This week the GTA was in for it's first service, which was a mercifully cheap affair, and I was leant a 147 1.9TD badged as a "16v", which makes it the 150bhp model. It was fairly new, and had 10k miles on it, so it was fully run-in.
My impressions were as follows. Please note I'm not a fan of diesels, at all, in fact I'm not much of a fan of 4 cylinder petrol engines either, so don't take the engine comments to heart diesel-lovers- just remember how much less fuel you use than me
Firstly I'm not a fan of the facelifted 156 or 147 looks (though the 166 is better) - all are nice but I prefer the old noses. 3-door cars are a little weird to me too - the doors are huge for a small car and the seatbelts designed to give you backache as you reach for them! Generallythough I was very impressed with the interior build and layout, the dials were perhaps a tad fussy and less sporty than my cowled red 156 items, but the dash and materials were great.
The car had a superb ride/handling balance and great refinement/build quality. In 60 (mostly quick A-road) miles there were no tight corners in 60 limits but the handling felt good on sweeping bends, the ride far better than my GTA, and at a steady speed the lack of wind or road noise compared to either 156 I've owned was impressive - and the 156 is fine to me. It had a good seating position too.
The steering was a little dead in feel compared to my wife's Focus (which as the mags say has exceptional steering), but nice and quick. Same wheel with radio controls as my GTA so no complaints there.
The engine had impressive refinement on the move, and great pull between 2000 and 3500 rpm, then a little less to the 4500rpm redline. At idle it still clattered away, but even the latest 6 cylinder beemer diesels sound like tractors at idle, not sure if it can be avoided. It upset me in an Alfa. I'm not a fan of turbos as the throttle response is not instant - lag was slight, but enough to upset the purist. I was very disappointed with the low-revs performance, below 1500rpm in high gears there was nothing but juddering and clunking, no discernible acceleration, particularly off-boost. 1500-2000rpm was not amazingly quick either, I'm sure the old-spec 2.4JTD I drove was better here. I found the power band short and ended up changing gear as much as in a similarly quick petrol car (and a lot more than in the GTA). Luckily the gearchange was very nice, one I felt at ease with instantly.
Overall, a very nice little car, which seems to have adressed many of the old (alleged) Alfa failings of refinement, interior quality, and seating position. The engine was not for me, I felt it was perhaps too compromised at low revs by it's attempt to be so powerful. I'd love to try the newer 2.4's to see if they are better, and also would like to try a 147 2.0 petrol. It was a car I felt I could recommend - might consider a 147 as a replacement for the Focus for the better half... How have the later 147's been for reliability (say the last pre-facelift ones)?