Alfa Romeo has always been associated with stylish car design coupled with a quirky twist, and the compact executive car that saw the light of day in 1997 at the Frankfurt Motor Show was no different. The Alfa 156 entered production that year, and models left the factory right up until 2007 when it was replaced with the Alfa 159.
The gorgeous looks of the Alfa 156 did not disappoint, just as Italian car design rarely does. The slender, sculpted bonnet, distinctive front grille, air dam, and nicely proportioned headlights give the Italian executive compact a graceful look. The bulky boot’s design is just as striking with an elongated light rig and twin tail pipes.
The 156’s retro styling is said to be inspired by three older Alfa Romeo classics, the 1900 from the 1950s and the Giulia and Giulietta from the 1960s. It is available in four-door saloon and five-door station wagon body styles.
The body shape remained pretty much the same throughout its lifespan. The main changes were embellishments to the interior and technological enhancements as gadgetry improved. The first re-working came in 2002, when the Alfa 156 received chrome headlights, a new matte finish interior, and made occupants more comfortable with the addition of duel zone climate control, xenon lighting, tele-informatics, and a better quality BOSE stereo.
The engine in the Alfa 156 was initially a 2.0L 16-valve TS model, and these engines were updated in 2003 with the swap over to the 2.0L JTS engine. This was a technological breakthrough and gave better overall performance, fuel economy, and lower emissions than the older 2.0L engine. The JTS had a top speed of 220Km/h, and its time of 8.2 seconds to get from 0-100Km/h was quick for a larger car. The 156’s fuel consumption is average when compared to similar cars, and has a recorded combined rate of 6.6L/100Km.
The 2.5L V6 was updated with the idea of giving better performance levels, and it could reach 230Km/h and 100Km/h in 7.3 seconds. Transmission offers for the cars came in either the 6-speed manual or the 4-speed automatic Q-System gearbox.
There was also an array of stability, braking, and performance controls installed in the 2003 update, all of which led to better on-road control and ensured that in an emergency the car could be brought to a stop quicker and safer than before.
The Alfa Romeo 156’s classic styling continues on the inside, where Alfa has fitted out a luxurious cabin for its occupants befitting of its class. It is well-constructed and does not compromise on materials the way many interiors tend to these days. Although the interior has an elegant, nostalgic feel, there is nothing yesteryear about the level of equipment. The 156 was kitted out with the latest technological advances cleverly incorporated into its dashboard, and all angled towards the driver vantage point.
Instead of cloth seating the car is finished in soft Italian Memo leather upholstery as standard, and it comes with automatic air-conditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control, CD player with six speakers, remote locking, rain sensitive wipers, and powered windows and mirrors.
Later models after 2002 came fitted with ABS, electronic stability control, brake assist, and anti-slip regulation standard, with steering wheel controls and trip computer display as optional kit. The editions after 2003 came with extra trim levels, including all-over leather interior, bigger 17” alloys, and increased safety from an additional six airbags, creating a safety cell around those inside should an incident occur.
The Alfa 156 rapidly re-established the Italian car’s marque in Australia, with the car making up 50% of the manufacturer’s sales. It is clear then why the company did not play around with the much-loved lines of the car, instead merely updating the cars performance and technology.
To be successful in the luxury executive car market, you have to bring something special to the table, and the Alfa 156 ably competes with the big three executive cars, the Audi A5, BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes C-Class. It puts up a great presence, beating the rivals hands down, both inside and out, for looks and equipment levels. Its safety is easily comparable, but it falls a little shy in certain areas of performance and handling.
Alfa Romeos always have a gorgeous, sexy persona, they are quirkily designed and fitted out with great attention to detail. With a levelling of the technological playing field and issues of reliability not as prevalent these days, Italian cars like the 156 are finding a bigger appreciative audience outside of their European heartland. The Alfa 156 definitely follows that sense of chic style and novel looks, and it is one to check out if you wish to join the ranks of the auto fashionistas.