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Alfa Romeo 147 1.9 JTD
VW Golf 2.0 TDi Sport

Broadcast dates : 5th December 2004
9th December 2004

Both Alfa Romeo and Volkswagen have been at the forefront of the diesel revolution that has changed the face of motoring in Europe after the past decade.

It’s said that next year fifty per cent of all new cars sold in Europe will be diesel powered and the numbers in this country for diesel cars are rising too.

The first diesel-powered Alfa Romeo 147 to appear in South Africa uses the second-generation JTD engine developed in conjunction with parent company Fiat.

It employs the common rail system, which pre-pressurises the fuel in a rail system so that very fine control of the injectors for each cylinder is always possible.

The JTD engine uses a new-generation variable vane turbocharger to obtain very quick spool-up time on the turbo from low revs.

This reduces the so-called turbo lag that is sometimes still encountered on diesel engines in general.

The Volkswagen engine employed in the two-litre diesel version of the latest Golf range is an all-new unit. It’s Volkswagen’s first four-valves-per-cylinder diesel unit to be offered locally in diesel form.

The two-litre TDI uses VW’s patented pump-injector system to arrive at very high charging pressures.

This engine is the more expensive diesel option available on Golf 5, and at just under R228 000, costs nearly R30 000 more than the Alfa 147 JTD.

There is a one-comma-nine-litre TDi Golf available and at R198 100, priced almost identically to the Alfa 147.

Given the price differences of our two test models, we assessed the cars more in terms of feel and concept rather than outright performance.

The Alfa 147 is a design that has been with us since 2001, but it still feels fresh and contemporary more than three years after its introduction here.

It’s a smaller, lighter car than the Golf which was introduced in mid-2004, and in terms of space it cannot compete head-to-head with the new Golf.

The Alfa has an excellent level of cabin trim and build quality and a certain deftness of operation that reveals just why it won many international awards in Europe.

The new Golf 5 was criticized initially for not being a bold enough step forward in terms of styling. However, this evolutionary approach has been a Golf stronghold rather than a negative.

The Golf’s new suspension system at the rear introduces very refined ride quality to this class of car.

Although the cabin and exterior styling is not the most avant garde on the planet, it will no doubt still hold its appeal over the next six years before Golf 6 is introduced.

The Golf’s engine is rated at a hundred-and-three kiloWatts, some twenty-eight kiloWatts more than the Alfa JTD.

The day-to-day difference in performance between the two is apparent but not dramatic.

Alfa claims a ten-second naught-to-one-hundred kilometres-per-hour sprint time, whereas the Golf is rated at nine-comma-three seconds for the same acceleration benchmark. Not a huge difference

In the top speed department the Alfa weighs in with a hundred-and-ninety-one kilometres-per-hour, while the Golf goes on to a claimed two-hundred-and-three kilometres-per-hour.

A clue to the acceptance that diesel cars now have as performance models is in the wheels fitted to these cars. Both have very sporty alloy wheels and sporty body-coloured trim.

There are none of the black plastic mouldings, and the plain steel wheels with hubcaps, items that would have marked the introduction of a diesel model a few years ago.

The Golf is quicker, bigger and more modern, but in day-to-day driving the differences are not huge and for many people what sways the decision either way will be in the very different feel that the two cars provide.

The Alfa is more alive in terms of steering feedback, brake feel and handling, the Golf more composed, more clinical in these departments, but a bit more competent overall.

Perhaps the biggest dynamic difference is that the Golf has a six-speed manual gearbox, whereas the Alfa is fitted with a five-speed manual ‘box.

On the safety front both the Alfa and Golf have frontal and side airbags for the front occupants and the Golf also has curtain airbags.

Both cars also have traction control and ABS.

One of the biggest reasons for buying a diesel is fuel consumption. Here Alfa claims five-comma-eight litres-per-hundred-kilometres in overall usage.

Thanks to the latest four-valve technology and the use of a sixth gear, Volkswagen claims five-comma-four litres-per-hundred-kilometres overall for its more powerful motor.

In fact around town these figures will drop to around the seven litre mark for both cars, whereas on long trips the sixth gear fitted to the Golf should give it the edge.

Both cars are fitted with remote controls on the steering wheel for audio and both have cruise control for long journeys.

The Golf was fitted with a number of extra cost options. Balanced against the excellent fuel economy, one has to consider the servicing costs with a diesel.

In the case of the Golf service intervals are fifteen-thousand kilometres, but oil changes are at seven-thousand-five-hundred kilometre intervals. The Alfa has twenty-thousand kilometre service intervals, with no intermediate oil changes required.

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