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What Car? says

2 out of 5 stars

For The 156 is a great-looking car with fantastic engines, cheap prices and lots of toys

Against Its drive doesn't match up to a BMW 3 Series', and there are reliability concerns

Verdict Looks and prices to please the soul, but it's not practical or very dependable

Go for… 1.9 JTD Lusso

Avoid… GTA

Alfa Romeo 156 Saloon
  • 1. Listen out for rattles in the cabin
  • 2. Suspension wear can afflict 156s, so check for unusual noises
  • 3. The 156 topped its class in the 2000 and 2001 What Car? Comfort Tests
  • 4. All engines are crisp, eager to rev and sound great
  • 5. Boot space is limited by the intrusion of the rear suspension struts
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Alfa Romeo 156 Saloon full review with expert trade views

Engines by Alfa, prices by Fiat, design by God – that's the 156. Whichever engine you get, it will be eager to rev, have a suitably sporting exhaust note and perform crisply. It should be fairly economical, too. In other words, the engine won't disappoint.

Neither will the steering, which is as sharp as an Italian designer suit. Talking of which, you'll never tire of the 156's classy, head-turning looks.

If you're worried about saddling yourself with a traditional Italian driving position (long arms, short legs) don't be. The 156's is one of the best, and the car topped its class in the 2000 and 2001 What Car? Comfort Tests.

It goes round corners well, too, with plenty of grip, but it doesn't have the fluency of a BMW or Mercedes and its ride is too knobbly.

Rear space isn't the greatest, either, and the suspension intrudes into the small boot. The rear seats on some cars don't fold.

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

There's no bad choice, but the hot 3.2 V6 GTA isn't as sharp as you might think. Sure, it's quick, but it hasn't got the chassis to go with it, and it's pricey to run.

Our favourite is the 150bhp 1.9 JTD turbodiesel. If you think a diesel engine just wouldn't be right in an Alfa, try one. It's strong, responsive, smooth revving, sounds sporty and suits the car well. It's very economical, too, and the 115bhp version or the 175bhp 2.4 JTD turbodiesel make good alternatives.

Of the petrol engines, the 1.6 shows real spirit and isn't slow, but the 1.8 and 2.0 have more go for little extra cost. The sublime-sounding 2.5 V6 is silky-smooth.

Basic TS cars are well equipped (air-conditioning, electric front windows, CD) but we'd go for Turismo (alloy wheels, leather steering wheel) if we couldn't stretch to top-of-the-range Lusso (leather trim, cruise control).

Good, cheap 156s, either at dealers or in the classifieds, are easy to find.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Diesels are the preferred buys; also more interest in late-plate examples

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The 156 is very cheap to buy second-hand because the trade and buyers are worried that it might fall apart whenever you sneeze. It won't – the 156 is far sturdier than its reputation suggests – but prices need to be low to tempt people to 'take a chance'.

Once you've taken the plunge, any loss in value shouldn't be a big concern, unless you've paid over the odds for a nearly new car. The first owner will bear the brunt of the car's depreciation from new.

The two V6 models will drink a gallon of petrol every 20-25 miles, but the other petrols should be good for low- to mid-30s. However, the 1.9 turbodiesels should return more than 45mpg and the 2.4 JTD just over 40mpg.

Insurance is just above average (group 11 to 16), but service costs can be steep – higher than for a BMW 3 Series and even slightly more than a Mercedes C-Class.

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

Alfas have a reputation for being less than reliable, and the 156 does nothing to dispel this. Data from Warranty Direct shows that plenty of 156s have required repairs, with the axles and suspension the weakest points, followed by the engine and electrics.

The 156 has fared poorly in JD Power customer satisfaction surveys, too – owners awarded low scores for mechanical reliability, build quality and dealer service, while some complained of costly and numerous repairs.

Check that recall work has been carried out – two recalls involved problems with the brake pipe connector and chafing of the brake pipe on the cable bracket. V6 models were recalled over concerns of a possible risk of fire and power steering failure, while GTA models were also recalled to check for potential loosening of the front suspension and fuel leaks.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Diesels are the preferred buys; also more interest in late-plate examples

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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