Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
As the aircraft taxied to a halt the first thing we saw out the window was a line of 147 GTA's. We'd got on the right plane then.
Alfa Romeo Australia invited ItalianCar down to Albury recently to test drive the new 'hyper-hatch' 147 GTA around the beautiful rolling countryside of Albury-Wodonga. The reason for the choice of location became apparent within the first half an hour - quite apart from the breathtaking beauty of the countryside - rolling hills with the mountains as backdrop - the roads are an absolute pleasure to drive: open straights with plenty of visibility as well as twisty bits to test the new car - and practically empty.
The Alfa 147 GTA is one of a new emerging breed of hatchbacks - too powerful to be classed alongside the 'hot-hatches' of yesteryear (think Golf GTI, Peugeot 205 GTI), the new contenders for title of 'hyper-hatch' are the likes of the Renault Clio V6, the forthcoming new Golf R32 and the Audi S3 - all with the next engine size up, generally a 3.0 V6. In the UK the magazine 'AutoCar' recently tested a number of these machines and the Alfa 147 GTA got the prize - in a straight speed test 0-100-0mph (up and down again) the 147 beat all comers with a time of 14.1 secs to 100mph and just 4.5 secs back to 0 (5.6 secs 0-60mph). This was better than the Porsche Boxster S.
Originally touted with a suggested price tag of $85,000 Alfa Romeo Australia have just announced a much keener price of $59,990 - thank you Australian Dollar! Thirty of the new model are already sold and the company is expecting to sell 10-20 147 GTA's a month. There is a full technical spec on the 147 GTA elsewhere on this site (here) but suffice it to say that the $60K price tag gets you everything except metallic paint ($950), Xenon headlights ($1,500) and heated leather sports seats ($3500). And if you want a sunroof - tough.
The original GTA designation (used first on the 1955 Giulia 1600 Sprint GTA) referred to a lightened body shell which made the car faster but the 147 GTA is in fact heavier than the standard model - all the power comes from the increased engine grunt. This is also the case with the 156 GTA - only the motorsport 156 GTA-m has lightened body panels - there will be a 147 GTA-m model but as yet no definite production schedule.
The car ItalianCar got its hands on was a standard model - cloth trim but with the Xenon headlights option. Jumping in the car for the first time everything seemed to be set up perfectly - the driver's seat is firm but comfortable - and all controls are comfortably within reach. As with many Italian cars the (drilled aluminium) accelerator and brake pedals are very close together (presumably for all that heel and toeing) but straightforward to get used to. Once all the mirrors were set up a quick turn on the key and the engine came to life. Last out of the paddock (all other journalists having screamed off minutes earlier) and taxiing at a sedate rate whilst within view of the Alfa Romeo team, we drove off into a somewhat grey morning in the NSW/VIC countryside.
At this point the ItalianCar Editor should come clean that his normal mode of transport is not some exotic Italian beast but a rather more sedate Korean Hyundai Excel (2000 model - no old rubbish). In comparison the 147 GTA feels incomparably solid and responsive - the gears are very firm and positive and clutch firm without being sharp despite the newness of the car. After a while on the road it was time to 'test the acceleration' on a clear stretch. The overwhelming feeling is one of smoothness - the car is positive and maintains a straight line even with sharp foot to the floor acceleration. Likewise reasonably hard braking brings the car to a stop without any fuss - thanks to the several different computerised systems on board.
The 300Nm torque figure means that good acceleration can be got pretty much out of any gear - including top (6th) gear - making overtaking a delight. The 147 GTA positively relishes the 'up hill and down dale' of the Albury countryside - turning into a left-hander slightly fast you feel the back end drift out a little bit but nothing particularly uncomfortable. Inside the car creature comforts are aplenty - cup holders here, vanity mirrors up here, armrests there - air conditioning (took a little while to work out how it worked) and a CD/radio with controls on the steering wheel. As there was no radio reception to speak of on the drive route Alfa kindly supplied a music CD to listen to. With no music playing there is some wind noise at higher speeds but my guess is that this is intentional on Alfa's part - no silent gliding for the Alfa owner - if he/she wanted that they would have bought a Merc instead (or perhaps a 166?).
Before reluctantly handing the car back at the end of the day I suddenly realised we hadn't checked out any of those practical things that all good test drivers should cover - so - in answer to your practical questions:
1) yes it is a little cramped in the back - particularly
if you have long legs but the seats are very comfortable
With a price tag of $60K the question is - is the 147 GTA worth 4 Hyundai Excels? It's a question I can't really answer OK yes then.
PS when I got back in the Hyundai waiting in the car park at Sydney airport it felt well - a little jaded. Such is life.
Click here for full 147 GTA tech spec
© 2003 italiancar 16/08/03