The Alfa 156 was first conceived in 1993 as the successor to the Alfa 155. Two design houses, Ital design and Pininfarina, competed against Alfa’s own design house, the Centro Stile led by Walter de’Silva, to style the car. The in house design eventually came through, beautifully combining styling cues from the Alfetta, 1900, Giulietta, Giulia and the Nuvola. The car lost most of the styling cues from the last decade, only a slight trace of the straight lines of the Alfa 155 remains along the side of the car, being replaced by a much more curvaceous shape. An extremely nice touch is the hidden rear door handle, this and the chrome front door adds to the illusion that this is a sports coupe. The interior design has a very sporty character with options such as Momo steering wheel and Recaro seats being available, the dashboard and instruments have distinct echo’s of the Giulia GT and 1750 GTV of the late 1960s.
The floorpan is modified from the Alfa 155, which itself originally came from the Fiat Tipo. However, there is so little that remains and I would be very surprised to find any panels that could be transferred. The front suspension is a double wishbone set up with 4 degrees of castor and 6-7 degrees of king pin inclination which gives the car excellent grip, steering feel and precision whilst also almost eliminating torque steer. The rear suspension is McPhearson struts with unequal length links used to give some passive steering. The chassis also benefits from all round disk brakes with the Bosch 5.3 anti-lock braking system. Safety is also enhanced with dual air bags and Alfa’s fire prevention system.
The car was released on the 9th October 1997 at the Geneva Motor Show and was an instant success receiving the Car of the Year award in 1998. The Alfa 156 received 454 points ahead of the 2nd placed VW Golf, which received 188 points. As further testament to the success of Alfa Romeo’s new sports saloon, 40 out of the 56 strong panel of judges put it in 1st place. Alfa came out with the 1.8. 2.0 and 2.5 litre petrol engines and a 2.4 litre common rail diesel engine, the later engine was a major innovation as it was the worlds first common rail diesel engine. In 1999 Alfa Romeo also introduced another very interesting technical innovation, the Selespeed gear box, this is a computer controlled manual gear box that gives major performance and fuel economy advantages over an automatic gear box that uses a torque converter. In 2000 the sportwagon was introduced this filled a major gap in the Alfa Romeo range as there hadn’t been an estate produced since the days of the Alfa 33 and then, just as we thought things could not get any better, Alfa Romeo released the 3.2 litre V6 engined GTA at the Frankfurt Motor Show, what a car!!!!
In April 2002 the Alfa 156 was face lifted; the car received fully colour coded bumpers and mirrors. Internally the dashboard received a new climate control system and a multi function information display, the steering wheel was also transferred from the Alfa 147. Technically there were also changes on the engine front, the 2.0l 16 v twin spark engine was replaced by the direct injection JTS unit. In 2003 the car had a second face lift and received a Brera inspired “face” and we got 2 new diesel engines the 1.9 and 2.4 Mjet units that both feature 4 valves per cylinder heads and are some of the most powerful diesel engines available. The Multijet system takes the idea of pilot injection squirting a tiny amount of fuel into the combustion chamber to prime it before the main ignition process takes place. In this instance, the main injection is then divided into 6 smaller injections, allowing smoother, more gradual combustion that utilises fuel more efficiently. The electronic control units therefore have to be astonishingly precise. Whereas before the time lag between injections was a relatively yawning 1,500 microseconds, the response time has been slashed to a 10th of that.
In 2005 the 156 ceased production and was succeeded by the Alfa Romeo 159.