The Verdict: Alfa Romeo 147GTA

Presence, power and punch. And we have an instant classic
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SPECIFICATIONS

Price: £22,520;
Performance: 146 mph, 0-60 in 6.1 secs, 23.3 mpg;
Engine: 3.2 litre, V6, 250bhp;
Co2: 287 g/km;
Worth considering: Ford Focus RS, VW Golf R32, Mini Cooper Works, Renault Clio V6.

Rarely have we had such a unanimously enthusiastic verdict from a Verdict panel (Barnaby aside) as with the new Alfa Romeo 147GTA, and I agree too. Frankly, if Mr Francis (right) is "a bit of an idiot" for loving the Alfa's blistering acceleration and irrepressible spirit, so am I.

Before you have even started its engine the Alfa begins its seduction with a rippling, roll-pleated leather interior, purposeful hooded dials and a beefy steering wheel that fits sublimely into your palms. Squint and you could be sitting in a contemporary Ferrari.

Though the colour of our test car did its best to emasculate the GTA's hot-hatch signifiers - the side skirts, flared arches and deep, meshed front grille - this remains a car with tremendous presence outside and in. It makes its chief rival, the Ford Focus RS, look every bit the housing estate thug most are destined to become. The Honda Civic Type R is a toy by comparison.

I suspect a few GTAs will be sold even before a test drive but prospective buyers are unlikely to be disappointed when they start the engine. Lifted from the larger 156GTA, the 147's 3.2 litre V6 revs with an evocative choral zest heard only on Italian cars, and on the move it thrusts rampantly up through its six-speed gearbox to its red line; this is not just a hot hatch, it is nuclear. Quicker than a Porsche Boxster, in fact. I suspect few examples will serve duty in Sainsbury's car park or on the school run.

As with all Alfa's there has to be a "but". It used to be build quality, but in the case of this Alfa, that is not an issue. With the 147, the two main buts are an uncouth ride, and, of course, the familiar scourge of powerful front wheel drive cars - torque steer.

But, unlike the disappointing 156GTA we tested last year, in the 147 these vices are somehow more endearing. It is true the steering cannot cope with this much power, and that owners will probably have to replace their front tyres as regularly as their socks, but as David (right) says, you learn to drive around the problem, and I do not think it will deter many buyers.

Well made, beautifully styled and packing a punch that few could tire of, Alfa would have a winner here, but for the price. Twenty-two thousand pounds is a lot to pay for a three-door hatch, no matter how foxy and fast it may be. Two thousand less should do it, but whatever the price, I am convinced of Alfa have built yet another instant classic.

Malcolm Francis, 55, chartered surveyor from Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire

Usual car: Rover 200; also rides Honda CB750

"That's my kind of car. It is wonderful; it's got so much oomph. It might not be the first choice for motorways, but it is wonderful on B-roads. It is a bit like my bike, it just goes and goes. It is a very engaging car, but what must it be like in the wet? There's so much power through the front wheels, it must be a bit scary. It's the problem with all high-powered front wheel drive cars but, because I'm a bit of an idiot, I thought it was wonderful. I think £22,000 is cheap for a car with this performance. The ride was excellent, even on rough roads."

David Nash, 49, medical engineer, his wife, Rachel, 39, chiropractor, and their sons Oliver, 14, and Barnaby, 12, from Pinner, Middlesex

Usual car: Audi A4 Avant

David:: "After five miles I felt I'd been driving it all my life, I can't speak highly enough of it. There is torque steer, but it's nothing you can't get round."

Rachel: "I loved it after 30 seconds. You sit snug in the seats; I loved the sound; it was fun and sexy inside. I can imagine lots of women liking it."

Oliver "It's a shame they put the number plate at the side, but if I were four years older I'd love it."

Barnaby: "It was a bit bumpy and it looks like a regular car. I'd like it a bit more flashy."

Justin Gilmore, 28, electronics engineer from Staines, Middlesex

Usual car: Renault Clio

"I've just had a test drive in the Honda Civic Type R and I thought that was fast, but the Alfa feels much quicker. There's so much torque, but I wasn't sure about the brakes; they were a bit spongey. I'm not sure I liked the dash layout, the fighter plane look, and having cruise control in a car like this is gizmo-ish. It was quiet at speed; it could be a family car if you wanted it to be. It's very beefy-looking but not so flash that people would immediately know it was the GTA. I'm impressed but it is a lot of money. It's got the boy racer looks without being too young, although the insurance group will put a lot of younger drivers off."

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