Nirvana’s 90s hit remains an icon to this day. That means it shares something in common with another 90s hit with a boxy theme – the Alfa Romeo 145 QV.
Unlike the majority of the other cars we feature on Carbs and Coffee, we have actually owned this car for over a year. Experiencing a car for a morning is one thing, but living with it as your daily for a year is quite another.
Any car needs to be viewed in the context of what it purports to be and what it costs. In South Africa, you can pick up a decent 145 QV for around R40k which is similar to what you’ll pay for a Citi Golf.
The phrase “chalk and cheese” has never been more appropriate. If you haven’t yet experienced Alfa Romeo ownership, snapping up a clean 145 (if you can find one) may well be the best way to do it.
The recent news of the merger between PSA and FCA has left Alfa Romeo fans in a quandary. The future of the brand under such ownership looks questionable, especially when the very first piece of Alfa-related news was that the pending GTV and 8C has been killed off, but the baby SUV Alfa Tonale (an unforgivable name outside of Italy that sounds like “toenail”) has survived.
Whether Alfa Romeo as a brand dies off entirely or simply becomes a luxury SUV manufacturer is irrelevant, as many would argue that this is the same thing. The marque that has tugged at the heart strings of so many people is probably not going to give us too many more cars that we actually want to own.
Obviously, we might all be pleasantly surprised. Don’t hold your breath, though.
So what does a petrolhead do to get a slice of the Alfa action, without breaking the bank?
Our quick review of the last 20 years of Alfa Romeo is guaranteed to set a few wildfires among die-hard fans of each model, but read this knowing that either we or someone in our immediate circle has owned no fewer than three 156s, a 147, a 159, a MiTo QV, a Giulietta QV, another Giulietta QV which almost survived a few days, a new Giulia, a 4C and of course the star of this show – the 145. The list is actually longer than that, but you get the idea.
That’s ignoring the classic Alfas of course, which would be another long list. We aren’t experts on Alfa Romeo by any means, but we’ve done our time.
Let’s start with the current models. The Stelvio is great but is the only SUV on the list, so it isn’t exactly comparable. It suffers from the same issue as the gorgeous Giulia – a brave purchase given the current trajectory of the brand and its ability to depreciate faster than a single commodity African currency.
Not a day goes by without new rumours of when Alfa 4C production will end. By far the pick of the last two decades, the 4C is everything an Alfa Romeo should be, despite the lack of a manual gearbox. If you can afford one, you should absolutely buy one. Future classic status is all but guaranteed. Just make sure you own a big enough garage, because it doesn’t fit in a standard single garage. Well, it does, but you’ll be sleeping in your car because you can’t open the doors. Some may claim that this isn’t a bad outcome.
The Giulietta was a strong seller for Alfa and got many hearts racing when it was launched in 2010. Its little brother the MiTo also gave many people their first experience with the Alfa brand. Unfortunately, the taste was bittersweet for many. Whether it was a popped turbo in the Giulietta or a broken Multiair unit in the MiTo (a direct cause of following the recommended service intervals in South Africa), they just don’t seem to cut it from a perceived quality perspective. In both cases, the QV versions were mildly entertaining, but in the Giulietta especially it offered more of a “GT hot hatch” experience than the engaged driving experience that an Alfa should offer.
Shout at us all you want, but if you drive (and especially own) everything else on this list, you’ll understand our views on the Giulietta and especially the MiTo. Good cars if you iron out the gremlins and do your research around maintenance, but most definitely not great cars. Sorry.
The 159 family was a great example of how to lose money hand-over-fist despite producing beautiful cars. The 159 will go down as one of the most beautiful sedans of all time, with the 1750 TBi as the one to get if you can. Still, despite the great looks and what appears to be decent build quality, the 159 isn’t typically thought of as an iconic Alfa.
That means you’ll enjoy the car, but trying to sell it one day isn’t going to be an enjoyable process.
The Brera is a complete enigma. Heartbreakingly beautiful, especially in dark blue, it simply makes no sense. The 2.2 version cannot possibly justify the quad-exhaust design, but the 3.2V6 is hardly any better because of the gluttonous Q4 all-wheel drive system robbing us of a decent power-to-weight ratio.
Let’s not even get started on the handling…suffice to say a collector will likely admire it in the corner of the garage rather than choose to drive it on a Sunday morning.
Ditto for the Spider, which is possibly even prettier (if that is possible), but of course even more flawed as well. In V6 trim, it manages to weigh even more than a 350Z roadster which is the open-top benchmark for “who ate all the pies?” (but the Nissan is still a far superior sports car).
If you want to build an Alfa collection, by all means put a Brera or Spider in the garage. If you want to really connect with your car on the road, then keep reading.
Adapting liberally from Coldplay, nobody said choosing an Alfa was easy. Nobody said it would be this hard…
The 147 / 156 family has an Achilles heel or two, with the 156 as the pick over the 147 both for build quality and the gearbox. People think they are similar cars, but ownership of both will quickly put that thought to rest. A 2.4JTD manual 156 is practically impossible to find, but is a genuinely exceptional daily (shock horror – a diesel?!?) and the 5-cylinder engine actually has a bit of sparkle.
The only cars in the range that are collectible, though, are the GTAs. As flawed as they are from a handling perspective (front-wheel drive with too much power and a heavy nose isn’t a recipe for racecar success), this brings us neatly to the Busso V6 as the cult favourite of recent decades.
As wonderful as the thought of daily driving a Busso V6 might sound, it will financial destroy you. The fuel consumption would make even a Subaru owner feel better. The costs of a cambelt service are eye-watering. You’ll probably end up driving so gently to manage the fuel consumption that you end up blunting the entire experience.
