Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - 147 - GTA 3-dr hatch
Alfa Romeo models
Performance, handling, grip, steering, styling, price
Room for improvement
Tight turning circle, optional leather, sunroof and Xenons
13 Jan 2004
ACCORDING to the notes collected during a week-long experience with Alfa Romeo’s 147 GTA, one negative stands out: the punchy little Alfa has a helluva big turning circle.
Despite its almost radically flared front wheel arches, the outsized 7.5-inch wide wheels wrapped in their 225/45-section 17-inch tyres ultimately limit front-wheel lock. There’s not a lot of room to move, meaning the steering lock needed to be reduced to avoid contact between the edges of the tyres and the bodywork.
The end result is a turning circle which, at 12.1 metres, is equivalent to that of many full-size four-wheel drives. Plenty of thought needs to be put into any tight manoeuvering of the GTA.
But as far as the negatives go, that’s actually about it – provided you’re comfortable with the idea of spending $60,000 on a car belonging to a model line that kicks off at less than $40,000.
The extra money buys you performance well beyond what you’d normally expect of a compact hatchback. In fact, the GTA’s zero to 100km/h figure of 6.3 seconds is faster than a Volvo S60 R, or a Subaru WRX – and it doesn’t have any turbo lag to cope with.
The specifications seem almost ludicrous. In a configuration where 2.0 litres of engine would normally be quite adequate, the GTA has 3.2 litres and 184kW of eager V6. And its 300Nm of non-turbocharged torque is produced in a linear, very useable way - unlike the turbo-induced torque of an S60 R or WRX.
Combine this with a relatively light 1360kg (for its size – it’s up about 110kg on the 2.0-litre 147) and it’s no surprise that the little Alfa turns out to be a relaxed, but always grunty performer.
It’s not so much that the GTA is able to accelerate in a way only a select few cars can match - it's the fact it does it all so easily.
The flexibility is exceptional to the point that it can be left in higher gears at far lower speeds than would ever be considered acceptable without any sign of driveline snatch or shuddering from the engine.
And, provided the driver doesn’t get really silly, a swift application of throttle will result in a smooth, strong surge of acceleration. Try that in just about any turbo-engined car. Alfa says the GTA can be dribbled down to less than 2000rpm in sixth gear and still accelerate away smoothly and strongly.
With capabilities like these, Alfa could easily have got away with a five-speed gearbox but, true to the car’s total integrity of design, it gets the same six-speed manual transmission used in the identically powered 156 GTA.
This means the driver never needs to face the problem of being in the right ratio for the occasion. The engine’s flexibility ensures there’s always power on hand the six-speed transmission means it’s always there in abundance.
Then there’s a set of dual-piston Brembo-calliper disc brakes, complete with four-channel anti-lock and electronic brake-force distribution to keep the whole package in check.
If we’ve outlined what sounds like a recipe for flexible, extremely rapid straight-line acceleration, easy highway passing and powerful braking, we haven’t necessarily suggested that the most important aspect of the car’s on-road abilities – its handling and roadholding – are at the same high levels.
It’s not difficult, really, to shoehorn a big engine into a relatively small body and create a formidable straight-liner.
The difficult part is creating such a car while avoiding the combined shortfalls of many compact-size hotshots of the past: one, a wheelbase so short that it magnifies any nervousness in the handling and two, the extra power fed through the front wheels creating enough torque steer to fight the driver every inch of the way.
The 146 GTA has some of the latter but, because the transmission is relatively high geared and the modified wishbone front suspension is so capable, the overall handling abilities are amazingly secure, predictable and, in terms of available grip, tenacious.
The GTA steadfastly refuses to be upset by mid-corner bumps and puts its power to the road cleanly, rarely resorting to the traction or stability control systems to keep it in hand.
In first or second gears, with a bit of steering lock applied, there’s a faint tugging at the wheel, but nothing disconcerting.
The fact is the 147 GTA belongs in pretty upper-echelon performance realms. It has that almost insolent ease that marks a genuinely fast car, whether it’s accelerating away in second, third, fourth or fifth, or threading its way through a series of sharp switchbacks that test handling and braking, as well as accelerative abilities.
Suddenly the $60,000 price tag seems quite appropriate.
Further addressing these impressions, the GTA comes pretty completely kitted out. Driver and passenger get proper high-back, sculpted sports seats, there’s climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, a trip computer, drilled floor pedals and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and steering wheel controls. Things like leather trim, power sunroof and Xenon headlights are optional.
From a practical viewpoint, the 147 GTA loses nothing to its lesser siblings with a 60-40 split-fold rear backrest, plus the benefits of being a hatchback. True to sports car expectations, it comes only in three-door form.
And it looks the part. The wide-track stance has been achieved by not just the installing of bigger, wider wheels, but also altering the body to flare the front and rear wheel arches quite dramatically outwards.
There’s a set of bigger air intakes at the front and a new rear bumper that incorporates mesh inserts in large "air extraction" vents. Atop the rear window, there’s also the obligatory spoiler.
In Europe creations like the 147 GTA are called "hyper hatches", which apparently refers to their use of big, but relatively easy-working engines rather than manic small ones.
The Alfa rates highly too, to the point it was awarded European Car of the Year in 2001.
The 147 GTA should gain a certain amount of affection in Australia, not just to local Alfistis but also to those who appreciate and respect a rorty but subtly balanced performance car that will pace it with others well beyond its price.
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