Fleet News

Alfa Romeo 147

Alfa Romeo

Review

WHEN a car looks as distinctive as the Alfa Romeo 147, it’s hard to believe that lack of awareness could be hurting sales.

In fact, sales – and in particular corporate sales – could be the only area where the Alfa’s performance is lacklustre.

But the company believes the latest version of the car, combined with strong performance from the latest generation common rail diesel engines and a new corporate sales strategy, could make a bigger impression on the fleet market. A select group of contract hire companies will be courted over the next few weeks – four of the industry’s major players – to play a key role in plans to double the Italian brand’s volume in business registrations achieved by the 147 range.

Instead of organising a blanket direct mailing campaign, Alfa Romeo UK is hoping it is able to enlist the co-operation of the firms in formulating plans for a more focused approach to marketing the next-generation 147, which is due in the showrooms next spring.

Alfa fleet sales executive Mark Dodshon said: ‘The 147 was hailed as a great product when it was first revealed four years ago and it has been successful in winning 360,000 sales across Europe. However, it could have done better in the UK. Our research makes it clear that lack of awareness is the reason and this is particularly evident in the user-chooser sector, so we need to take more care over how the new version is targeted when it arrives in March.

As the revised sporting compact range was being launched to the international media in Italy, he added: ‘For what it offered in terms of styling, performance and driving pleasure, the original car had the potential to be a high-flyer in the fleet market, yet our sales figures clearly show that it under-performed.

‘The lesson is that we need to be clearly focused on the user-chooser sector against products like the Golf and the Focus as well as the BMW 1-series and Audi A3 as a growing number of business motorists opt to downsize from D-segment cars.

‘I’m confident this campaign can help us double our fleet volume to more than 3,800 units, but only after creating awareness.’

The revised line-up will mirror the current range by being offered in both three and five-door forms. It features styling changes that provide a fresh look at the front without spoiling the boxy but snappy overall appearance of the original design, which Alfa claims inspired a new upmarket compact sector and won it the youngest age group of drivers of C-sector cars in Europe. Dual-zone automatic climate control, uprated instrumentation and higher-grade trim give the car a more classy ambience, but tough trading conditions are likely to result in prices remaining similar to the current range.

Guigiaro, the famous Italian styling house that has influenced Alfa designs since the 1930s, helped the company reshape the front grille, lower its height in relation to the bonnet and give the front lamp clusters a more pronounced ‘wide-eyed’ look. The result is claimed to give the 147 a more aggressive stance and make it look a lot more racy when compared with its more conservatively-styled rivals.

That’s appropriate, given that the line-up of three Twinspark petrol engines of 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre capacities and two 1.9-litre turbodiesel motors will include the lusty new JTD M-jet unit developed for the GT Coupe model.

Dodshon said: ‘We predicted a 60-40 split favouring petrol power when the GT went into UK showrooms seven months ago, but the 150bhp M-jet has been an instant hit and orders are running at 70-30 in favour of diesel. That makes us confident it will boost 147 sales in future.’

Putting a hefty 224lb-ft torque on tap from only 2,000 rpm, the 16-valve motor has a more prodigious output than its 150bhp petrol equivalent and will become the range flagship for blending sparkling performance with impressive economy.

Underlining the ability of the top M-jet unit to provide the power for effortless long distance travel is a major departure for Alfa – a new Comfort suspension system developed to provide a more supple ride quality without losing the pin-sharp handling characteristics associated with the marque.

Standard only on the top diesel car but optional on other versions, the package uses modified shock absorbers and different damping settings to give greater stability and ease of control right up to the point when tyres begin to lose their grip. As in the current range, five and six-speed manual gearboxes are standard according to model, but it is not yet clear if the revised UK line-up will include an Easy Speed version of the Selespeed two-pedal transmission system that harnesses electrohydraulics to manage ratio shifts.

Said to be more user friendly, the robotised unit dispenses with steering wheel paddle to operate only via its central gearstick lever, but it works well and offers manual or automatic operation in normal or sports modes.

Behind the wheel

ALFA makes no excuses for targeting the Audi A3 with its next-time-around 147 – and what the Italian car lacks in perceived quality, it certainly makes up for in character.

In its latest guise, the 147 appears bigger because it has an extended overhang at the front, but interior packaging remains unchanged, with adequate rather than generous accommodation in the rear. However, wide rear doors make getting into and out of the rear seat particularly easy.

As ever, there’s a lot to like from behind the wheel in any version, but I’d recommend diesel fans to head straight for the top model with the brilliant M-jet motor under its bonnet.

Free-revving and smooth, this unit packs such a refined punch that it deserves to be compared with the best of its rivals in the fast-growing 150bhp club – and that list includes the latest offering from BMW.

Mated to a slick-changing manual transmission, it powers away in impressive fashion and is so highly geared in sixth (it spins at under 3,000 rpm at 100mph) that it is a dream motorway cruiser.

Sharp handling has always played a central role in the Alfa heritage, so aficionados might be concerned that the move toward a more compliant ride might damage the macho image of the brand. My response to that is to report that the Comfort pack performed with flying colours over the appalling patchwork of road surfaces of our test route around Naples, and the car still felt responsive and composed.

Driving verdict

DIESEL engines already power four out of every 10 Alfa 147 models, compared with the C-sector average of 32%, and that proportion looks set to rise still further thanks to the latest M-jet motor. It makes a good car even better.

Alfa Romeo fact file

1.6 1.6 2.0 1.9 JTD 8v 1.9 JTD M-jet
Engine (cc): 1,598 1,598 1,970 1,910 1,910
Max power (bhp/rpm): 105/5,600 120/6,200 150/6,300 115/4,000 150/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 103/4,200 107/4,200 133/3,800 202/2,000 224/2,000
Max speed (mph): 114 121 129 118 129
0-62mph (sec): 11.3 10.6 9.3 9.9 8.8
Fuel consumption (mpg): 34.8 34.4 31.7 48.7 47.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 192 194 211 155 157
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2
Transmission: 5-sp man ; 6-sp man
Service interval (miles): 12,000
Prices (estimated): £13,500 to £19,000
On-sale: March 2005

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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