Product Type: Alfa Romeo cars
Newest Review: ... responsive, this can take a bit of getting used to. The reliability of this Alfa Romeo is actually very good. Which is fairly surprisin... more
WHAT? A DIESEL ALFA?
Alfa Romeo 147
Member Name: Richada
Alfa Romeo 147
Advantages: Great (Diesel!) Engine. Cheap Second Hand. Distinctive Styling. well Equipped
Disadvantages: Poor Safety Rating. Heavy Depreciation. Old Design. Not Truly Class Competitive.
The 147 is Alfa Romeo’s compact hatchback, produced in three and five door forms and competing in the Ford Focus / Vauxhall Astra market. This is actually an interesting, diverse and most popular market sector now, outselling all other types of car. The competition is fierce and many of the alternatives, such as the Honda Civic, are new and bang up to date.
In 2001 the Alfa 147 was voted European Car of The Year.
WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?
The actual car that I am reviewing here is right at the top of the Alfa 147 tree. It is a five door 1.9JTD 150 Lusso. The 1.9JTD 150 has the most powerful two litre version of the now ubiquitous GM (Vauxhall / Saab) engine in it, which was co-developed with Fiat, parent company of Alfa Romeo.
IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?
OK, hands up, this is not my own car. This review is the result of an extensive test drive at the Millbrook Test Facility in Bedfordshire, I was attending in my capacity as Fleet Manager, the annual Company Car In Action event held there in late June.
I am aware by now that some amongst our number feel strongly that this is nowhere near enough experience of a car on which to base a review, I would be inclined to agree with them had I not had YEARS of experience driving and choosing cars at this event. This is no mere ‘run around the block with a salesman’ test drive. Here you drive the cars on your own (with my wife in the passenger seat on this occasion) around a very testing “mountain” course as well as a high speed bowl which simulates long distance motorway driving.
The overwhelming advantage of test driving cars at this particular event is that you get to experience them back to back with any of their competitors, in controlled and identical circumstances.
I am also aware that no review is ever more controversial than one of mine concerning an Alfa Romeo. Their owners are amongst the most loyal and enthusiastic of any on the road. I always counter this by saying that Alfas have been part of our company fleet since the mid-1970’s, I have many, many years of experience with this particular marque!
Let me start here by saying that Alfas are not what they once were, especially on running costs – and in a positive way on this score at that!
PURCHASE COST 7 / 10
Being the very top of the range 147, this one at £18,100 on the face of it looks fairly pricy. However, the Alfa dealer – if you can locate one, an increasingly futile task – is likely to knock a large chunk off of that. My internet search showed discounts of between £2000 and £5000 (yes £5000!!!) off the price of one of these cars.
The problem here is that, high-tech engine apart, you are not buying the latest technology. Most of the Alfa’s competitors at a similar price look newer and fresher, they will also, without exception, have better dealer support.
THE OPTIONS GAME: 8 / 10 or “How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?”
The Lusso trim pack includes everything that you would ever desire in a car of this type. However, this particular Alfa UK demonstrator had exactly £2000 worth of options on it, including leather upholstery (£900), metallic paint (£400) and Xenon headlamps with washing system for a further £700. Metallic paint apart, in all honesty this car is well enough equipped and I would certainly avoid adding all of those expensive and high-depreciating options to it.
DEPRECIATION 5 / 10 – Always the biggest running cost.
Due to the age of the 147 range, which itself is an update of the 145 / 146 predecessor, depreciation is going to be below class average. Also hammering residual values are Alfas very poor standing in the JD Power, “Which” and German ADAC reliability surveys.
My “book” tells me that at three years old and with 30,000 miles on the clock, the Alfa will be worth 44% of its value new. A similarly priced VW Golf would retain 60% of its list price, an Audi A3, BMW 1 Series or Honda Civic would be worth 58%. To be fair, the Alfa’s more mass market competitors do depreciate similarly, an £18,000 Ford Focus would be only worth 42% of its original cost, whilst a Peugeot 307 or Vauxhall Astra would hold onto 48% of their value.
