Bright Sparks

Alfa Romeo 145 Cloverleaf/146Ti

Whenever Alfa Romeo adds the Cloverleaf designation to the name of a car, its time to sit up and pay attention. The latest project to be graced by the hallowed term is the fitting of the company’s 150 bhp, two-litre Twin Spark engine, as already available in the 155 and 164 ranges, to the 145 hatchback.

This is one of the most magical units to be found in any UK showroom, partly because it makes a noise like the third act of a Verdi opera and partly because it performs so beautifully. Engines of this size giving that sort of power are nothing new, but in the old days they did nothing before 4000rpm and then erupted. With the 145 Cloverleaf you can spend the whole day never revving any higher than that and still have your soul enriched.

I always thought the humbler 145s handled very nicely, although nobody else seemed to, but in the case of the Cloverleaf the comparison is rendered academic by the fact that the suspension has been completely re-thought. Whatever the direct lineage may be, this is spiritually not so much an uprated 145 as a descendant of the wonderful Fiat Tipo 16v, another remarkably uncompromised road racer.

But you do have to be in the mood. The ride is absolutely terrible – no problem if you’re out for some fun but a bit of a bummer if you were just popping out to buy a newspaper. The seats, however sporty they look, were sufficiently unsupportive to give me backache within five minutes of setting out on the test route.

Perhaps a better everyday choice would be the slightly more expensive 146Ti (£15,392 to the 145’s £14,884), which is more or less the same car with greater luggage space. The seating is no better but the suspension is a little bit softer, and while I’m sure this would make it less of an enticing proposition round a race circuit, it does improve the real-world driving manners considerably. Cars that respond to being loved, both of them. Glorious but flawed. Alfa Romeo enthusiasts would expect nothing else. D F