FACTfile - Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

Alfa's 'hyper hatch'

The Alfa Romeo 147 GTA will be coming to Australia mid 2003. This is a detailed run down of the model from Alfa Romeo from tip to toe. Apart from a few tweaks, the body of the Alfa 147 GTA retains the original vehicle's stylish lines. But everything else has been radically changed.

The engine has been swapped for a sizzling 3.2 V6 24v unit. The suspension geometry and settings have been altered. And VDC - a highly sophisticated vehicle dynamic control system - has been added as standard. The result is a car that is the most powerful and fastest representative of its segment (250 bhp - 184 kW) and capable of thrilling performance: 246km/h top speed; 6.3 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h and 26.1 to cover a kilometre from a standing start.

Not to mention outstanding dynamism, ride and handling. On the outside, the 147 GTA reveals new features that reflect the changes to its chassis and mechanicals. These are also important stylistically because they make the vehicle look broader, closer to the ground and more beefy while still ensuring instant recognisability.

The sophisticated mechanical array had to be complemented by styling that conveys an idea of strength and sportiness in a few brief but telling lines. This had to be achieved without altering the car's original shape. Changes that affected the external appearance had to be limited to parts affected by technical changes to the chassis and mechanicals. The Alfa 147 GTA is an out and out sporty model that borrows the clean, spare design of the original 147. The natural tension set up between the rounded surfaces and ridges is resolved in an ideal balance. The design also hints at historical brand motifs, albeit in a very modern and understated way. For example, the bonnet is drawn out lengthways to suggest a mighty engine capable of far from ordinary verve and alacrity. The tail tapers when viewed from top or side to make the car look more slender and dynamic.

The Alfa 147 GTA has borrowed all these exterior features from the basic model. The new model differs in its broad wings that stand out at the front to accommodate the generous 17 inch wheels (225/45); in the black headlight ground that adds to the air of sportiness and the fog lights that have been shifted toward the outside of the car to free the air intakes and allow the mighty power unit to breathe more easily. The resulting image is of a strong, compact car with a personality of its own. This is also borne out by a beefy side view underscored by a new moulding linking the two broad wings. New five-ringed wheels exclusive to the GTA range add a clean, highly engineered feel (spoked motorsport wheels are also an option).

At the rear, the new version features a bigger bumper. This feature is hardly apparent from the side but is apparent when the car is viewed from behind. The lower part of the 147 GTA's rear end looks completely different from the original model from boot floor level downward. One reason is that the rear bumper contains a big extractor that is visibly divided by the metal panels into one long horizontal opening and two smaller side openings. The extractor serves the aerodynamic function of carrying airflow from the front of the car to the back of the car, i.e. of extracting the airflow. The final touch is provided by two oval exhaust tailpipes in line with one of the brand's classic styling cues. Ten body colours are available on the GTA, including the outstanding Nuvola White, an iridescent shade exclusive to the model.

The interior of the GTA revolves around the driver's cockpit - complementing the basic 147 package with a few sporty styling details exclusive to the version. These include a brand-new three-spoked steering wheel, gear lever with leather gaiter and surrounds in Puma grey, a darker shade than that of other Alfa 147 versions. The sports-style pedals include aluminium pedal covers and footrests with rubber inserts and ergonomic shapes, complemented by a mat in the central storage compartment made out of metalluro with rubber detailing.

The seats are sports-configured and cloth trimmed. The model offers three exclusive colours: red, silver and blue. Leather upholstery is also an option: this comes in one shade (black) or as a two-tone combination. The latter offer black leather side bands while the central cushion and backrest insert may be in natural, grey or blue as required by the customer. The seat design displays the horizontal ridged design made famous by so many Italian sports cars of the past. The front seats come with a built-in head restraint and adjustable seat. They are divided by an armrest with storage compartment. The rear seat offers the same sports configuration but all the comfort of a true five-seater.

The Alfa 147 GTA interiors may also be distinguished from other model versions by other features. The door panels, for example, come with cloth and leather inserts that reflect the same motifs and colours as the central part of the seats. The ceiling is grey-black, while the boot trim is completely black. The same applies to the sun visors, courtesy light and pillars. One more distinctive trait that has become a standard feature on the Alfa 147 GTA is a mat fastened mechanically to the carpet. The sill plates come with a satinised metal insert bearing the wording GTA in bright metal. The control panel also displays new features, with special gauges and a black background. The reading scales also look different, while a screen on the multifunction display shows engine oil temperature.

