While North American enthusiasts may think of Alfa Romeo as a manufacturer of executive sedans and sports cars, the Italian brand has long maintained a presence in the compact (C) segment. Over the years, they have produced some truly enjoyable compacts like this: the 147 GTA, a compact hatch with a big V6 under the hood.
(clockwise from top left) Alfasud, 33, 147, Giulietta, MiTo, 145
The 147 lived a long life, launched in 2000 to critical acclaim – it was 2001’s European Car of the Year – and surviving all the way until 2010 when it was replaced by the C-segment Giulietta and B-segment MiTo. Both are relatively competitive offerings but hardly class-leaders and according to the latest reports out of FCA, they are slated for discontinuation as Alfa Romeo goes upmarket and moves to rear-wheel-drive platforms. This will end a long tradition of compact, two-box, front-wheel-drive Alfa Romeos that started with the Alfasud of 1971.
As one would expect from Alfa Romeo, each generation of their compact range has featured numerous sporty models, generally wearing names like Ti and Quadrifoglio. But the wildest Alfa compact of all was the 147 GTA. Unlike the rival Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R32, there was no clever front differential or all-wheel-drive system. Instead, modifications were limited to the usual stiffer springs and dampers, thicker stabiliser bar and bigger (17-inch) wheels. The GTA’s lusty 3.2 V6 delivered power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, and it was even more powerful than its rivals with 247 hp at 6200 rpm and 220 ft-lbs of torque at 4800 rpm. The GTA hit 60 mph in 6.2 seconds.
The 147 GTA, as you would expect, was both blessed and cursed by that big V6 under the hood. While Jeremy Clarkson panned the car’s wobbly chassis, constantly-engaged traction control and noticeable torque steer, he and his Top Gear compatriots all agreed the Alfa’s charm made it more desirable to them than the rival Golf and Focus. Among other reviewers, the general consensus was that the GTA rode a bit hard, but not unreasonably so. Torque steer was present, but not unmanageably so. Oh, and the turning circle and optional Selespeed clutchless manual were both crap.
Alfa Romeo had improved their quality and reliability by the dawn of the 21st century but they still weren’t at the top of JD Power or, indeed, very far from the bottom. But that’s the thing about Alfa Romeos, right? You may have to sacrifice some reliability and some build quality, and the dynamics might not be quite as well-sorted as a German car. But they inspire passion. You take one for a drive and you fall in love with it. The 147 GTA is bound to become a collectible with only 5,029 units produced, around 4/5ths of which were equipped with the superior manual transmission.
After all, how could you not be charmed by a sonorous Italian V6 in a 3146-pound body?