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Used Alfa Romeo 156 review: 1999-2002


There was a time you could pick a car’s country of origin by its styling, the way it drove, steered and braked. Cars seemed to have a unique character that stemmed from the culture of the country that produced it, none more so than Italian cars that had a certain flair that came from the Latin passion of the Italian people.

Cars from Germany, France, England and America all had quite distinctive character traits that were a reflection of their country of origin.

Globalisation has changed the face of the auto industry. Now that car makers have expanded beyond their national borders and are making cars with a world flavour those national characteristics that made particular cars stand out from the crowd have largely been eliminated from the business.

One country that seems to have been less affected by globalisation than any other is Italy, which still produces cars that have a distinctive Italian flavour. One such car is the Alfa Romeo 156.

Model watch

In a time when cars are becoming more and more homogenised, the Alfa 156 stands out.

Alfa’s traditional grille marks it out as a product of Turin to start with, but there can be no mistaking the taut flowing lines that could only have come from Italy.

With its wheels placed at the corners the 156 has a powerful stance emphasised by its muscular shoulders and bold front and rear treatments.

If styling is an important part of any Italian car, the engine is equally as important, it’s the heart that gives the car so much of its individual character.

The 156’s heartbeat came from a 2.0-litre double overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine with twin spark plugs and four valves per cylinder or a 2.5-litre double overhead camshaft V6.

With the 2.0-litre engine the 156 would reach 216 km/h if pressed, having reached 100 km/h in around 8.5 seconds, while the V6 would sprint to 100 km/h in 7.3 secs and had a top speed of 230 km/h.

Those who chose the twin-spark four could choose between a five-speed manual gearbox and a five-speed auto; those who opted for the V6 could have either a six-speed manual or five-speed auto. A automated shift manual gearbox — Selespeed — could also be ordered for even more fun on the run.

Final drive was through the front wheels, which was a disappointing departure from tradition for some Alfa enthusiasts who treasured the wonderfully exhilarating handling of earlier rear-wheel drive cars like the old 105 GTVs.

But anyone who was able to get over the disappointment found the 156’s handling was just as thrilling as older Alfas despite the front-wheel drive.

Double wishbone suspension was employed at the front with an independent MacPherson Strut layout at the rear. On the road it had a balance and precision that made it a joy to drive on the open road.

Brakes were disc all round overlaid with ABS and EBD electronic brake distribution for optimum braking efficiency.

The Alfa 156 came packed with standard features that befitted its place in the prestige segment of the market.

Entry to the Italian club came via the Twin Spark Sedan, which had air-conditioning, ABS, dual airbags, adjustable steering wheel, power windows and mirrors, immobiliser, velour trim and carpets, power steering and a host of other features.

You could also choose the 156 Sport, which added power Recaro seats, sports trim, instruments and carbon fibre dash trim.

If you stepped up to the V6 you got alloy wheels in place of the steel wheels on the Twin Spark, as well as the V6 engine and the option of the six-speed gearbox.

Perched atop the range was the Monza, which was available as a Twin Spark or V6, and added leather trim to the package.

In the shop

Owners of Italian cars have often had to be forgiving when their cars were often temperamental. They would often forgive them their sins for the sheer enjoyment of the driving pleasure.

The latest generation of Alfas it seems are less prone to niggly problems as some of their predecessors.

There were issues with poor radio reception on early cars, but that was about the extent of the dramas.

Most 156s are owned by people prepared to lavish affection on them and ensure they are well serviced. Even so check for a service record and make sure no corners have been cut.

Generally the 156 seems to remain rattle free, but the quality of interior fittings suggest that they might suffer in the long term when these parts may deteriorate and begin to loosen and fall apart as those of older Italian cars were prone to do.

In a crash

Agile handling and powerful ABS-equipped brakes give the 156 a great primary safety package, while dual airbags provide good crash protection when a collision is unavoidable. Standard side front airbags added to the secondary protection from 2000.

Owners say

Carol Sainsbery says her 2.5 V6 manual looks stylish, has a user friendly cabin with comfortable seats, and is a dream car to drive.

Rick Fitzgerald says his 2001 Monza has been a great car . He loves the engine, the Momo leather interior, the styling, the gearshift and the handling. He’s not so keen on the front-wheel drive, the lack of cup holders, and the air-con, which struggles on hot days and reckons the plastics could fit better.

Salv Pupillo has driven 125,000 km in his 1999 Twin Spark sedan and says every day has been a pleasure. He recalls the day he was invited by a dealer to the

launch of the 156 and he was so impressed he decided it would be his next car. Six and a half years later he looks forward to many more pleasurable years before the inevitable update to a newer 156.

Peter Coumaros dreamed of driving and owning an Alfa Romeo when he was student. He had to wait almost 30 years before realising his dream own one, but is now onto his third. He says it’s an addiction that’s very hard to describe to someone who has never driven an Alfa. The 156 V6 is pure pleasure, a “piece of art" on wheels. The V6 is fantastic and responsive.

Stephen Vincent bought his Twin Spark manual in 1999. He has found it to be extremely reliable and a pleasure to drive. His only problem has been a computer failure, and his only criticism is the large turning circle.

Look for

• classic Italian styling

• smooth powerful engines

• beautifully slick manual gearshift

• excellent road holding

• well equipped with every feature

The bottom line

Good looking sports sedan goes and handles well and stands out from the crowd.


Year Price From Price To
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
Lowest Price
Highest Price

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
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist


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