Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - 147 - JTD 5-dr hatch
Alfa Romeo models
Low-speed engine response, economy, light, easy feel on road
Room for improvement
Cramped back seat, poor turning circle
29 Sep 2006
By LUC BRITTEN
ONE might have thought it would be the volume seller for Alfa Romeo in Australia, what with it being the lowest-priced badge-bearer, but the reality is that the 147 model has been close to lineball on sales with the bigger 156 model since it was launched here in 2001.
Peaking at a little less than 1200 sales in the year after its launch, the baby Alfa has since then trotted along with 700 or so annual conquests, much the same as the 156.
This might have something to do with the 147’s having changed little visually since 2001. It hasn’t gone into any decline as a result of its opposition revealing new models, but it hasn’t helped Alfa lift its game either. That will probably happen when the all-new 159 is launched in late May.
But the 147 remains a tidy little package, polished up a bit in late 2003 when the Ti model arrived and still offering a genuine Alfa experience brought home very forcefully in the 184kW, V6-powered GTA which also arrived in 2003, a couple of months before the Ti.
And now we have the JTD, Alfa’s first diesel-powered car here, although it couldn’t be said the company doesn’t have experience with oil burners because more than 70 per cent of its sales in Europe are diesels.
Interestingly, and unusual among diesel variants of similar-size petrol engines, the 1.9-litre 147 JTD produces exactly the same power as the 2.0-litre Twin Spark Alfa engine – 110kW. Of course we are talking about turbocharged here, and we are talking about those kilowatts coming in at a very low 4000rpm, but it’s instructional to compare the Alfa diesel with, say, the 2.0-litre VW Golf diesel that produces 103kW compared with the petrol 2.0-litre’s 110kW.
As you’d expect, the Alfa diesel churns out the torque too, producing a solid 305Nm at a loafing 2000rpm – although the Golf manages 320Nm at 1750rpm – to produce the solid mid-range power we’ve come to expect.
Even better is the fuel economy. Here, the Alfa stars with a combined average of 5.9L/100km compared with the VW’s 6.1 litres/100km, which says something because the Alfa is a bit porkier, its 1310kg kerb weight comparing unfavourably with the Golf turbodiesel’s 1240kg.
And the seeming advantages enjoyed by the VW continue falling short of expectations in acceleration times, where the 147 blitzes the Golf from zero to 100km/h, getting there in just 8.8 seconds - a solid half-second faster, and also faster than the 2.0-litre petrol Twin Spark 147.
But Alfa Romeo saddles the 147 JTD with a big ask. At $39,990 it’s quite a bit above any of the turbodiesel VWs.
The real competition is Audi’s A3 TDI – a car that also faces its own nemesis in the VW because it is priced, at all levels, above even the 147 JTD. The Alfa looks more reasonable in that light.
Within the 147 range, the JTD sits comfortably enough. It’s a little above the run of the mill Twin Spark models, exactly the same price as the (three-door) Ti and well short of the thundering 147 GTA.
So how does this frugal, state-of-the-art, twin-cam, 16-valve, common-rail "Multijet" direct injection turbodiesel perform? Well, despite Alfa’s statements about being leaders of the charge in diesel engineering, the 147 JTD is not hugely different, in a tangible sense, to any other good, modern four-cylinder turbodiesel.
It just may be a tad quieter than the VW, and maybe even a little smoother, but if there is any difference, there’s not much in it.
The JTD starts almost immediately from cold, where it exudes for a little while the distinct whiff of diesel, then surges away with profound ease unless you ask it to rev out to the 4500rpm red line. A pointless exercise that probably reduces the acceleration and lifts the fuel consumption.
The JTD is best left to do its work at the bottom end of the rev range, muscling through the gears (the shift is quite light and positive, the clutch smooth) so easily you begin to wonder why the bother with a six-speed manual.
Particularly when you attempt to use sixth below 70 km/h and the 147 really begins to sound and feel like a diesel as it shudderingly accepts the low revs.
The payoff of course is on a long cruise where the barely-spinning turbodiesel is reluctant to use any fuel at all. Watch the instant economy readout and you’ll see some amazing figures.
On test we averaged, according to the trip computer, around 6.3L/100km – a bit short of the claimed figure but affected by the fact that most of our running with the JTD was in the suburbs.
And the claimed acceleration figures seem pretty realistic because the 147 JTD really is a quick around-town car. The easy, low-revving acceleration and smooth gearshift-clutch make it a blast to drive in traffic, while the ready torque is wonderful on a tight, winding road where the JTD will accelerate out of corners with a solid, low-rpm shove in the back. And of course highway passing manoeuvres are quick and decisive.
The balance of the JTD feels the same as any other 147 – that is, it points with eagerness and accuracy, keeping any thoughts of kneeling, front-drive plough well in the background. If there’s any deficit in the all-independent suspension (double wishbones at the front, MacPherson struts at the back) it’s a tinge of roughness in the ride, a tendency not to like sharp bumps, where some "spikes" in the cushioning abilities of the springs and shock absorbers tend to show up.
And, probably partly due to its fat, standard-equipment 215/45WR17 tyres on their 17-inch alloy wheels, the turning circle, at 11.5 metres, is not impressive for a small car.
Inside, the 146 JTD is all modern-day Alfa. The driving position, with a two-way adjustable steering wheel and height-adjustable seat, is no problem and the pedals are arrayed so as not to confound size 11 feet.
The trim materials are showing a move away from the easily-scuffed surfaces once so loved by Alfa Romeo and the instruments are nicely laid out and easy to use, except for small aberrations like the fiddly radio buttons and the out of sight cruise control stalk. At least there are (illuminated) volume control and station selection buttons on the steering wheel.
Interior space? Well, that’s not something the 147 excels at, although it is possible to have four adults on board provided there’s a bit of scrimping up front. Even then, the rear seat’s upright backrest limits the amount of time a passenger is willing to ride there.
The seats themselves are very comfortable, velour trimmed and manually adjusted at the front. The chunky leather-trimmed steering wheel is lovely to grip and nice to look at.
The 147’s boot is aided by the 60-40 split-fold back seat, but the process of doing so is a bit awkward even if the 147 uses those neat space-saving headrests that push well down into the seat. They still need to be removed though if any of the front seats’ rearward adjustment is used. But the 147 will still take a bike or two quite easily, providing their front wheels are removed.
It’s quite well fitted out, the 147 JTD, with dual climate-control air-conditioning, trip computer, cruise control, and a good eight-speaker, single-CD sound system.
Passive and active safety are addressed as you’d expect of a good European, with twin front and side airbags, full-length curtain airbags, ABS with ABD, electronic stability control and traction control.
All in all, an endearing car. Certainly there are no reservations about maintaining Alfa levels of performance and handling, and there is the increasingly relevant benefit of incredibly frugal operation. About the only problem – and the 147 isn’t really alone as a small hatchback here – is that things can become a little cramped inside if you try to make full use of its four-door interior.
One small thing. Why has Alfa Romeo stooped to concealing the JTD engine underneath one of those chintzy plastic covers? Are they ashamed of the fact it’s a diesel underneath?
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