Tipo cast

It is difficult to quantify the effect of touring car racing on the sale of Alfa’s saloons in the UK, but even in this second and terrible season of BTCC there’s little sign that the marque will be evicted from these shores as was Lancia, regrettably when on the verge of introducing a competent Delta replacement.

With Fiat’s massive investment, Alfa’s new generation is also taking shape, and the 155, based on the Fiat Tipo platform, was the first to reach Britain. Following in its footsteps is the 145. The looks do much promising the unusual styling of the three door hatchback borders on design for design’s sake particularly at the front end with emphasis on the badge, but is at least distinctive in a sector pretty well devoid of visual inspiration.

Being powered by a 103bhp 1.6 8-valve or a 129bhp 1.7 16-valve four-cylinder Boxer engine, the 145 at least retains some of Alfa’s heritage, so desired by purists. Whilst they sound as pleasant as ever, their pulling power in the 145’s body isn’t going to give performance lovers a sharp intake of breath. The 145 1.7 16v’s 0-60mph in a feeble 9.5 secs is hardly cutting-edge stuff, and the 124mph maximum is average.

Some efforts to dispel Alfa’s old idiosyncracies are more successful than others. Inside, the 145 retains an Alfa feel, yet is ergonomically more considered, with no surprises in, for instance, switch location. More surprisingly, the driving position is almost, but not quite, good — it still errs towards the long-armed. The dash on the passenger side is scalloped away to such an extent as to be disconcerting, not to mention wasteful of storage space which isn’t hugely abundant in any case.

The 145’s cabin is a spacious and pleasant enough environment for sitting in, but for driving it’s a different matter. Both power steering and gearbox are vague, the latter irritatingly so, and though the brakes are good, the pedal travel completely prevents heeling and toeing. Driving quickly is enjoyable under some circumstances, but one definitely needs to be in the mood.

Handling of the 145 is similar to the cars on whose chassis it is based. Plenty of understeer, but at least the responsiveness of the Boxer engine combined with average grip allows the car to be balanced on the throttle on open bends. Traction out of slow corners is sadly lacking, and the suspension combination (front MacPherson struts and rear trailing arms) could be more effective. The ride could be more supple over uneven surfaces considering the handling isn’t as sporting as it ought to be. In other words, the 145 still feels a little old fashioned and unsorted.

However, there are enough plus points about the 145 to keep customer interest up. Let’s hope the forthcoming and much-praised Spider and GTV consolidate Alfa’s road to recovery.