Lets go back in time a few years. Not that many, just a few. Being a hopeless serial car changer I was due for my next drive, much to my wife’s dismay. I had owned Mazda’s and Toyota’s and Holden’s and…. Alfa’s… and why not another Alfa? I had heard damning reports on the Selespeed gearbox, but, it couldn’t be that bad, could it? So I had to find out for myself.
I did a bit of research, and it seemed this gearbox was first introduced in Formula 1 by the Ferrari team. Gearboxes until then were manual. Ferrari decided to make the cars quicker by speeding up the gear changes, so they added computer controlled gear actuation and achieved gear changes in a few milliseconds, which was something even the best of the F1 drivers could not match manually. Ferrari added this technology to some of their road going cars and a few years later Alfa introduced it into the mass market.
As far as I am concerned, Alfa distributors missed a huge marketing potential here. Who doesn’t want F1 state of the art technology in their cars?
I was driving a 2002 Alfa 147 TS when I spotted a 2006 147 Selespeed for sale. This car had only done 34,000km and was on sale for $8,000. There had to be a catch! I had a look. It was immaculate. Supple and flawless tan leather interior. Perfect instrument cluster. Perfect centre stack. Perfect Alfa red paint. Spotless engine bay.
Well as far as I am concerned cars do not come any cleaner than that. It was perfect and was just like stepping into a brand new car (which I have done twice before and neither had given me the same sense of awe as I had when I sat in that 147).
So then I checked the log books. It had been serviced every six months whether it needed it or not. This was one pampered car!
Okay. Time to take it for a spin. I did not know what to expect having never driven anything like it before. I placed the car in the ‘easy’ setting – I think it’s called “City” – and took off. From memory, gear changes were clunky and very noticable between 1st and 2nd, and also to a bit lesser degree between 2nd and 3rd.
Ahhh, then it became clear. Most people who buy automatics want them to be smooth, and this just wasn’t. Did that bother me? Heck no! I think I had bought this car only a few hours after the ad appeared online.
In about 40 years of driving, and more than 30 different cars I have owned, on a scale of the value of car to the amount spent this is easily the best. Easily.
Comfort wise, the seats were great and the driving position is better than my current Giulietta. It did have well laid out instruments and a good sounding single CD media system. It was able to play MP3’s if you loaded them in a precise manner onto a CD. No Bluetooth or Navigation or Android and the like, but it was built at a time before most of that stuff. It did have useless cupholders! The climate control seemed to work well and it was just a nice place to be. The car had a sunroof that worked some of the time, and it also had a towbar which I doubt was ever used.
Driving this car was an absolute pleasure. After you got used to the gear changes between 1st and 2nd, and 2nd and 3rd, you found yourself enjoying the engine doing its thing, going through the revs and singing as it does so. It was a real treat. Then the gearing down was just as good with the engine blipping on downshifts. People who do not like this kind of thing do not like driving!
However, the suspension stiffness and the wheel size and the low profile tyres became tiresome. The pot-holed and uneven streets of Adelaide did not suit this car. Most car suspension modifications are aimed at stiffening the ride, but I seriously considered going the other way to soften the ride. IMO this car would have been much better with a more supple ride.
Straight line acceleration was probably just above average for a small hatch of that era, but driver engagement was off the scale. Accelerator input gave instant response. Steering input gave instant response. I can’t comment on actual performance levels, but in terms of rewarding the driver for input, this car had it in spades.
The turning circle was atrocious. For a small car it really was not good enough. It did however give me one of my favorite ‘Dad’ moments. I picked my daughter up from school and driving down a narrow path when a few cars ahead a car broke down. I did something like a seven-point-turn with my daughter in the front seat cowering down while her friends outside on the lawn watched.
After about 6 months of ownership my wife turned 50. We got her a brand new Mazda 3. She loved it, but we both preferred driving the little red Alfa.
About a year later my cold feet started turning blue so I again was on the lookout for another car. I test drove a 159 Ti Diesel and thought, “Are you kidding?”
In comparison it felt like a barge; slow, heavy and noisy. No sale!
No, the only thing that could possibly remove my backside from this Alfa needed to be something completely different. I bought my first SUV which is a decision I still regret.
In about two years of the Alfa ownership the only problems I can remember are that an alternator died. The sunroof was temperamental although if you talked sweetly enough to it, it would open and close. Also an airbag sensor became dislodged when driving over an Adelaide pothole which took a long time to diagnose and correct. The info message was something like ‘airbag unavailable’.
Thank you to anyone who read all that. This was a review of a wonderful car that was unloved car in the wider community, but that is their loss.
MORE: Everything Alfa Romeo