The GTA suspension layout comprises high double wishbones at the front (the only car in its segment to offer this configuration) and an advanced MacPherson arrangement at the rear. The suspension is the result of a long and thorough development process carried out on the basic layout with the aim of achieving much higher levels of driveability/handling. in terms of responsiveness, smooth and accurate steering and particularly stability and ease of control (even when close to the grip limit).

The Alfa 147 GTA offers great control typical of front wheel drive cars plus outstanding sportiness and driving precision. This is particularly evident over mixed routes. The credit for this goes first and foremost to the high double wishbone front suspension. The new front suspension was developed specifically for the model by the Fiat Research Centre and Alfa Romeo Research. It departs from the configuration used on the Alfa 147 in offering a reinforced lower beam, lower ride, new shock absorber and spring settings, a special wheel strut that is fastened to the steering link in a different position - and a larger diameter stabiliser bar. These engineering improvements increase the dynamic performance of the high double wishbone suspension - known as a quadrilateral suspension because the arms (two overlapping triangles with their bases hinged to the car body and their tips to the wheel unit) create a four-sided figure.

The device structure consists of a cast iron lower arm, a steel strut and an upper light alloy arm. The coaxial spring-shock absorber unit is connected to the body via a flexible mount and to the lower arm via a light alloy fork. For reasons of space and structural stiffness, the upper arm is jointed to an aluminium shell (anchored to the body) which acts as a support to the upper spring-shock absorber attachment. From a dynamic viewpoint, the high double wishbone layout ideally combines broad wheel travel with outstanding control of tyre service conditions.

This is achieved because the upper arm is located higher than the wheel centre: this means that the area between wheel and power unit accessories can be exploited to the full. And more. Other benefits of this configuration include excellent tyre grip, improved traction even under extreme conditions, a self-alignment effect proportional to the side acceleration applied on a bend, greater steering precision and sensitivity, gradual and even steering wheel effort to the grip limit - and also cancelling of lift (lifting of the front during acceleration) and antidive effect (dipping of the front end when braking).

Great attention has also been devoted to the absorption of minor roughness. Hence the choice of fluid dynamic bushes to hinge the upper triangle to the shell; split gaskets and bushes in Teflon loaded with fibreglass for the shock absorber stems - plus a Teflon seal for the shock absorber piston.

The rear suspension has also undergone many technical improvements. The geometry and the constructional details of the tried and tested MacPherson configuration have both been revised. The outcome is a different body attachment position; special spring setting; different shock absorber and bush stiffness; antiroll bar with bigger diameter.

The GTA's MacPherson suspension also adopts innovative construction features. For example, the coil springs not only offer a different stiffness and lower ride to those of the Alfa 147 but also rest on a lower and upper plate with an interposed rubber ring to reduce noise levels. And a stabiliser bar (connected directly to the shock absorber via plastic connecting rods and jointed on steel ball joints) with a Cellasto upper end travel block (closed cell polyurethane that maintains its flexible properties over time). The double-acting hydraulic shock absorbers, also new, are pressurised and built in high strength steel with reduced thickness. Lastly, the side levers, suspension arm and rear beam bushes are all made especially for the GTA. The upper shock absorber attachment also displays a new tapered block fastening system. Assembly is easier and the system is more reliable because the attachment need not be bolted to the body.

The modified rear suspension can absorb obstacles more easily because the wheels withdraw lengthways to keep the car on its trajectory. The system also assures maximum directional stability when the car meets obstacles such as tramlines, dilation joints on motorway bridges. The GTA rear suspension also increases the smoothness and alacrity of steering response and means the car is more able to align itself automatically, even under extreme conditions. This is achieved by ensuring the wheel steers consistently under side load. Not to mention the fact that the car gains negative wheel camber during roll due to the new rear suspension. In other words, cornering grip is increased to ensure the roll centre position is more accurate to improve the car's general balance.

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