright annoying – the designer responsible deserving a good smack on the hand for such a poor, never mind distracting, outcome. Fit and finish, while not quite on a par with some of its German rivals, is nevertheless of good quality – though the endless squeaking from the front seat didn’t do much to inspire confidence. Neither does it have quite the interior space of some of its newer contemporaries, nevertheless proving practical during the time I had it.

An entry level (cloth trim) 147 JTD will set you back $43,990 while the fully loaded Lusso retails at $47,990. That’s quite a bit of money for a small hatch, but even so, compares favourably with the likes of Golf and is significantly less than an equivalent (if rear wheel drive) BMW 1-Series.

Most importantly, the diesel, far from robbing the Alfa of character has almost enhanced it. Part of me will always hanker for the sweet, sweet sound of a petrol powered Alfa, but in so many respects the JTD makes perfect sense. It has bags of power, is friendly to the environment and is economical. All this simply adds to the existing charms of the 147, namely presence and sex appeal. It just might be the prefect answer to that perennial car purchasing question – head vs. heart?


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*** ENDS ***


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