Rumours have spread for years about Alfa Romeo changing the executive car segment by challenging BMW and its line’s domination.
And for years, those rumours were just that and resulted in little more than talk. That’s until the 156 came along and made strides as a real contender.
Years after it has been officially discontinued, who knows if the 156 was really the car to take on BMW, but it does bear a look to realise how well it attacked the BMW 3 series.
There’s no doubt that the Italians excel in car body design and the Alfa Romeo is no exception.
That warm Mediterranean design philosophy suffuses every nook and crook of the car, from the triangular-shaped nose to the sleek rear headlights and concealed door handles in between. Every touch shouts purpose and prowess from all angles.
There just seems to be nothing wrong with this beautiful and delightful Italian design.
10 out of 10.
The delightful design pervades the inside of the car as well, seen in the deeply hooded nacelles and angles instruments that focus strongly on purpose and functionality.
The environment is centred around the driver, with leather upholstery that contributes to a rich feel and hints at Latin origins.
Unfortunately, those same origins also contribute to the poor comfort levels reminiscent of the Alfas of the 1970s. To be properly comfortable, you need short legs and some really long arms – a car for the discerning orangutan perhaps?
Thankfully, the steering wheel is adjustable and brings some level of relief to anyone struggling to discover a perfect driving position.
8 out of 10.
Not one of the favourable brackets for analysis, the Alfa fails in practicality. It certainly isn’t built with space in mind with a low 379 litres of storage in the normal configuration for the car.
The estate version, fully optimised for storage with the seats down still only manages an unimpressive 1181, which when compared to a standard range car, like the Audi A4, performs badly. The latter car despite not being an estate features 760 litres seats down, and 445 up.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the rear seat is fundamentally unable to fold forward to a fully flat position, so it is nearly impossible to carry any awkward loads in the rear.
Of course, the usual object being carried in the car is people – and in this way the 156 manages to score well, with adequate legroom and head height in both the front and rear of the car.
6 out of 10.
There is a reputation across sports saloons that they are unable to find the right balance between great driving dynamics and personal comfort for passengers and drivers alike, but here Alfa seem to have managed excellently and those problems seem non-existent in the 156.
The comfortable seats are matched with superb suspension allowing you to drive ballistically fast while still remaining snug on board!
9 out of 10.
The expectation for the sports saloon 156 to be fast and dynamic is thankfully delivered here. Of the range, the 1.9 turbodiesel has the slowest top end speed of a mere 119 mph, but the petrol versions do better, with the 1.6 adding a clean five mph on top of that for a maximum of 124 mph.
For those who really want to see the countryside blur past, then the 3.2 litre GTA really does provide, with a fiendish 155 mph top speed and 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 6.3 seconds – fast by any standards.
In most cases, however, a balance should be reached between power and economy and both the 2.0 JTS direct-injection petrol engine and 2.4 JTD five-cylinder turbodiesel offer an excellent foray into the middle ground.
The 2.0 JTS petrol puts out 165 bhp with a top speed of 137 mpg and an acceleration time of 0-60 in 8.2 seconds, where its diesel counterpart manages 127 mph at the high end from 150 bhp, and acceleration clock time of 9.8 seconds.
8 out of 10.
Nothing really to impress, but neither to upset here.
The Alfa sits atop the insurance 11 level, and fuel economy for the petrol version is never going beyond 30 mpg – quite low in terms of economy figures.
The 2.0 JTS fares a little better at 33 mpg, but if fuel economy is a real consideration then the diesel is a true gem. The 2.4 JTD has a high torque output of 225 ft, and a fuel average of 43 mpg – figures that will impress.
7 out of 10.
Not known for their reliability, Alfa share a reputation with other Italian car manufacturers.
There is little doubt that you have to expect all sorts of problems with the 156 but corrosion is not going to be one of them. For sure, there will be niggles along its life, but overall it is going to stand the test of time.
The 2.0 litre engines can suffer from a failing oil pump, and the Selespeed gearbox has shown issues in the past.
The air conditioning unit has little durability and the black paint job can show early worry signs. Additionally, the alloy sumps are often a victim of high speed bumps and the tires are likely to wear out easily and unevenly.
6 out of 10.
Thankfully, Alfa Romeo have left no stone unturned in ensuring the safety of the vehicle. Every model sports six airbags, electronic brake force distribution, anti-lock brakes, breaks assist and ESP which is Alfa’s take on Vehicle Dynamic Control. Three point seat belts are also standard for all except the 1.6 litre Turismo.
Though there are no crash test reports for approval, it is clear from driving the car that you will be safe – at least on par with its rivals.
8 out of 10.
Coming in above their German rivals, Alfa show themselves to be that little more generous with standard equipment. Central locking, climate and cruise control, and alloys all come as standard, though unfortunately electronic rear windows are conspicuously absent from that basic list.
Once you extend the standard kit, you get a CD player, alarm and heated mirrors. Sunroofs, leather trim and electric seat adjustment are, however, somewhat less common. Even the most basic models feel well featured with technology, though, so worrying about additions feels a little unnecessary.