Romeo is still a heart-throb

Getting excited about the way a small family hatch looks is increasingly difficult. Ford’s new Focus is hardly brimming with new ideas, and the Volkswagen Golf’s evolutionary looks barely raise the pulse. You can’t fault the Citroën C4 and BMW 1-series for individuality, but they’re love-’em-or-hate-’em kind of cars. Which brings us to the Alfa 147, freshly facelifted after five years.

Always pretty, the 147 has been given a gentle makeover that’s most noticeable from the front. The coupé-like proportions and sharp detailing remain, along with a uniquely Italian sense of style. Large, slanted new lights and an even bigger grille give the Alfa a slightly awkward appearance when viewed from dead ahead, though from any other angle it now looks more modern, more aggressive and a touch sportier.

But Alfas aren’t just about looking good, they’re also meant to deliver an enjoyable drive. The signs look good for diesel buyers, with the old car’s excellent 140bhp 1.9-litre 16-valve Multijet turbodiesel engine now uprated to the same 150bhp specification as the GT coupé’s.

With more torque than the flagship 3.2-litre V6 petrol GTA (225lb ft plays 221lb ft), the JTD feels incredibly strong off the line, and the power is transferred to the road cleanly and with an impressive lack of torquesteer. Unusually for a diesel, it is also extremely willing to rev, not running out of puff until well past the 4500rpm red line.

Five years ago, the 147’s double-wishbone front and MacPherson strut rear suspension were standard for the class, but these days the leaders have multi-link independent rear suspension. While the 147 doesn’t have that, the springs and dampers have been retuned, and it now has significantly improved body control and deals more efficiently with undulations in the road.

From behind the wheel, the 147 always felt like a special place to be, and Alfa has sensibly left it well alone, save for slightly tweaked dials. Only poor rear space lets it down.

The 147 can’t match the Focus for outright agility, or the 1-series for overall polish and refinement, but those new looks are definitely worth getting excited about.

Jack Galusha

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