Alfa Romeo 156
Alfa Romeo is no stranger when it comes to making characterful sporting saloons, and in the late 1990s it decided to challenge the leaders in the mid-ranking executive sector.
Its answer to the dominance of the BMW 3- Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class was the 156 range.
Arriving on British shores in February 1998, the new Alfa appeared less clinical than the German alternatives, treating
buyers to a dash of curvaceous Latin style and a range of punchy engines. Among the petrol motors at launch were lively 2.0-litre Twin Spark and 2.5-litre V6 units, while those that sought more frugal ownership could opt for a torquey JTD diesel that arrived in summer 1999.
Numerous changes and introductions followed, including the arrival of the ‘Sportwagon’ estate and the racy GTA, which attempted to put 250bhp through its front wheels... with only moderate success. That last model aside, you can now pick up a sound 156 for comfortably less than £2000 and that’s a proper modern classic bargain in our book. OK, so care is needed to avoid landing yourself with a neglected example, and reliability foibles can prove frustrating, but the combination of zesty engines and agile handling (thanks, in part, to high-geared steering) is a delight when you’re in the mood for a B-road blast.
And then there’s the cabin. It might lack the ruthlessly efficient ergonomics of Teutonic rivals, but by ’eck it looks good, the deeply-cowled dials evoking Alfas of old while optional leather trim and plenty of kit ensures it can cosset with the best of them on long journeys. And you can forget any notions of oddly Italianate driving positions; you’ll have no trouble getting comfortable here.
By all means don your sensible hat and a buy a Beemer, but you might just want to try a 156 first.
GTA seats are unique to that model, so make sure they’re in excellent nick, like these.
3.2-litre GTA V6 tops a very sporty range.