Fleet News

Alfa Romeo 156 2.0 Twin Spark - 3,830 miles

Alfa Romeo

Review

##alfa156.jpg --Right##TRYING to get your hands on an Alfa Romeo 156 is like trying to get your hands on a World Cup ticket. You know it is going to be incredibly difficult, but you hope it will ultimately be a satisfying experience. It was way back in October when the people at Alfa Romeo first suggested placing a 156 with us as a long-term test car - saying it would arrive early in the new year.

So I waited. And I waited. And I waited. But nothing happened. Then when I enquired about delivery they clammed up faster than an Azurri defence, saying there was none available. However, English phlegm and persistence won the day and I eventually managed to get hold of one, but only for a month - and I should count myself lucky.

The reason for the delay in delivery is that the 156 has proved so popular. Already named 1998 car of the year by European journalists, it has been hailed as the car to re-establish Alfa's pedigree in the market-place, one capable of taking on rivals, like Audi and BMW, and winning.

The UK has been allocated just 4,000 units this year and it's been reported that some dealers are now quoting year-end delivery dates. It seems that any increase in allocation might cause production problems in Italy where the 156 has been a runaway success. The UK range currently comprises a 1.8, 2.0 and 2.5-litre V6; our model being the 2.0-litre Twin Spark which is expected to appeal most to fleet drivers. A 2.4-litre turbodiesel will follow eventually.

Having driven the 2.0-litre for just a few hundred miles I can already understand what all the fuss is about; the 156 is a class act. Its looks are stupendous; its performance breath-taking; and the build quality appears second to none. Certainly, from the admiring glances of other road-users it seems I am not alone in holding this view. The only drawback being that it also seems to encourage the attentions of the 'boy racer' brigade keen to pit their XR3s and the like (complete with mandatory 'My other car is a Porsche' sticker) against this quality car.

The 16v engine produces 155bhp, powering it to 62mph in just 8.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 134mph. The performance is impressive, but only tells half the story; the 156's quality really comes to the fore in terms of its road handling. It handles like a dream, being very smooth, yet positive and responsive to give a winning combination of grace and guile.

The interior is retro in style with wooden steering wheel and gear knob and white-faced dials which are kept to a minimum and angled towards the driver. Cabin space is good, being surprisingly roomy in the back, and the Alpine sound system and air-con are more than adequate. Cabin noise is kept to a minimum with just the occasional burr of the superb sounding engine to remind you that you are behind the wheel of a true driver's car.

Our version is a pre-production model, which came with the added bonus of passenger airbag (ú215.03), alloy wheels (ú455.90) and Momo leather (ú458.25), to take the basic ú19,727.85 on-the-road price to ú20,882.03.

The only downside I can report is the high contract hire rate of more than ú470 a month over three years/60,000 miles (with full maintenance).

If that is no problem then I can assure you that the 156 is a stylish, practical car that will suit the discerning fleet driver - if they can get one, that is.

Andy Hurst

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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