Consequently, customers are now looking to maximise their purchasing power and buy vehicles that not only satisfy demand during the working week, but also that of the family or leisure pursuits at the weekend. And what better way to do this than to choose a lifestyle estate with as much style as its saloon sibling but one that also wears a badge synonymous with sporting flair.
And no other estate fits the bill better than the new Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon. Alfa Romeo expects the Sportwagon to account for a quarter of all sales in 2001 and 2002. These customers will get the choice of three trim levels: Standard, Veloce and Lusso and five engine options. The newest of the line-up is a new four-cylinder 1.6-litre Twin Spark developing 120bhp that also slots in to the saloon range. The other four variants are familiar Alfa Romeo stock: 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre Twin Spark units developing 144bhp and 155bhp respectively, the 2.5-litre V6 24v pumping out 190bhp and the 2.4-litre JTD turbodiesel with common rail technology developing 136bhp.
If this hasn't whet your appetite enough, the pricing levels should. Prices start at ú14,974 for the 1.6 Sportwagon in Standard trim, ú17,203 for the 1.8 Lusso, ú19,574 for the 2.0 Veloce with leather trim (tested here) up to ú23,364 for the 2.5 V6 Q-System.
When we started compiling the figures for this road test the 156 Sportwagon 2.0 Veloce offered outstanding value for money. In the last two weeks the stampede to be the next manufacturer to cut prices has been so frantic that Alfa's advantage has been overtaken - by Volvo. Cutting prices by 18% makes the V40 2.0T S ú18,405 OTR. Given that BMW followed Mercedes-Benz's lead and reduced prices by about 17% you might expect the 3-series Touring to be a closer match for the 156; but despite slashing ú1,105 off the price, the 318i SE Touring is still ú1,416 adrift of the Alfa. But wait ... for the ultimate in overpricing look to Audi A4 Avant: the 1.8 SE version costs ú21,507 OTR - a whopping ú1,933 more than the 156.