Car Reviews: Alfa Romeo 156 2.4 JTD Veloce – The AA

28 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Car Reviews: Alfa Romeo 156 2.4 JTD Veloce – The AA
Alfa Romeo 156

Car safety

Likes

Stunning looks backed up by a cabin design clearly influenced by the cockpits of racy roadsters A comfortable driving position that owes little to Alfa’s from the past Despite being front-wheel drive, the 156 is an entertaining car to drive at an enthusiastic pace Performance and refinement of flagship 2.4 JTD is outstanding; a fine replacement for the now absent petrol V6

Gripes

The car’s snug cabin and shortage of rear legroom is a legacy of its compact dimensions Although an entertaining drive, the 156’s firm ride will not be to everyone’s taste Turning circle could be better, making manoeuvring in tight spaces harder work than it should be Quality of the centre console plastics detract from an otherwise well-built fascia

Always a favourite with enthusiasts, Alfa Romeo’s compact executive 156 has, since its debut, gradually become more mainstream in its appeal as the marque slowly shrugs off its poor reliability tag. A late 2003 facelift has done wonders for the car’s image, while the introduction of revised diesel engines has put the range on an equal footing with fellow European rivals.

After suffering at the hands of critics in the 1980s and early 1990s for producing what were generally perceived to be entertaining but flawed and fragile sporting saloons and hatches, Alfa redeemed itself – and its battered reputation – when it launched the 156 in 1997.

Overnight the critics fell silent and confidence in the brand rose to new heights, as the Italian car maker managed to pull the proverbial rabbit of the hat with a car looking the complete opposite of its ultra-conservative German rivals. That it drove as well as it looked and offered enthusiasts a real alternative to BMW’s all-conquering 3 Series was a bonus.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Alfa Romeo though, as the firm hadn’t quite grasped the finer points of build quality and reliability. Although many of the early problems were of the minor electrical variety, engine and transmission maladies were not unheard of – especially ones caused by the firm’s F1-style Selespeed gearbox.

Time has proven to be a great healer for the company though, and the cars are much better now. It’s fitting, then, that this corner-turning approach was punctuated by the arrival of a facelifted car boasting a new nose, detailed quality improvements and more potent diesel motors. With the Alfa’s charismatic 2.5-litre petrol V6 now absent from the line-up, flagship duties this side of the firm’s outrageous GTA variant have gone to the car’s five-cylinder, 2.4-litre JTD diesel.

In the real world it’s more user friendly and kinder on the wallet than the 3.2 V6, yet delivers a performance that belies its diesel origins.

That the 156’s chassis can’t quite keep up with the 2.4 sums up the car’s personality: flawed but immensely enjoyable. The same is true inside the 156, as the car’s compact shape makes carrying a full load something of a squeeze. And yet, the fascia design is typical Alfa and full of enthusiastic details.

For some this Alfa is something of a ‘nearly car’, while for others it’s a welcome alternative to BMWs, Mercedes’ and Audi’s.

Our verdict on the Alfa Romeo 156 2.4 JTD Veloce

A dramatically styled car from a country famous for its grandiose gestures, the refreshed 156 is a rare head turner in a sector where conservatism rules. Looks aren’t everything though, and the 156 can’t quite deliver a driving experience to match that of the class leader, BMW’s 3 Series. It’s a close run thing, and the upside is a selection of tuneful petrol engines and outstanding diesel motors, a sportscar-influenced interior and that attention-grabbing nose.

Costs

To some, Alfa’s 156 is a difficult car to pin down; its pricing strategy stretches from Mondeo territory to the dizzy heights of BMWs and the compact executive market. That you can get an entry level 156, complete with all the style and kerbside appeal of something more expensive for the price of an average family saloon will no doubt tempt buyers away from rep specials. Pick a diesel and fuel costs will be pleasingly low, with the added bonus of no trade off in terms of performance.

If there is a downside to Alfa ownership it’s that residual values don’t come near to that of cars from Germany. For the enthusiast, higher specification levels, more distinctive styling and, in some cases, better engines, are often enough reasons to help offset any financial losses.

