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What Car? says

2 out of 5 stars

For It's got unique styling and throaty engines - ideal if you want 'something different'

Against Build quality is poor, the interior is ugly, and reliability is questionable

Verdict The 146 is a car for the enthusiast who is prepared to live with a few niggles

Go for… 1.8 Twin Spark

Avoid… Early 146s

Alfa Romeo 146 Hatchback
  • 1. The cutaway dashboard is blunt and the stalk controls fiddly
  • 2. Watch for smoky engines and listen out for noises from the suspension
  • 3. The galvanised bodywork keeps rust to a minimum
  • 4. The 146's boot is substantially bigger than the three-door 145's
  • 5. The 146's turning circle is particularly poor
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Alfa Romeo 146 Hatchback full review with expert trade views

This is a classic 'Marmite' car - you either love it or loathe it. Although the 146 is a five-door hatchback, it has been designed to look like a mini-saloon, and as a result, its styling is certainly far less attractive than that of its three-door 145 sister. Inside, it's not too pleasant, either. The cutaway dashboard is blunt, the stalk controls fiddly, the rear seat cramped and the driving position set rather high.

Where the 146 does score over the 145 is that it offers more storage space and more room for your rear passengers. As a result, it's far more effective as a small family car.

Sadly, like its smaller sister, the 146 has a poor turning circle and a lumpy ride. But, on the plus side, every model in the range has an energetic and raspy Twin Spark 16-valve engine, as well as a positive gearchange.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Image wannabe, let down by its reliability. JTDm and 3.2 GTA hold values best.

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Go for post-1999 models: the newer versions have improved engines and chassis that made it a much better car. The smart choice is the 1.8 TS, and the 1999-01 face-lifted model received an extra 4bhp as well as a revised look, with body-coloured bumpers and radiator grille, and air-con as standard. It provides plenty of excitement, and this model also benefits from quicker steering that makes for a more enjoyable drive.

If outright performance is your thing, you could look out for a 2.0Ti, the range-topping hot hatch, but there's little point spending the extra on it. Some used Alfa specialists have low-milers with healthy histories, but you will pay a premium for one and there is no guarantee you’ll get a trouble-free car. The 1.6-litre is merely acceptable, but if you are insistent on this engine size, the later Junior is a reasonable buy.

Whichever model you choose, though, you'll find it a struggle to sell on, which will be an important consideration. The 1.8 TS is the easiest to shift, but any 145 will be easier still.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Image wannabe, let down by its reliability. JTDm and 3.2 GTA hold values best.

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

The 146 is certainly a cheap buy: if you’re canny, you can pick up a decent 1998 1.8 TS for around the £1000 mark.

Mind you, they may be cheap to buy, but they're not cheap to insure: the 1.6-litre is in group 11, the 1.8-litre falls into group 13 and the 2.0-litre version is one higher, in group 14.

A 1.8-litre will return about 32mpg if you are light-footed on the throttle pedal, but the throaty engine will probably prove too tempting, so you're more likely to see an average consumption figure of 27mpg.

Service intervals are every 12,000 miles and cambelt changes are required every 60,000 miles. Don’t expect repair bills to be inexpensive, especially if you have the work carried out at a franchised dealer. The most vulnerable part of the car are the suspension bushes, and you can expect to have to replace them during your time as an owner.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Image wannabe, let down by its reliability. JTDm and 3.2 GTA hold values best.

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

The good news is that the galvanised bodywork keeps rust to a minimum, but beware of cars that have a history of intermittent faults. The electrics can be suspect, so avoid cars with electrical gremlins that the seller tells you they just 'put up with'. The interior build quality is poor, too, so you’ll have to expect irritating rattles.

Check the service history, and make sure you’re aware of the cambelt change intervals. If you gamble on a car that has little or no service history, you may well end up making frequent trips to the local garage.

Watch for smoky engines and listen carefully to the suspension. If you hear the odd groan or creaking as you drive, you can be fairly sure a suspension repair – and a hefty bill – is just around the corner.

To cut a long story short, if you are after bulletproof mechanicals, look elsewhere. The 145 (the 146's sister car) has never scored particularly well in Warranty Direct reliability surveys, and Alfa was well down the list in a recent JD Power customer satisfaction survey.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Image wannabe, let down by its reliability. JTDm and 3.2 GTA hold values best.

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide
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