Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon | CARkeys

4 Jul 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon | CARkeys
Alfa Romeo 156

Alfa Romeo 156

Sportwagon review

Three years after launching the 156 range . Alfa Romeo has expanded it substantially by adding an estate version – the Sportwagon – with five engine options, which it hopes will boost sales by something like a third.

Alfa’s stated aim with the Sportwagon is to combine the sporty image of the 156 with extra carrying capacity. This is not simply a case of tacking on a square rear end, and in fact a first glance, on opening the tailgate, is mildly disappointing, as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of extra luggage room.

The actual figure (converting from the cubic decimetres in which Alfa rather oddly expresses it) is 360 litres, which expands to 1180 litres when the rear seats are folded down. Not a huge amount, really, but where the Sportwagon scores is in offering extra oddment space here and there. And there are a couple of nice extra touches, including a 12v power supply on the left hand side of the luggage compartment, and a central ski tunnel between the rear seats which allows skis to be carried inside the car even when there are four passengers on board.

As an option you can also specify Nivomat self-levelling rear suspension to ensure that the rear bumper doesn’t drag along the ground if you find yourself needing to carry something very heavy that will fit in a 360-litre space.

The 156 saloon is a particularly fine-looking machine, and Alfa has gone to great lengths to ensure that the Sportwagon doesn’t lose out in that department. In fact, this is the most attractive car of its type I can remember seeing since the Citroen Xantia estate.

It also hasn’t lost out much in terms of driving quality. As with most estates you can feel that the suspension has been compromised slightly, but it’s not a problem on any of the cars with the exception of the 2.4-litre JTD turbo diesel.

This is a magnificent unit, but it’s inevitably pretty heavy, which means that the front suspension has had to be tuned to take that into account. There are therefore compromises at both ends of the car, and the result is disappointing, making this the least pleasant Sportwagon to drive. A pity, because the mid-range pull is fabulous.

My favourite is the 2.5-litre V6, but I also enjoyed the 1.6 Twin Spark (there are 1.8 and 2.0 TS versions too). It’s not a big engine for the size of car, and maybe isn’t the best choice if you plan to do any towing, but it sounds great – of course – and gives pretty decent performance.

Alfa Romeo 156

I hope the cars available on the press launch were pre-production prototypes, because build quality varied wildly among the ones I tried. The 2.5 felt every bit as well put-together as any other 156 I’ve driven, but the 1.6 had a wobbly gearchange and the JTD felt like it had done at least twenty times the recorded mileage.

Maybe – and I’d prefer to think this isn’t true – but just maybe this is what the production cars will be like. If so, and if you test drive a Sportwagon that feels a bit ropey, walk away from it. You’ve just found a lemon, and there are better 156s available.

The Sportwagon has been available in Italy since March, but you’ll have to wait until June 22 to buy one here. There are 27 varieties, even before you start investigating the options list, and they divide into the five engine types plus three trim levels (standard, Lusso and Veloce) with the extra possibility of leather upholstery for Veloce models.

Five-speed gearboxes are the norm but the 2.0 Twin Spark can also be fitted with the semi-automatic Selespeed transmission, which sounds more fun than it proves to be in practice, while the 2.5 V6 comes either as a six-speed manual or with the four-speed semi-automatic Q-System.

Top dollar is £23,364 on the road for the leather-clad 2.5 V6 Q-System Veloce, but I urgently draw your attention to the entry-level 1.6 at £14,974. For the money, it’s a very impressive car (assuming it’s built properly) which should not be overshadowed by its more glamorous stablemates.

Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
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