Alfa Romeo's parent company Fiat Auto was the first manufacturer to bring common rail diesel to the mainstream. Indeed, the first production car to use the technology was the Alfa Romeo 156 JTD in 1997, but the UK has been at the back of the queue when it comes to receiving Alfas with a JTD engine under the bonnet.
We were offered the Alfa 156 2.4 JTD in the summer of 1999, two years after the 156 saloon went on sale. We have never had a diesel version of the executive 166 model in the UK to date, and it has only been in the last month or so that buyers have been able to choose a 147 JTD.
With diesel sales experiencing unprecedented growth in the UK, largely due to company car drivers switching to reduce or maintain low tax liability, it is a shame it has taken so long.
Perhaps this is down to a die-hard core of Alfa drivers who are set in their ways and mistakenly think diesels sound like tractors and the rev counter needle only goes half-way round the dial.
However, these people have been missing a trick, particularly if they drive a company car. Not only does the new 115bhp 1.9 JTD have more torque than any 147 apart from the mighty 3.2-litre V6 GTA, it also has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions. And the good news for diesel converts is that a 16-valve 140bhp version will follow in due course.
Two-and-a-half years after the Alfa 147 came to the UK, the appeal of its appearance has not diminished.
The strident grille and bi-focal headlamps are two of the less subtle details, but combined with the neat V-shape rear window base and the 'hidden' rear door handles in our five-door test car, it makes for an alluring design.
The interior is unashamedly driver-focused – you can only see the main instruments when sat behind the wheel, and the steering is almost impossibly direct, taking just 2.2 turns from lock to lock.
The rear compartment is not as roomy as the Peugeot 307, but acceptable for most people having to travel as a passenger. However, the boot is about 50 litres short of the class norm with the rear seats in place.
The 1.9-litre JTD has been around for some time and in 115bhp guise it certainly doesn't lack straight-line speed. A glance at the performance figures from 0-62mph compared with its running costs rivals show the Alfa Romeo has a 0.6 second advantage over the Renault, and a gulf of 1.1 seconds over the Peugeot. And you certainly feel its performance advantage in the mid-range, giving the 147 useful overtaking ability.
Out test car had standard 15-inch alloys that, combined with 195/60 section tyres, seemed keen to relinquish their grip on the road when driven with gusto along country lanes.
Drivers can upgrade to larger wheels with shallower, wider tyres but they would also have to weigh up the impact on the ride quality and road noise, which was reasonably subdued and calm on our test car.
Alfa Romeo 147 1.9 JTD Lusso 5dr fact file
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £15,945
CO2 emissions (g/km): 55
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 48.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,950/31%
Depreciation (17.26 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,356
Maintenance (2.62 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,572
Fuel (7.95 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,770
Wholelife cost (27.83 pence per mile x 60,000): £16,698
Typical contract hire rate: £367 per month
Three rivals to consider
PEUGEOT 307 aside, our test quartet are fairly evenly priced, separated by just under £600. However, the Renault Megane's list price advantage becomes clear when compared to the Peugeot – there is a gap of more than £1,000. The Alfa Romeo is more or less on a par with the top-of-the-range diesel Focus, but is still nearly £600 higher than the Megane. The bad news for the others is that this is as expensive as the Megane gets for the time being.
Alfa Romeo £15,945
THE Alfa falls roughly half- way between the most and least expensive in this comparison. Best of all is the Renault, putting its 18,000-mile service intervals to good use. However, the Peugeot does well considering its service intervals are 6,000 miles less than the Megane. The Ford comes bottom, working out at £198 more than the Alfa over three years/60,000 miles, and an extra £450 compared with the Megane.
Alfa Romeo 2.62ppm
EACH of these cars, with the exception of the Alfa, claims a combined fuel consumption figure in excess of 50mpg. Alfa claims 48.7mpg, which is under-performing for this class. However, it does boast more outright torque than any other car here and its sprint from 0-62mph is the best in this comparison. Fuel consumption is more down to individual driving style and some drivers would struggle to achieve 40mpg while others could achieve more than 50mpg in each of them.
Alfa Romeo 7.95ppm
THE Alfa scores well here, despite familiarity taking the shine off its retained value compared with the Audi A3/VW Golf-rivalling figures when the 147 was new. However, it comes close to matching the Megane and leaves both the Ford Focus and Peugeot 307 in its wake. A fleet running an Alfa 147 JTD would be worse off by £120 compared to a fleet with the Megane. The Alfa fleet operator would be pocketing £492 per car, though, over three years/60,000 miles, compared to one with the Focus.
Alfa Romeo 17.26ppm
ADDING up all the figures gives third place to Alfa 147, still in touch with the Peugeot and comfortably ahead of the Focus. However, the Megane takes a resounding victory in the running costs battle, perhaps proving that controversial-looking cars do not necessarily suffer poor RVs, provided all the other ingredients are right. Although it does reasonably well in each category, with the exception of fuel consumption, the Alfa majors on driver appeal rather than running costs.
Alfa Romeo 27.83ppm
Emissions and BIK tax rates
FOR this year at least, drivers will pay 18% of the P11d price for each of these cars. The Alfa is the only car here whose BIK tax liability will increase in 2004/05, while the Peugeot driver would not see any change in their bill for the next few years. Despite the Peugeot having the highest P11d price, the Alfa begins to incur a higher tax liability from next year. Meanwhile, the Renault would stay the cheapest from a BIK tax perspective over the next three years.
Alfa Romeo 155g/km/18%
THE Alfa 147 has much to offer the driving enthusiast in the right specification, and the JTD is the best compromise of performance with fuel economy, boding well for the forthcoming 16-valve JTD. That it beats the Focus TDCi – an equally entertaining car to drive – on running costs is to its credit. However, the Megane is also strong on driver appeal and its running costs advantage is such that even with its controversial styling we have to award it the victory.