Used Alfa Romeo 156 1997 - 2006 review

Category: Executive car

Looks and prices to please the soul, but the Alfa Romeo 156 is not very practical or dependable.

Alfa Romeo 156 (97 - 06)
  • Alfa Romeo 156 (97 - 06)
  • Alfa Romeo 156 (97 - 06)
Used Alfa Romeo 156 1997 - 2006 review
Star rating

What's the used Alfa Romeo 156 saloon like?

Engines by Alfa Romeo, 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.


Looks and prices to please the soul, but the Alfa Romeo 156 is not very practical or dependable.

  • Great looks
  • Low prices
  • Sharp steering
  • Reliability concerns
  • Tight in the back
  • Expensive to service
  • Firm ride

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.

Unfortunately, it can't match the grip or composure of a BMW 3 Series in corners, and its ride is too knobbly.

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

Ownership cost

What used Alfa Romeo 156 saloon will I get for my budget?

How much does it cost to run a Alfa Romeo 156 saloon?

The Alfa Romeo 156 is very cheap to buy secondhand 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. The first owner will have born 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. The 1.9-litre diesels should return more than 45mpg and the 2.4 JTD just over 40mpg.

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

Our recommendations

Which used Alfa Romeo 156 saloon should I buy?

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 148bhp 1.9 JTD diesel. 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 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 player), 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.

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What alternatives should I consider to a used Alfa Romeo 156 saloon?