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Used Alfa Romeo 156 review: 1999-2006

2005 Alfa Romeo 156. The Alfa 156 V6 has a four-speed fully-automatic unit with semi-sequential options.

New life has been breathed into Alfa Romeo in Australia with the switch of control to the Italian head office; previously they were being brought in by a private importer. Price cuts and the introduction of new models have sparked buyer interest in new Alfas and Fiats.

Sadly for sellers, but great news for buyers, the aforementioned change has resulted in lower prices on the used Alfa Romeo market.

Though it’s supposedly just another mid-sized family car, the Italian designers of the Alfa Romeo 156 gave it plenty of verve in its design. Not only does it look great, the chassis has superb dynamics that appeal to those who really like to get out there and drive.

Handling is what Italian cars are all about and the Alfa Romeo 156 doesn’t disappoint. It has a willingness to turn into a corner and once in there it has tenacious road grip. Steering is prompt and sharp and this car communicates to the driver as though it’s a sports machine.

Few family sedans cry out to be taken for a run on your favourite bit of road early of a Sunday morning, but this Alfa Romeo just loves that sort of treatment.

Despite looking like a sleek two-door coupe the Alfa 156 has four doors. The back doors are so well hidden that many don’t even realise they are there. The rear door handles are disguised as air extractor vents and we once had the experience of someone trying to get into the back of a 156 by squeezing in through the front doors.

Once you’ve located the door handles, it’s reasonably easy to get into the back seat of the Alfa Romeo 156. However, the sporting heritage of the car’s shape shows up here and it doesn’t have the biggest of rear seats. Indeed the area back there is probably best left for children.

The boot is also on the small side for a family car. The station wagon’s load area is a bit of a joke if you regard it as being a full wagon - but makes sense if you think of it as a coupe with an extended load area.

Naturally, the Alfa wagon is much easier to load than the luggage area of a conventional two-door coupe. The Alfa Romeo 156 first arrived in Australia in February 1999 in sedan format with the station wagon being added in August 2000. In October 2003 the 156 got a major facelift that saw the traditional Alfa shield grille become considerably larger and stretching right down into the bumper. The tail was beefed out and a bit more brightwork added to the body.

Power in the standard Alfa Romeo 156 range is provided by either a four-cylinder 2.0-litre or a 2.5-litre V6. The four-cylinder was upgraded to JTS specification midway through 2002 and we reckon it’s the one to buy. It not only has even more response, but also uses less fuel.

In the usual Italian manner, the four-cylinder engine is the sporting unit aimed at the press-on driver, whereas the V6 is the luxury cruising unit. There is, of course, more acceleration from the V6 than the four, but the eagerness to work hard has been toned down.

The Selespeed automated manual transmission used on many four-cylinder Alfa 156s, can be frustratingly slow and lumpy in the lower gears. We feel it’s better to buy a five-speed manual, but many have learnt to tolerate the Selespeed because they use their Alfa to commute in traffic. Try before you buy.

The Alfa 156 V6 has a four-speed fully-automatic unit with semi-sequential options.

An ultra-hot, very-expensive 156 GTA joined the range in August 2002. With a highly-tuned 3.2-litre V6, six-speed close-ratio manual box, bold body kit, big wheels tyres and brakes, it’s a real delight to drive. Look out for torque steer though, as it can try to take control of the wheel at times. The GTA didn’t sell all that well and was quietly discontinued in Australia in June 2004.

Alfa Romeo is firmly established in Australia and there are a reasonable number of dealers. As is often the way with European cars, dealers tend to be concentrated in the major population centres and scarce in the bush.

Servicing and spare parts prices are about average for this class. You can do some of the routine, non-safety items yourself but the engine bay is crowded and skinned knuckles aren’t unusual. Insurance can be expensive so make inquiries before falling head-over-heels in love with this Italian machine.

Alfa Romeo 156 was replaced by the Alfa 159 in June 2006. The 159 is significantly larger so its introduction didn’t have the usual adverse affect on resale values that often occurs when a new model supersedes an old.

What to look for

New-generation Alfa Romeos are better built than the older models, however, we still see the occasional rough one, so be careful. We recommend that you always call on a professional before buying a car like this, although you can weed out the obvious duds by doing some initial checks yourself.

A car like the Alfa Romeo 156 can fall into the hands of hard drivers because their very nature means they cry out to be driven to extremes at times. Signs of hard driving include severe wear on the tyres and lots of brake dust on the inside of the wheels and on the suspension inside of the guards.

Look for body repairs; most easily spotted by mismatched paint on adjacent body panels, uneven gaps between panels, paint overspray on non-painted parts and ripples in what should be smooth metal.

Make sure the engine starts easily and idles smoothly from the moment it gets going. Naturally the V6 will be smoother than the four, but the latter shouldn’t be rough.

Engine performance from the 2.0-litre Twin Spark unit isn't great, but if it seems below par the engine could be suspect.

A manual gearbox that isn't light in its action could be due for repairs. Do some fast changes from third down to second and feel for a reluctance to shift, or for funny noises.

During your road test look for steering that wanders and feel for brakes that don't pull the car up evenly.

Car buying tip

Sports sedans don’t always get driven in a sporting manner, but it can be hard to pick which has received harsh treatment. A professional inspection should be regarded as essential.


Year Price From Price To
2006 $3,100 $6,930
2005 $3,100 $6,930
2004 $3,100 $12,870
2003 $2,600 $12,870
2002 $2,600 $12,870
2001 $3,400 $7,150
2000 $3,400 $7,150
1999 $3,400 $6,930

View all Alfa Romeo 156 pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

Based on third party pricing data
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Range and Specs

2.0 Selespeed Twin Spark 2.0L, PULP, 5 SP $3,700 – 5,940 1999 Alfa Romeo 156 1999 2.0 Selespeed Twin Spark Pricing and Specs
2.0 Twin Spark 2.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $3,400 – 5,500 1999 Alfa Romeo 156 1999 2.0 Twin Spark Pricing and Specs
V6 24V 2.5L, PULP, 4 SP $4,300 – 6,930 1999 Alfa Romeo 156 1999 V6 24V Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide


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