FUEL ECONOMY 9 / 10
Here is one area where the Alfa 147, at least in diesel form, is more than class competitive. The GM 1.9 Turbodiesel engine is probably, in real world use, the most efficient of the current (around) two litre four cylinder diesel engines. You would be unlucky to achieve less than 45mph and would in all probability average 50mpg when avoiding too many short runs and cold starts.
SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 7 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?
No, but you may end up lining BP’s pockets!
I am not sure that an Alfa Romeo franchise ever made any dealer rich! Traditionally they spent so much time sorting out niggling warranty claims with scant factory back up, that many gave up dealing with Alfa of their own volition. So bad has the reputation of the Alfa dealer network become in the UK that the manufacturer has decided to take drastic measures.
Fiat is, at this late hour, attempting to use Lexus as a benchmark when marketing and servicing Alfas. All very well and good, but few of us seem to have a local Alfa dealer at all right now, the service costs may well be average and not break the bank, travelling upwards of 50 miles in each direction just for a service may well end up trying the patience of even the most die hard Alfisti.
Let the “fun” begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in…….
STYLING 8. /10: A very subjective category here.
Like the styling or not, the 147 remains a design of unusual originality in a world full of bland “two box” hatchbacks. The actual shape has been around for many years now, although the latest nip and tuck has successfully brought that shape up to date.
This is a very colour sensitive car, probably in common witrh every Alfa that I can remember, the pale metallic beigey-green of the 147 driven here did absolutely nothing for the looks of the car at all. Red or black suit this shape the best.
OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 7 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?
Whilst not manufactured to the obviously hairline tolerances of your average Audi, VW or Skoda, Alfa have made great strides when it comes to overall build quality. The paintwork, particularly of other red and black cars here looked particularly deep and glossy. Letting down that initial impression was the slightly cheap sounding “clang” on closing the front doors – the stiffer three door body may well be better on that particular score.
SAFETY 4 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.
This now is showing the cars age. In 2006, the fact that the 147 only has a lowly three out of five score on the internationally recognised Euro NCAP test rating is a worry. All of its competitors have at the very least four points, most of them five.
I would partly make allowances for this if the car felt in some way dynamically above average, but having driven Astra’s, Civic’s and even a Skoda Octavia on the same day, sadly it does not. Also drawing criticism from me on the safety front is the well below average all round visibility – see visibility below.
Had Alfa provided a demonstrator differently trimmed, I may have felt differently about this. As it was our car was unremittingly black inside, from the leather seats to the door trims and dashboard.
ERGONOMICS 7 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the “working environment”. The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively “feel” right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.
Alfa have managed to create a genuinely ‘different’ interior which works surprisingly well ergonomically. I had no problem hopping into this car and driving away from the off, merely having adjusted the position of the drivers seat.
VISIBILITY: 4 / 10
Regrettably those thick door and roof pillars do not, in this case, make a safer car. Compounding this impression are the wonderfully stylish, but rather impractical door mirrors. The view through the small rear window is not all that good either. This is not a good car for new or inexperienced drivers and being used to better all around visibility I felt it a little intimidating to drive for a compact car.
SPACE: 6 / 10:
Trimmed in any colour but funereal black, this interior would I am sure appear far more spacious. Up front there are no criticisms of the available space, although to give the passenger more space the fascia panel on the nearside has been cut away in a rather exaggerated manner.
This probably is not the type of car that you would buy if you regularly carry two (or three!) people in the back. However again, the rear space is well below the class norm, which would usually sit two or three people quite comfortably in the rear. The Alfa is lacking leg room and shoulder space, the rear cabin feeling again smaller than it otherwise would due to the small window area.
STYLE 6 / 10:
Again, one can only congratulate Alfa for injecting its own unique style into the interior, this does very much feel every inch an Alfa when you sit in it. However, to my eyes at least, the style looks rather dated, particularly that dashboard which has a particularly flimsy feel to it when judged against its competitiors. In the basic 147 at just under £14,000 it is acceptable, at the £18,000 plus level one feels the need for something just a little more sophisticated.
MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 5 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?
Again, due to Alfa’s fitment of the all leather option to this particular car, judging the interior quality of the standard car is made difficult. My wife commented that the leather seats had a rather strange texture to them, more like rubberised plastic than leather.
