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What Car? says

1 out of 5 stars

For The Sportwagon has striking looks, a great range of engines, and sharp handling

Against Its loadbay isn't very big for an estate, and reliability is a concern

Verdict It's a sleek-looking estate with great engines that really puts a smile on your face

Go for… 2.4 JTD Turismo

Avoid… 1.6 TS Veloce

Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon
  • 1. Suspension turrets intrude into the load area and there's a narrow boot opening
  • 2. Axles and suspension can be a problem, so listen out for strange noises
  • 3. Engines sound great, the handling's sharp, with plenty of grip
  • 4. Engine and electrical problems are the second most common cause of complaint
  • 5. Semi-automatic Selespeed gearboxes can be very expensive to fix
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Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon full review with expert trade views

The 156 Sportwagon is an estate for those who need something sensible, but want to cut a dash, too; dads with young families who still hanker after their sports car-driving youth, perhaps. The Alfa is certainly an entertaining car to drive, thanks to its range of capable, great-sounding engines, as well as wonderfully sharp handling and plenty of grip. You do have to put up with an overly firm ride, though.

It's a great-looking car, too, although those sleek lines mean luggage space is pretty mediocre for an estate. The rear seats fold, but the suspension turrets eat into the load area and the narrow boot opening doesn’t make life easy when loading.

The cabin is comfortable for passengers – in its day, the 156 won its class twice in What Car? comfort tests – and most models have climate control, electric windows, six airbags and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Pre '03 1.8 TS Lusso, face-lifted 1.9 JTD Veloce sell well

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Avoid the weedy 1.6-litre petrol; the 1.8 is a much better bet and produces the sporty snarl that Alfa enthusiasts expect, while the direct-injection 2.0 JTS provides more punch for not much more money.

For even more pace, there’s a 192bhp 2.5 V6 and a range-topping 3.2 V6 GTA. The latter is an all-out performance model, and comes with a six-speed manual or five-speed Selespeed semi-automatic gearbox.

The best balance between punch and economy is the 2.4 JTD turbodiesel. It's as quick as the 1.8 petrol, but should return around 10mpg more and holds on to its value better, too.

Because every 156 is very well equipped, we’d stick with the base Turismo trim. Pick a Lusso model to gain a CD player and leather seats, or move up to Veloce if you like your Alfa a bit more butch: sports suspension, side skirts and Recaro sports seats are fitted.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Poor reliability, high average claims and engine failure - your dealer will be your best mate

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

Pick one of the smaller petrol engines or the diesel and bills shouldn’t be too big: the 1.6 and 1.8 return a reasonable 43.5mpg and fall into groups 11 and 13 respectively for insurance, while the 2.4 diesel should average 51mpg and has a group 14 insurance rating. The 2.0 petrol is not much thirstier than the 1.8 but its sportier nature attracts a group 16 insurance rating.

Go for a V6 and you’ll need a deep wallet. Official figures put their fuel consumption at around 32mpg, but the 2.5 V6 sits in group 16 for insurance and the GTA in group 18.

Repair costs will be higher than for many mainstream brands, too, while problems with the Selespeed semi-automatic gearbox can be particularly troublesome to fix.

The 156 doesn’t hold on to its value especially well, either – that’s good news for used car buyers.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Pre '03 1.8 TS Lusso, face-lifted 1.9 JTD Veloce sell well

James Ruppert
Used car guru

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

The 156 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 potential fuel leaks.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Poor reliability, high average claims and engine failure - your dealer will be your best mate

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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