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Reader test: Alfa Romeo 156

2009-03-06 08:35

Robert Peche

Reader Robert adores cars and seems to have found the perfect salve for his addiction in his 156 that mixes Italian passion with style.

This 156 2.0 Twinspark is my second Alfa. My first was a V6 156 that, through a combination of wet road and spilt oil (not mine), decorated the curb and Armco one morning on the way to varsity. I was heartbroken but fortunate to be okay.

The V6 had a beautiful sounding engine but it was very thirsty (especially for a student) and did result in a very heavy front end, something that certainly didn’t help me on that ill-fated morning!

Thus once insurance paid out, I decided to try out a 2 litre Twinspark. A full 30 kW less powerful at 110 kW instead of 140 kW, I was nervous about how enjoyable the car would be to drive and just how much of a step backwards I was taking. A test drive later and I was smiling…

Twinspark vs V6

The 2 litre is not nearly as fast as the V6 but it doesn’t matter because, like most Alfas, it puts a smile on your face every single time you drive it! The 2 litre handles far better than the V6 thanks to the lighter engine and better weight distribution. The five-speed gearbox of the Twinspark is adequate but cannot compare to the fantastic 6 speed gearbox of the V6. 

The previous owner of my car had a stainless steel performance exhaust fitted and I love the sound. It will never be as special as the sound of the V6 though. 

The fuel consumption of the Twinspark is also far better than the V6 as expected. I average around 11 l/100 km (yes I drive it hard), whereas the V6 was returning 14 l/100 km with careful driving!

The Twinspark is neither as evocative as the V6 nor as fast. It does seem to make more sense as a daily drive though, thanks to the better fuel consumption and better handling. It also has a substantially smaller turning circle then the V6, which means a number of the parking lots at varsity suddenly became usable! The service costs are also far lower, just ask anyone who has ever had the cam service done on the V6. 

I must point out though that if your budget can afford it, and if your passport is in order to allow you to do U-turns, the V6 is a truly magical car to own and drive.


My black leather interior is in remarkable condition considering the car is now nine years old and has done 160 000 km. The V6 had cloth seats which are not nearly as nice as the leather. I would recommend that anyone looking to buy an Alfa chooses one with leather seats, they really are superb. The Alfa badge on each seat is also a stunning touch. I suspect that the leather seats will make a substantial difference to resale value, although resale value should be a low priority for anybody looking to buy an Alfa.

The gauges in the car are another treat. The passenger does not get to see either the speedometer or tachometer as they are well behind the steering wheel, which helps when mom is with me! Real Alfa Romeos are designed purely for the driver and for driving; a fact proven by the interior design where the other instruments are not as prominent. The fuel gauge is something you would rather not see and the clock is not a problem as you are unlikely to ever be late!

The interior design has its problems though. The cubby hole was designed to be just big enough to fit exactly nothing, and there are no cup holders! Overall though, it is a pleasant place to be.


I think the 156 is the second most beautiful sedan ever produced, with the 159 taking first place. The hidden rear door handles are still a gem, and were stolen by Honda for the new Civic hatch! The car looks its best at dusk in the shadows, resembling a prowling beast from the front. 

The lines are clean and manage to be aggressive and elegant at the same time. The car does not look out of place at a Sandton hotel or at Kyalami, which is a feat not many cars have achieved. I believe the looks will be timeless, and many years from now people will look back on the 156 as one of the truly great Alfa designs.


The car really is fantastic to drive. The steering gives loads of feedback, the engine is responsive and loves revving and the driving position is perfect. The seats give very good support around bends. The 156 is a car for people who love driving, and although the Twinspark will not scare any of the hot hatches, it remains an enjoyable and rewarding car to drive.


The airconditioning is unfortunately a cruel joke. I took the pollen filter out of this 156 which made little difference, and the V6 had its aircon regassed which also didn’t help! Don’t buy this car if a strong aircon is important to you because it really is useless. Anyway, with the window open you can hear the engine better…

“Alpha Romeos give problems.”
No they don’t! Look after them and spell their names properly and you’ll be fine! The reliability is not up there with Toyota, but I have not had any real problems with the Twinspark which I have now owned for over a year. The V6 was also reliable.

The service at most of the dealerships is another story though. My car goes to Alfa Service Centre and the service is brilliant. Use the dealerships to service your Alfa at your peril.


I have been a car enthusiast since the first time I kicked my mom’s tummy - from the inside! I live and breathe them. Clarkson and company are right when they say all true petrolheads must at some point own an Alfa. It is a name that conveys a certain magic that all car enthusiasts recognise, but few are brave enough to taste.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge, I recommend you do your homework and take your time finding the right car. When you do, you will never look back. An Alfa speaks to the heart and you only live once. To the Alfisti… Cuore Sportiva! The sporting heart of Alfa is without peer.

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