The plastics are of good quality although the overall build quality is not as tight in here as it is on many of the competitors, even the Convertible Astra – with the top down – did not creak and rattle the way this particular Alfa’s interior did.
AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 8 / 10: Strange grouping?
This particular 147 had the best climate control of any Alfa that I have driven. Being a Lusso model, it had the full house dual control heating system, which was easy to regulate and if anything was over keen to cool the car interior on this hot day.
It also had a fully integrated Bose sound system to compliment the engine’s high quality sound track.
ON THE ROAD……..
……Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.
NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 9 / 10 Silk purse or sow’s ear?
Here is where this 147 starts to claw back some ground.
I have driven many cars now with the same 1.9 litre diesel engine, including the Alfa GT coupe last year. Its potential was shown undoubtedly in that car and, having recently driven two Saab 9-3’s and an Astra with this engine, I am able to confirm that the Alfa installation of this power plant is the most successful overall.
In fact here in the 147 I would go as far as to say that this is a great engine!
Alfa have tuned the engine in order for it to behave – and importantly SOUND like an Alfa petrol engine. I suspect that this has largely been done by tweaking the exhaust, but however they have done it, the Alfa engineers have succeeded. Even at walking pace you are not aware of this being a diesel powered car.
Initially reacting with “an Alfa, with a diesel engine, NEVER!” even diehard Alfaholics are finding this an enjoyable engine to use in this car!
It is fast, smooth, totally lacking in vibration and is without doubt the 147’s ace card.
PERFORMANCE 9 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?
Here lays my reason for never appreciating the appeal of an Alfa Romeo. I have long held the opinion that Alfas always sound as though they are going much faster than they are. The fact that the 1.9JTD sounds like a petrol powered Alfa is all to the good, if you actually like the sound of an Alfa engine.
Here, in this car however, its accelerative capabilities are beyond doubt, it is considerably faster than the same car with the evergreen 2.0 petrol Twin Spark engine under the bonnet, in fact it leaves that car for dust! Not only does it accelerate rapidly through the gears but as you would expect with a diesel, it has tremendous pick up in high gears at speed due to the torque available.
Where the 150bhp 1.9 diesel feels lifeless and uninteresting in its installation in the Saab 9-3, here in the smaller, lighter Alfa 147, it feels alive, willing and full of character.
RIDE & HANDLING 6 / 10
Whoops a daisy!
Again age tells here, the 147 does after all ride on a chassis derived from the 1980’s Fiat Tipo. The 147 rides on quite taught suspension, but unfortunately the body shell is not really rigid enough to carry it off. Driven at normal speeds on the road, probably your only wish would be for a more compliant ride. Here at Millbrook on the very testing mountain circuit this was the only hatchback that I drove in which you could actually feel the chassis flex, accompanied by the aforementioned interior creaks. Again I have to say that the three door may well have a stiffer shell, but Alfa are marketing this as a sports hatch and it is in this category, handling, that it is found most wanting of all.
I actually liked the steering response and brakes, but unfortunately had less confidence in this car’s ability to tackle a tricky road than any other driven on the day, bar the Cadillac BLS (another car sharing the same engine!), but for different reasons. When it comes to cruising at high speed – 100mph is permitted here – you are left with a nuggety ride quality that over a really lond distance I would find most tiring.
CONCLUSION – Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?
With the possible exception of the Alfa 164, there has never been an Alfa produced that I have felt 100% comfortable with. Regrettably, the latest 147 joins a rather long list. Here we have a superb engine, and transmission, crying out for a better, more modern, home.
No, it would not be a car that my wife and I would wish to go to Poland in a single sitting in, it is too compromised due to the noise and hard ride to offer long distance comfort.
My conclusion, regrettably, has to be that at this price there are far better, more able all-rounders available. All are more modern designs and I can only hope that when Alfa launch a successor to this car, that in terms of safety, dynamics and interior space it matches the superb power installation in this car.
FINAL SCORE: 116 / 170 - 67.6%
Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:
Honda Accord i-CTDi Saloon 80.0%
Honda Jazz 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) 74.7%
Saab 9-3 TiD Vector (Same engine as Alfa)68.2%
Volvo S60 D5 SE 70.6%
Summary: Doesn't make good economic sense bought new, there are better bets second hand too.