DAVE MOORE: Buying a used Alfa Romeo 147 (2001-2009)

Baby Alfa is a beauty, but buying one requires care says DAVE MOORE.

These achingly pretty cars still look good after 15 years on the market and they can be had pretty cheaply too, which means the 147 can appeal to a variety of budgets.

The 147, like all Alfas, suffers from people with long memories, who simply don't trust Italian cars because a family member or friend had one in the 70s and had a string of woeful tales to tell.

However, while there's no doubt that they are not as trustworthy perhaps as more run of the mill cars, we know of owners who have had no trouble or work done beyond recommended servicing in 175,000km, with the 147 being one of the better performers in this area among Alfas. Having said that we have heard of others that gave-up their electrics well before that.

The car was launched to the world in Monte Carlo in 2001 with its strongest points: looks, and handling prowess being shown-off best on the fabulous Corniche route, among the rich and famous.

The car's engine choices are all good runners. the 3.2-litre V6 GTA is the ultimate performer, but the car's chassis isn't really up to handling 200kW plus and most drivers aren't up to wrestling with that model's torque steer with all that grunt going through the front wheels.

The 1.6 is no slug, but the 2.0-litre Twin Spark is a honey, being flexible and able to charm with its noise as much as with its power.

Don't ignore the 1.9-diesel which is related to Fiat's excellent Multipoint unit, it's punchy and flexible and sips its gas.

While two-pedal ‘Selespeed’ versions were available, the car is best with a manual transmission, though its crowded footwell needs getting used to and lightweight slimline shoes are recommended. We recommend Tod's loafers - which means you feet will look good too.

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The 147's interior is a delight, well designed and with very elegant textures and detailing and unlike the old days, we didn't come across one that rattled any more than any similarly aged German car.

Rear room isn't the best and neither is the boot, but you can carry four, albeit for short distances.

Up front, the seating position is excellent, though with that crowded footwell, the feet and legs might have to adapt. It's worth persevering with this as the 147 is a hoot to drive and most will forgive its firm ride quality as the car engages so well with its driver in ways you might never realise with a more ordinary car.

After a 2006 facelift which tidied up the front end treatment a little, the 147 got even prettier and though the model has been replaced with the terrific Mito and Giulietta, we think it's still a lovely looking Alfa Romeo.


Apart from its distinctive looks - inside and out, the 147 has quick, responsive steering and is very entertaining on smooth roads. Every engine performs well and sounds wonderful and apart from the big V6, they are all fairly good on gas too.
the 147 does show that Alfas have improved for reliability, but it's by no means perfect.

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Weak points:

The rear cabin is not the most spacious and neither is the boot, and this might explain why some markets called it a 'coupe.' The car's ride quality and body control are a bit ragged and a full road test is recommended before you buy, just to see if you could live with it.

The 147 engines' cambelt change points are critical and if they snap, the results are terminal. The recommended intervals for cambelt changes are 55,000km, or every four years, whichever comes sooner. If the car's service history does not indicate that this has been followed, get it done as a condition of sale and keep the receipts.

The 147 never scored above three-stars for Euro NCAP crash testing, and only the later models had ESP to go with their ABS and traction control.
As mechanically reliable as some prove to be, the hard-riding 147 can have chassis and suspension problems and the famous prince of darkness electrics can be a worry. Spare fuses and bulbs will be a fact of life.

Best to buy:

The three-door might be prettier, but the five-door is more practical. If you can find a diesel, snap it up, though the 2.0-litre Twin Spark is also a sweet runner. Avoid the two-pedal semi-automatic, which can give problems. The Alfa MUST have a full service history and if a used Japanese import catches your eye and you can't walk away from it, a detailed mechanical check must be performed, or you're asking for trouble. We'd prefer sourcing from a franchise holder, to be honest.

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You'll have to live with:

Shaking heads of those who have never owned an Alfa, the cramped cabin and the expensive servicing. Neither would bother us, as good research will reveal some great cars out there and we like to pay for peace of mind.

What to pay:

We traced more than a score of 147s, ranging in price from $3000 for a 170,000km 2002 with receipts, to a 2006 2.0-litre TwinSpark with just 35,000km clocked up, for $12,000. Best of all however was a 2004 dealer offering with a brand new cam belt and a good history for $7,500. We were also tempted by a 2002 2-litre with 100,000 up for $4000 and a Selespeed model from 2002 with 75,000 on its odo and an $6000 sticker.

What do they cost to run:

As much as a BMW or Mercedes-Benz for servicing, though you might save a bit if you're a competent mechanic or have a pet garage that loves Alfas - there are a few about. On gas, there are few complaints and if this matters, the 1.9-litre diesel will have you tapping the fuel guage, the needle will be so slow to drop.

But wait:

If you want a turn-key hot hatch that can be driven and otherwise forgotten, this is not the car for you, but a well serviced example with a careful owner who regularly checked fluid levels and listened for strange noises during their time with it can provide a lot of joy. I love 'em.