Space and practicality

If there’s one area where the 156 shows its age, it’s in the space department. With the likes of latest generation models such as Ford’s Mondeo and Vauxhall’s Vectra noticeably larger, the 156 struggles to offer similar levels of practicality.

For many this won’t pose a problem as the 156 was never meant to be a family car, but for the company car driver it may prove problematic when chauffeuring clients. Elsewhere you get the usual number of useful cubbyholes, although the door pockets are on the shallow side. The boot is also a modest size – in line with the 156’s compact nature – but its usefulness is boosted by the ability to split or fold the rear seats.

Controls and display

Comfort

Car security

Car safety

Despite the car’s emphasis on performance, the 156’s passive and active safety measures are at least equal to those of its class rivals. Twin front, side and curtain airbags are standard across the range, along with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), emergency brake assist for when a rapid stop is required and Alfa’s stability system, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC). More powerful xenon headlamps can specified as an option.

Those of a cost conscious disposition should be aware that a centre three-point belt, along with a centre seat headrest, isn’t standard on the base-spec 156. It is a cost option, though.

Driver appeal

Alfa Romeo 156

While the 3 Series can still lay claim to the top position, the 156 is a surprisingly sharp tool. With drive going to the 156’s front wheels – not the rear as is traditional – the Alfa is, like most other car’s, slightly compromised. However, piloting a 156 is great fun.

The enthusiastic driver will revel in the car’s taut ride plus responsive and quick steering. Push too hard, though, and it’s then that the car show’s its age – despite the facelift. By way of compensation, the engine line-up is perfectly judged. The petrol motors provide ample power and a pleasing racecar soundtrack in the case of the 3.2 V6.

But it’s the diesels – especially the 2.4 JTD – that deliver the best combination of performance and economy.

Family car appeal

First car appeal

Quality and image

Detractors who equate Alfas with rust and flaky trim will be shocked by the high build quality of the 156. While not quite able to match the likes of BMW’s 3 Series or Audi’s A4, this Alfa’s interior is sufficiently well trimmed to banish previous complaints. If anything does spoil the party it’s the car’s silver centre console, which, on close inspection, could be better finished.

Alas, question marks also remain over reliability and the quality of service from the dealer network. Saying that, Alfa Romeo is always keen to stress that both issues are being constantly addressed.

Accessibility

Unable to offer the same generous levels of space as a more run-of-the-mill Vectra, the 156’s cabin is definitely on the ‘snug’ side. Regrettably there’s a trade-off between the car’s pert kerbside stance and the amount of space it can offer to occupants, and it shows in the amount of rear legroom, cabin width and the modest amount of space allowed for access to the rear seats. Front seat occupants are better looked after, although if you’re not terribly limber you might struggle getting out of the seats when set at their lowest setting.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

Standard equipment is a radio with a single CD player. Located above the ventilation controls, the unit’s display can be read easily from either front seat. The controls are on the small side – especially the volume – but you can opt for the most common controls to be replicated on the steering wheel.

Upgrades include a CD changer located in the car’s boot, and a ‘premium sound’ upgrade boasting improved audio quality. A basic sat-nav solution is also on the upgrade list, with a full-blown telematics solution called Connect a more costly alternative.

While it can’t match BMW’s 3 Series, the 156 is still great fun to drive

Colours and trim

Just as Ferraris look their best in red, Alfas of all shapes and sizes still never fail to catch the eye when selected in such a bright colour. Don’t worry if red isn’t your favourite, as the 156 can look equally stylish in the ubiquitous silver or in an attractive shade of metallic blue. Inside, the car’s standard cloth upholstery is pleasing enough, but if funds allow it’s worth spending the extra on leather as it adds another layer of quality to the cabin’s ambience.

If you’re feeling particularly retro in outlook, you can even specify a wood-trimmed steering wheel and a two-tone fascia trimmed in contrasting light and dark colours.

Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo 156
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