Seduced by the charms of this little Romeo

YOU don't expect much sense of occasion for £15,000. For this sort of money you're usually buying something workaday, something average, something that blends into the grey automotive background. While the temptation to abandon the attempt to land desirable new metal will doubtless be strong, don't start scanning the small ads just yet. Alfa Romeo have a more affordable variant of their 147 hatch for you to consider. Say buongiorno to the TS.

Available in both three and five-door versions, the 147TS is designed to slot in below the 147 Turismo, offering a tempting target for those disillusioned by more mainstream models. The engine generates 120bhp and is available in Turismo and Lusso versions.

The 147 TS can still hustle to 60mph in 10.6 seconds and run on to a top speed of 121mph. A fuel consumption figure of 34.5mpg is also very respectable for a car of the Alfa's hefty kerb weight. The Alfa 156 trick of hiding the rear door handles in the trailing edge of the rear window frames continues here, giving the five-door car a far less frumpy appearance than, for instance, the five-door Audi A3 Sportback. The B-pillars are moved forward to make room for the back set of doors, and the overall profile is slightly less sleek, but the trade off is on the deft side of acceptable.

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Those deeply scalloped flanks draw the eye away from the extra set of doors and the black window pillars also serve to deflect attention from the additional portage. The other styling features worthy of note are those resulting from the most recent facelift. These include pointier headlamps housing triple light clusters and restyled bumpers with inset fog lamps. Round the back, the rear lights are larger and a chrome strip has been added below the tailgate.

Although the figures make interesting reading, they miss the point of the 147 TS. This is a car that's all about the experience. Jump in a 147 and it just feels more special than any of its competitors. And given that they include BMW, Mercedes and Audi, that's some achievement. Since the larger 156 was launched at the end of 1997, Alfa's understanding of how to screw together a decent quality car has come on leaps and bounds.

Alfa hasn't forgotten its heritage and has built upon the inherent romantic appeal of Italian cars. Whereas the 156 brought back the classic cowled fascia dials, the 147 goes a step further by squeezing in two additional dials, evocatively labelled "benzina" and "aqua". The tachometer bears the legend "giri" making you feel, if not like Nuvolari, then at least distantly following in his wheeltracks. It's not all dewy-eyed nostalgia, however. Elsewhere in the relentlessly well-finished cabin are some determinedly high-tech touches. Six airbags come as standard, as does manual climate control, a height adjustable driver's seat, electric windows and door mirrors and a steering wheel with rake and reach adjustment.

The 147's chunkily well-built feel translates into its driving characteristics. The engine thrives on revs but the 147 always feels well planted, its squat, foursquare shape giving it a hunkered-down feel. The steering is a good deal more vivid than many more mainstream rivals and front-end grip is very good – the quick steering tipping the Alfa into corners with an infectious verve.

Keener drivers may be left hankering after a few more horsepower on the straights, but there's little cause for complaint when the price tag is taken into account. The gearchange is pleasantly light although a little long in the throw, the brakes are beefy and the engine tunefully vocal. Braking is aided by the fitment of anti-lock with electronic brakeforce distribution, a system that directs braking power to whichever wheel can best deploy it.

There's almost a guilty pleasure involved with a car like this. The unabashedly voluptuous nature of the styling and the classic "old-school" Italianate dashboard lend the 147 a glamour that no rival can match. Salve your guilt by acknowledging that this 1.6-litre version props up the rest of the Alfa range.

It's difficult not to be tempted by the Alfa 147TS. It's a little slice of Italian exotica that weaves its charm every time you climb in. You can buy bigger and you can certainly buy quicker cars for this sort of money but you won't buy any new car that makes you feel quite so proud when you lift up the garage door.


CAR: Alfa Romeo 147 1.6-litre TS

PRICE: 15,215-16,915 – OTR


EMISSIONS: 194g/km

PERFORMANCE: Max speed 121mph; 0-60mph 10.6 seconds

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 44.1mpg