Aggressively styled, athletic and dripping attitude from every gorgeous curve and flank, it sashayed in the 156’s footsteps with catwalk style and flair in 2001.
But despite its looks and the feisty performance of its petrol and diesel engines and despite winning the European Car of the Year in 2001 – a double-edged sword if ever there was one – the Alfa was never a major user-chooser hit.
A problem, Alfa claims, that was down to lack of awareness. A poor customer care record, below-par reliability and wallet-wilting residuals might also have something to do with it. And to compound matters, the Alfa will now find the premium hatch sector a crowded place.
The Audi A3 and the BMW 1-series are its biggest adversaries – both are newer and have that Germanic engineering bias and keyfob kudos so essential in this elevated sector.
Alfa has plenty of lost ground to cover. Time for a nip here and a tuck there.
One of the 147’s major problems was its ride quality. The Alfa’s double wishbone front and McPherson strut rear suspension constantly fidgeted and twitched over the slightest imperfections, making traversing anything but the smoothest Tarmac a tiringly uncomfortable experience.
To address this, the 147 gets revised spring and dampers and the option of a Comfort suspension setting with even more absorbent settings.
There’s been a slight shuffle in the engine line-up. The 105bhp and 120bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and the 150bhp 2.0-litre TwinSpark engines are carried over intact, as is the 115bhp 1.9-litre JTD common rail diesel engine, but the more powerful 140bhp 1.9-litre JTD is dropped in favour of the flagship 150bhp 1.9-litre MultiJet diesel borrowed from the new GT coupe. While all the other engines drive the front axle through five-speed manual or semi-automatic Selespeed transmissions, the new 150bhp diesel gets a six-speed manual gearbox.
The 147 is well equipped too – all models now come with climate control, powered windows and mirrors, remote central locking and an eight speaker CD sound system. There’s also the option of Alfa’s Connect infotainment system, which links the driver to an operator who can provide information on traffic flow and route directions, as well as book hotels and locate service centres.
The safety count is high too – there are six airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution fitted to all 147 models, with a choice of traction and stability controls on upper-echelon models.
And these improvements and changes are flagged up by a mild Giugiaro-penned facelift that centres on the 147’s distinctive face. Bigger, longer and more jutting, the Alfa grille is flanked by redesigned headlamps. Longer and more aggressively tapered, they each house three individual lighting elements behind a clear polycarbonate cover.
They are topped and tailed by a more sculpted bonnet and a reprofiled front bumper. At the rear, a thin strip of chrome edges the lip of the tailgate. The changes give the 147 a far cleaner, less cluttered look while still reinforcing its distinctively aggressive face. This is a car with a lot of rearview mirror presence.
Inside, the cabin gets a few minor tweaks – new graphics on the instrumentation, a wider choice of plastics and materials trim and new rear headrests that offer better visibility.
These changes are only introduced on four-cylinder models – the piping hot GTA model retains the pre-facelift looks.
Prices for both three-door and five-door models remain unchanged – they range from £13,360 for the entry-level three-door 1.6-litre TwinSpark to a hefty £19,040 for the flagship 2.0-litre Selespeed. The flagship GTA costs £22,750.
Behind the wheel
Drop down into the 147’s cabin and its hard not to be impressed. It has a real sense of occasion – driver-oriented and flamboyantly laid out, it’s the total opposite of the sombre and straightlaced interiors of the A3 and 1-series. But while most of the plastics are soft to the touch, the fit and finish on our test car was mediocre with odd but persistent squeaks. The pedals are poorly positioned and the superb three-spoke steering wheel could so with more adjustment on its reach and rake movement. Rear passengers will find legroom adequate, but no more.
Although the suspension tweaks have gone some way to improving the 147’s ride quality, it’s still far from perfect. Even on our top-dog MultiJet test car, fitted with the Comfort suspension setting, the car often felt unsettled and crashy.
The chassis just never feels composed. Instead of putting the driver in touch with what’s beneath the tyres, the suspension still fidgets and fights its way over intrusions. It’s a disappointing discovery given the claims Alfa has made of addressing this problem.
We focused on the new engine in the 147 line-up – the uprated 1.9-litre MultiJet already found in the GT coupe. Its on-paper credentials are impressive. The 16-valve unit develops 150bhp at 4,000rpm and a massive 225lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm. That’s more torque than the madcap 3.2-litre V6 GTA can muster. The MultiJet unit accelerates to 60mph in 8.8 seconds and touches 129mph flat out, while returning 47.9mpg on the combined cycle. Naturally it’s Euro IV compliant and has a low 157g/km CO2 rating.
This is a superb powerplant. It revs hard and fast to its redline, delivering hefty dollops of torque so that the 147 simply annihilates slower traffic and flattens inclines.
The all-alloy engine is also incredibly refined and responsive – blip the throttle and it responds sweetly, racing quickly through the revs with addictive enthusiasm.
It accelerates from 70mph in top – when the engine is ticking over at a languid 2,000rpm – with the same kind of enthusiasm most hot hatches can only match in third gear.
It’s a terrifically quick car, capable of covering a lot of ground quickly and effortlessly. The six-speed box is typically Alfa – long in throw but accurate and with a pleasing mechanical feel to it. And with so much torque, it’s all too easy to jump from first to third to sixth gear.
But with such accessible speed, it’s a pity the brakes are so soft. It seems they were left out of the upgrade programme – they could do with more initial bite and overall strength. And the steering, although pin-sharp and quick, battled with handling all that torque, sending the nose sniffing back and forth across the road in search of the smallest camber change. Combine this with the Alfa’s nervous ride, and the 147 is a bit of handful over patchworked and undulating roads. Too often, the engine highlights just how tired the rest of the 147 package feels.
For all its faults – its frustratingly fidgety ride, modest rear legroom, so-so build quality and average brakes – the 147 is a car brimful of character and panache. This brio is complemented by the sparkling brilliance of the MultiJet engine. While it may boost Alfa’s fleet sales to 3,800 this year, its left-field character will mean it will always trail its German rivals. By a long way.
Model: Alfa 147 1.9 MultiJet Lusso
Max power (bhp/rpm): 150/4000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 225/2000
Max speed (mph): 129mph
0-60mph (secs): 8.8
Fuel consumption (mpg): 47.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 157
Fuel tanks capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2
Service intervals (miles): 12,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £18,390