THE Alfa Romeo 147 was good enough to convince journalists to vote it Car of the Year 2001, ahead of the likes of Ford's impressive new Mondeo and the environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius.
It follows in the footsteps of its larger sibling, the 156, which won the title in 1998, and gave Alfa the credibility it needed in the fleet market to compete against the BMW 3-series and Audi A4. The 147 replaces the three-door 145 and five-door 146, but for now, only the three-door is on sale in the UK.
And far from being a rival to volume hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, Alfa is aiming straight at the premium end of the sector alongside the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf.
The biggest sellers will probably be the 1.6-litre variants, which use a new version of the Twin Spark engine, and we have chosen the higher specification 1.6 Lusso, which retails at ú14,090 on-the-road, for this test.
On sale from February 1, the Alfa 147 is initially available in three versions.
There is a choice of a new 1.6-litre Twin Spark engine, in either Turismo or Lusso trim, and a 2.0 Selespeed with an F1-style paddle gearchange.
The Selespeed is an acquired taste, with drivers needing to put in some miles behind the wheel before the gearchanges become lightning-quick.
But in four months, five-door models will come to the UK along with a standard manual version of the 2.0-litre.
Prices kick off at less than ú13,000 for the 1.6 Turismo and for that price you get air conditioning, RDS radio/cassette, trip computer, electric windows, six airbags, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, anti-slip regulation (ASR) and remote central locking for doors and boot.
There are no plans to introduce a diesel at this stage - the 1.9 JTD used on the Continent is not thought powerful enough for the UK market, and the 2.4 JTD used in the 156 will not be carried over into the 147.
However, the next generation of JTD engines could eventually signal a diesel version for the UK.
There is a 'hot' version of the 147 in the pipeline, using a turbocharged version of the 2.0 Twin Spark engine. But this will not be available until after the 'hot' 156 GTA goes on sale next year, using a 260bhp 3.2-litre V6.