TURIN — This fall, Alfa Romeo SpA plans to get tough in Europe's fiercely competitive B segment by introducing a new generation of “tough looking” cars.

Alfa's primary styling theme — a strong “face” and crisp, forceful sheetmetal — may polarize critics. And it may energize the segment's usually conservative buyers.

When it goes on sale in October, the new 147, which replaces the old 145 and 146, will be available only as a 2-door hatchback in order to establish its dynamic character. Next year, a 4-door hatchback with the same body style will be added.

Although its styling is avante-garde, the new 147 will stay with Alfa's tried-and-true Twin Spark DOHC I-4 engine design. For the 147, the Twin Spark will be available in three alternatives: a 1.6L unit developing 105 hp; an enhanced 1.6L yielding another 15 hp, for 120 hp in total and a 2L variant producing 150 hp.

The latter will be available with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or with Alfa's Selespeed manual gearbox with automated and electronically controlled gearshift and clutch control.

The gasoline powerplants are complemented by the well-regarded 1.9L JTD common-rail diesel engine with a variable-geometry turbocharger, delivering, depending on state of tune, as much as 110 hp.

The turbodiesel-powered 147 is planned for sale in spring 2001 when the 5-door version also is introduced.

All four power units are reported to ensure outstanding performance, including a high top speed and outstanding torque in all speed ranges.

The new Alfa Romeo owes much more than a styling approach to the 156; the 147 is not based on the Bravo/Brava platform, as are the models it replaces, but has been designed to share the same platform, wheelbase and mechanicals of the 156. Yet the 147, dimensionally, is substantially different. At 163.2 ins. (415 cm) overall, the new 147 is much shorter — 10.6 ins. (27 cm) — and marginally narrower than the 156.

The result promises to be a very spirited Alfa Romeo offering more power, performance and car in its size and price class. According to sources close to the project, the new 147 has all it needs to challenge head-to-head the B-segment leaders around Europe and grant the Italian brand a major commercial success.

According to Alfa Romeo, its new 147 “is a natural successor to recent Alfa Romeos and its styling hints and develops motifs familiar from these cars. These new traits are accompanied by other more traditional features such as a V-shaped bonnet that tails off beneath the headlights as on the divine 6C 2500 Villa d'Este of 1949.”

A remarkable styling feature is the new front grille at the center with horizontal air intakes at each side.

The Alfa 147 was designed and developed to offer either as standard or optional — at the launch or later in the model run — a very comprehensive series of electronic aids for maximum active and passive safety.

That includes the now-basic antilock brake system (ABS) with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), a brake-torque regulator when downshifting (MSR) and the all-new Alfa Romeo Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), developed in association with Robert Bosch GmbH and just being introduced with the Alfa Romeo 166 (see sidebar, this page).

On the passive side, the most notable package is the standard six airbags package with two at the front, two at the side and two window bags.

Also, the interior of the newest Alfa looks promising and potentially filled with all sorts of conveniences. On request, the Alfa 147 can be equipped with a comprehensive “communications center” that includes a phone, navigation system, voice controls and a color screen.