If you want an Alfa for the weekend, find yourself the best 147 / 156 GTA you can and park it away after doing the Q2 differential upgrade. A clean 916 GTV / Spider is also a good call. The GT is a lovely car too, but best avoided if you care about resale value, because there were simply far too many of them.
Breathe. The good news is coming.
Ignoring the 80s GTV and older, we are now left with the in-betweeners. Ever seen a picture of Gabriele Tarquini on two wheels in an Alfa 155 Touring Car? Of course you have.
The 145 / 146 / 155 / 164 era was a special time for Alfa Romeo. Alfa made a car for everyone from varsity kids with understanding parents right through to the parents themselves. Every single one gave power to the people, long before Alfa tried to charge German car prices without German car refinement.
We featured an Alfa 164 and loved it, but the same fuel consumption issues make it difficult as a daily. This brings us neatly to the Twin Spark engines in that family and specifically the 145.
So, what makes the 145 so special?
Firstly, the styling. It isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but it is certainly eye-catching and is a guaranteed conversation starter at the petrol station. There aren’t many other ways to get thumbs up in the traffic when all you’ve spent is R40k. The boxy shape is endearing and the incredible lines in the doors and the interior have aged beautifully.
It feels like you’re driving around in a Lego car, with blocks and boxy angles everywhere. It’s fantastic.
A little known fact is that the 145 was designed by none other than Chris Bangle, who worked at Fiat before he moved across to BMW where he spent the best part of two decades polarising opinion. Some of his BMW designs have also aged well (especially the Z4 coupe), even if they weren’t overly loved at the time.
The design language of the unmistakable side profile is carried into the interior with great success. The dashboard is like no other car we’ve ever been in, with a cutaway style that maximizes passenger comfort but minimises cubby hole space…
Lack of interior storage space aside, the Alfa 145 is a lovely place to sit. The steering wheel is sporty and inspires confidence. The gauges are beautiful, provided you can see them (almost none of the bulbs work properly at night). The cloth seats have worn exceptionally well for a 20 year old car with over 140,000kms on the clock.
However, the true joy of a 145 is exactly what it should be in an Alfa Romeo – the driving experience. This is a 2000 model, so it has the 114kW Twin Spark engine. A high mileage Twin Spark engine is a great way to mutilate the world’s oil supply, so be warned that frequent checks of the dipstick are a must with this car. Consumption in a normal urban cycle is around 10.5l/100km, although any Twin Spark owner would joke about whether that refers to petrol or oil.
To put that in perspective, you’ll do well to achieve 15l/100km in a Busso.
The short-ratio ‘box gives a different acceleration experience to a 155, giving the 145 a distinctive character. The manual box is lovely and feels less notchy than the 147. Power delivery is the classic N/A affair of a smooth curve through the rev range. Despite being high mileage, this car has been maintained meticulously, which means there is plenty of grunt and no shortage of urge at the top end.
However, the show-stopping feature in this car is the handling.
The wheels are on the corners of the car, which makes it feel like a kart. Despite the seating position that never feels low enough, the 145’s sublime chassis with excellent weight balance inspires huge confidence through the corners. This is a hot hatch in its purest form, with a front-wheel drive platform that lets you have responsible fun without getting yourself into trouble. Free of the myriad electronics that are the norm these days, the 145 is fast enough to make you smile but not so fast that your parents might say no as a first car.
The only front-wheel drive N/A hot hatch with better handling, in our experience, is a previous generation Clio RS. It’s an incredible machine, but extremely compromised. There isn’t even a spare wheel in that car!
Before we get carried away, there are practical challenges to driving a high mileage modern classic that we need to touch on.
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, it is nowhere near as safe in an accident as a modern equivalent. Even if the airbags do miraculously work after being in there for two decades, the reality is that older cars are smaller and less sophisticated than modern cars. It’s a genuine risk you take using a car like this as a daily driver.
The aircon is another issue. Perhaps scarred from ownership of three 156s previously, it didn’t seem worth regassing the aircon vs. simply using the sunroof to get through summer. Alfa Romeo aircons from this period are more about climate influence and less about climate control. The sad, asthmatic noises from the dashboard barely make any difference.
If you don’t drive around during the heat of the day, it’s manageable. If you do, then any of these Alfas will be a struggle and you may need to reconsider your choice of modern classic.
A further challenge was that the fuel gauge never worked reliably. It would indicate empty long before the fuel tank was in fact empty. The easy way to get around this was to reset the trip computer (if you can call it that) every time you fill up.
The list goes on. Modern classics with high mileage are never going to be perfect. They require work to keep going and ideally you need to have access to specialist independent mechanics who know the cars well. These people are a dying breed, although for now we are ok.
The biggest risk with a 145 is parts availability. It’s starting to become a real problem, which is a scary thought as the 145 isn’t collectible or expensive enough to warrant specialist companies producing new parts (like they do for 105 series Alfas). The 145 sits in no man’s land – incredible to drive, lovely to own, but so low in value that they might be forced into extinction.
Taking the plunge and daily driving a modern classic isn’t a small decision. Choosing an Alfa makes the decision even trickier. You need to go in with your eyes wide open. Despite all that, the 12 months spent with the 145 will be remembered with nothing but love.
Of the many Alfas we have owned, this one goes down as the most endearing of the moderns.
If you get the opportunity to buy a clean 145, you should snap it up without a second thought. There is nothing else that gets remotely close to the 145 at this price point.
We know one nutcase who admirably daily drives his 4C. For the rest of us mere mortals, taking a 145 to work and back might just save you so much money that a 4C becomes an option one day. Even if it doesn’t, you will have ticked Alfa ownership off your bucket list and it would’ve cost you embarrassingly little to do it.