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First drive: Alfa’s red-blooded 147 GTA hot hatch

No show pony: compact 147 GTA hatch packs a monster punch.

A storming 184kW V6 makes the hottest 147 more than your garden variety hatch

22 Aug 2003

ALFA Romeo’s new performance flagship has finally arrived Down Under, and it seems the wait for the hairy-chested 147 GTA hot hatch has been worth it.

Originally due on sale here at the beginning of this year, a global supply shortage has meant the quickest 147 has taken until August 15 to officially go on sale here.

But the 50 die-hard Alfisti that have already put down money for the V6-powered hatch won’t be disappointed, if our 300km drive during the local launch is any indication.

The latest entrant in what Europe calls the hyper hatch class, 147 GTA is the second recent Alfa to revive the famed Grand Touring Alleggerita nameplate and will be a direct rival for small-bodied, big-engined performance kings such as the forthcoming Golf R32 and Audi’s S3 – the next generation of which will feature the R32’s all-wheel/V6 drivetrain.

At $59,990 – a cool $30,000 less than the 156 GTA, Alfa’s most expensive model – the three-door 147 GTA will vie for sales in Australia’s fickle sports coupe market with everything from Monaro and BMW 325ti to Nissan 350Z, Mazda RX-8 and even Impreza WRX STi.

With many Mini owners paying around the same mark for a fully optioned Cooper S, it should also be a rival for 147 GTA. Alfa Romeo Australia obviously concurs, judging by the cinema advertising campaign it will coincide with remake film, The Italian Job, which heavily features the new Mini. Its slogan will be “The real Italian job”.

Alfa Oz expects initial 147 GTA sales of 10-20 per month to double following the launch of a new six-speed Selespeed variant from around the middle of next year, and those figures seem conservative given the Italian hatch’s giant-killing performance.

Weighing in at 1360kg, or just 50kg less than the larger 156 GTA, the hyper 147 nevertheless features the same muscular 3.2-litre incarnation of Alfa's vivacious V6 as revered in the 156 GTA.

Thanks to the engine's larger displacement - courtesy of a longer stroke now measuring 78mm - different engine mapping and the fitment of an oil-cooler, the 147 GTA's 3.179-litre 24-valve V6 produces 184kW at 6200rpm and a handy 300Nm of torque, which represents an 18kW increase on the flagship 166 and is 22kW up on the rorty 3.0-litre V6 offered in the Spider and GTV.

Not only is 147 GTA the fastest and most powerful of its hyper hatch peers, it matches some of the most powerful front-wheel drive cars available, bettering Mitsubishi's wild Ralliart Magna by 4kW but falling short of Volvo's range-topping 200kW S80 T6 sedan.

As such, it betters the 1410kg 156 GTA’s claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time by a tenth at 6.3 seconds, but its bootless, higher-drag bodyshell sees it fall short of the sedan’s 250km/h top speed by just 4km/h. These claimed figures put 147 GTA squarely in the ballpark of Commodore SS and Falcon XR8, but overseas magazine tests have proven it to be even quicker, even bettering exotics like the Porsche Boxster S to 160km/h.

So there’s no denying the quickest Alfa’s performance credentials, but 147 GTA also gets a quicker steering, beefier brakes, firmer suspension, a revised look and an impressive standard equipment list.

Featuring the same 1.7-turns-lock-to-lock steering rack as its GTA sibling, one of the quickest in the business, 147 GTA also gets as standard a bigger Brembo brake package, including large 305 x 28mm ventilated front brake discs with a twin-piston calliper, and 276 x 10mm solid rear discs.

Flared wheel-arches wrap around wider wheel tracks at both ends, while deeper and more gaping bumpers, sculpted side skirts, a rear door wing and unique 17-inch alloys add subtle aggression to the standard 147 body. Cloth-trimmed sports buckets, matching door trims, alloy pedal covers and specific instruments set the tone inside.

Xenon lights with washers ($1500), higher-backed leather sports seats ($3500) and metallic paint ($950) are the only options available on top of 147 GTA’s well-featured standard specification, which includes ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, switchable ASR traction control, and twin front and side airbags.

The standard kit also extends to foglights, remote central locking, power windows and (heated) mirrors, cruise, trip computer, dual-zone climate control, eight-speaker Bose CD sound system and a multifunction leather steering wheel, a rear armrest with through-loading function, plus a height and reach adjustable steering wheel.

147 GTA also gets Alfa’s (unswitchable) VDC stability control, which is unavailable on 156 GTA, but there is no full-size spare wheel.


ONE drive in the 147 GTA is enough to know it offers serious performance credentials – and enough to lament the loss of the small car/big engine concept pioneered by some lateral thinking Americans not that long ago.

But don’t go thinking this is simply a more compact version of the four-foor 156 GTA, which employs the same ballistic V6 but suffers from ridiculously low bodywork, thumpy suspension and a big dose of distracting torque steer.

The 147 GTA presents none of these problems, offering a delightfully well balanced and neutral chassis that’s sprung more firmly than standard and delivers amazing handling response, but could never be described as harsh from the tight hug of the sports buckets seats.

The super-quick steering rack, as in the 156 GTA, does take some getting used to and with a slightly over-assisted feel around centre, can make the GTA feel lacking in directional stability.

Slightly fiddly to maintain a straight line on the freeway, this GTA is definitely a two-handed device during spirited going. But work the wheel harder and it’s clear where the advantages lie: incredibly crisp turn-in, good feedback and well controlled torque steer even in low-speed/high-rev situations.

There is a degree of steering kickback at the limit of adhesion, the rock-solid bodyshell can buck over mid-corner bumps and the turning circle isn’t the greatest at 12.1 metres. But they’re minor glitches on an otherwise sparkling chassis that delivers rally-style lift-off oversteer and a balanced nature that just begs to be exploited.

Like the steering, the big Brembo brakes compliment the rest of the car perfectly, but it’s the engine that really impresses. Feeling even quicker than in the 156 GTA, the brawny 3.2 V6 not only offers buckets of low-down torque for lazy city and highway driving and an effortless 7000rpm redline for mountain passes, but sounds and looks great too.

It’s best is easily exploited by a close-ratio six-speed manual that’s let down only by a slightly vague, long-throw gate and closely spaced pedals, but the flexibility of the V6 means one never tires from constant rowing of the gearlever.

In fact, despite sensible gearing that sees the engine revving at just 2500rpm at 100km/h in sixth gear, there’s still plenty of tractability to be had at those revs, backing up Alfa’s claim the 147 GTA really does offer the best of both the driveability and performance worlds.

Yes, minor faults aside, 147 GTA could quite clearly become a new front-drive benchmark. In fact, any hyper hatch buyer should kick themselves for buying something else without driving it first.

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