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GOING FOR AN ITALIAN (some text hidden)
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Introductionword count: 34
The Alfa Romeo 156 was the car that finally upset German dominance in the compact executive saloon sector. An Alfa you could buy with real confidence new, it makes just as much sense used.
Modelsword count: 14
Models Covered: (4DR [1.6,1.8,2.0,2.0 SELESPEED,1.9, 2.4 JTD,2.5 V6] / SPORTWAGON [1.6,1.8,2.0,2.0 SELESPEED,2.4 JTD,2.5 V6])
Historyword count: 446
The 156 could hardly have had a more auspicious start. Voted Car of the Year at its UK introduction in January 1998, it arrived on the British market as the car that was to resurrect the Milanese brand. Nor did it disappoint. In truth, the 156 had only scooped the Car of the Year title due to the last-minute elk-induced mishaps of Mercedes' more innovative little A-class. But that didn't stop it from being a great car - and a model to seriously upset its German rivals. Prior to the launch, Alfa enthusiasts had feared corporate compromise in pursuit of the extra sales the brand required for profitability. Would the company's products become all things to all men or remain as everything to just a few? For the answer, they had only to turn the ignition key. Whether the engine was a 1.8 or 2.0-litre Twin Spark or silky-smooth 2.5-litre V6, the seductive technique was the same. For those with real driving blood in their veins, that muted roar worked every time. Early in 1999, a clever Selespeed version of the 2.0-litre Twin Spark was added to the range with finger-tip steering wheel-controls for the automatic gearchange. In June, a further 2.4 JTD version arrived, powered by a performance-minded turbo diesel engine and was well received. At the same time, an innovative Q-system automatic option (allowing 'manual'-style changes) was announced for the 2.5-litre V6. In May 2000, prices were reduced and specifications increased in a round of minor changes that included the standardisation of twin front and side airbags, ABS and air conditioning. All models were now made available in three trim levels - standard, Lusso (with leather) and Veloce (with sports suspension). An entry-level 120bhp 1.6-litre Twin Spark petrol model was added as the range's entry-level model. July 2000 saw the addition of a new Sportwagon estate bodystyle. Big on style but relatively short on space, it was available with all engines and trim levels at a premium of around £900 over the saloon. Range designations were revised in 2001, with the Turismo becoming the entry-level car. The much-loved 2.0-litre Twinspark engine was retired in early 2002, replaced by the 2.0-litre JTS unit, a 165bhp direct injection technofest. At the same time, the 156's interior was given a mild makeover and 250bhp GTA versions of the saloon and Sportwagon were launched. Early 2003 saw the introduction of a budget 115bhp JTD diesel, sold alongside the existing 150bhp 2.4 JTD. A facelift in mid-2003 smartened-up the front-end with a revised grille and headlights. And that, my friends, was it. The Alfa 159 hit the showrooms in February 2006 and that spelt the end for the 156.
What You Getword count: 125
Speed, style and passion. Enthusiasts will think fondly back to Alfas like the 1900 or the Giulietta, the Giulia or the Alfetta. Truth to tell however, these, though great cars, were never really great travelling companions. If you weren't in the mood to enjoy them, then a personality clash was sometimes inevitable. Luggage space is not a strongpoint in the saloon and the Sportwagon estate famously offered less room in the rear than the four-door model. The Sportwagon still makes sense, however, because its load area is more practical and to many it looks even better than the saloon. The engines are all wonderfully charismatic but you do pay for this in the form of fuel economy that's not quite on a par with rivals.
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Category: Luxury Saloons and Estates
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