BY JONATHAN CROUCH
An Alfa Romeo for the common man. It was a concept which worked brilliantly with the Alfasud in the Seventies but went disastrously wrong with the 33 that replaced it. When the time came to develop that car's successor, the 145, the Milanese engineers knew they couldn't afford another mistake. To their credit, they took an adventurous route, creating an unusually styled three-door hatchback that appeared in late 1994 and was a direct hit with traditional Alfa fans. Its reliability and build quality, however, made it just as popular with those new to the marque. The 145 offered buyers a wide choice of four-cylinder engines. These were initially the traditional 'boxer' type, carried over from the 33 range. Quieter and more powerful Twin Spark engines followed soon after, however, and were introduced across the line-up. For the used buyer, any 145 makes an interesting and sensible buy.
Models Covered: Alfa 145 - November 1994 to date [1.6, 1.6L, 1.6 Twin Spark, 1.7 16v, 1.8 Twin Spark, 2.0 Cloverleaf]
The 145 arrived in the UK to a cautious welcome in November 1994. Potential buyers loved the dramatic styling but the carried-over mechanicals that were the best - and worst - aspects of the old 33 worried many Alfa fans. Needlessly so, as it turned out. The transmission 'shunt' that could make driving a 33 a somewhat less than silky-smooth experience was thankfully banished. The 145 is a solid and relatively heavy car, however, so the old 1.6-litre versions, with their melodious exhaust notes, sound faster than they are. The 16-valve 1.7-litre cars that were launched alongside the 1.6-litre base and 'L' models certainly offered far brisker performance and were, deservedly, more popular. At the start of 1996, Alfa released what many consider to be the definitive version, the 145 Cloverleaf , which gained the 2.0-litre, 16-valve Twin Spark engine from the bigger 155 executive saloon. In March 1997, the old 1.6 and 1.7-litre 'boxer' engines, whose origins could be traced to the Alfasud of the early '70s, were at last laid to rest. Their 1.6 and 1.8-litre replacements featured Alfa's trademark 'Twin Spark' system - two sparkplugs for each of the four cylinders. Both these 16-valve units are closely related to the bigger 2.0-litre engine which remained unchanged in the Cloverleaf flagship. In July 1998 the TS model designation was replaced by the historically evocative 'Junior' moniker, and a sportier level of trim was applied. The last round of 145 changes came in May 1999 when the car received a new nose section and slight equipment revisions. The range was also rationalised to three models, the1.6 and 1.8 Twin Sparks and the 2.0 Cloverleaf. The 145 was replaced by the all-new 147 early in 2000.
What You Get
Access for rear passengers is easy, despite the two-door design and back-seat legroom is also fine. If you need extra room in the rear, however, you may well want to go for the 145's five-door sister, the 146. In this car, the split-folding rear bench is set lower than that in the 145 in order to increase headroom. Other practicalities on both shapes include capacious luggage space, reasonable economy and, thank goodness, a driving position that doesn't require you to be a gawky Italian (long legs and short arms) as on Milanese models of not so distant memory. There's also plenty of equipment. Power steering, electric front windows, an engine immobiliser, central locking and a driver's airbag are standard on virtually every model.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
There are one or two unusual areas of concern with these cars. Check with the seller that the car has had its driver's-side airbag checked by a dealer. Both 145 and 146 were recalled after several reported cases of random inflation. The first 1.6 and 1.7-litre cars encouraged a driving style in which enthusiastic revving of the engine was often needed to keep things moving along. For this reason, some examples may have suffered at the hands of drivers fancying themselves as Fangio on the Mille Miglia. Owners of these boxer-engined cars also ignore service intervals at their peril. Though largely reliable units, the 1.6 and 1.7-litre motors will almost certainly have a short life if oil changes have been neglected. The later Twin Spark units are more modern and more dependable, if you get a car with a full service history, there should be few problems. Check under the engine filler cap and dipstick - the colour and texture of the oil should never be black or show signs of sludge build-up and the exhaust should, naturally, be smoke-free at idle.
(approx based on a 145 1.8 TS exc VAT) A clutch assembly will be around £127, while a rear section for the exhaust system should be just under £230. An alternator will be about £199 and a replacement headlamp is close to £119. Major servicing is needed every 12,000 miles and should be under £200.
On the Road
When Alfa came to develop the 1.6 and 1.8-litre 'Twin Spark' engines for the revised 145, refinement was given priority over resonance. Even the `Alfisti` (enthusiasts) admit that these powerplants were more universally acceptable as well as being cleaner, smoother and more powerful than their predecessors. All the engines available show off the impressive handling abilities of the cars, which have also been combined with a compliant ride. The seats are particularly well designed in the 145, offering both comfort and support.
So stylish and practical - what more could the enthusiast want?