Alfa Romeo 156 Buyers' Guide
The Alfa 156 was first conceived in 1993 as the successor to the Alfa 155, designed by Alfa’s own design house (the Centro Stile) led by Walter de’Silva. The car was released on the 9th October 1997 at the Geneva Motor Show and won 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 with 40 out of the 56 strong panel of judges put it in 1st place.
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.
In Singapore, the 156 was introduced in mid 1999 with the 2.0TS 16v and 2.5 V6 24v versions. The 2.0 cars here all comes with the Selespeed transmission while the 2.5 V6 24v came with 6-speed manual or the 4-speed Q-system automatic transmission. The 156 is also the first Alfa Romeo to be fitted with the Selespeed transmission.
In 2000 the 156 Sportwagon was introduced in Singapore in 2.0 Selespeed form. The first 156GTA with a 3.2V6 24v (250bhp) hit Singapore roads in 2003, it comes in both sedan and sportwagon versions, in either 6 speed manual or Selespeed transmission.
The 156 went through 2 facelifts. Singapore introduced the 1st facelift 156 in 2002, 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. The Selespeed controls came with paddle shifters instead of button shifters on the earlier version. Technically there were also changes on the engine front, the Euro 2 compliant 2.0TS 16v engine on the earlier model with 155bhp was replaced by a 150bhp Euro 3 compliant 2.0TS 16v unit. This version of the 156 is commonly known as the Cloverleaf edition 156 in Singapore.
In 2005, Singapore market received the 2nd facelift 156. The car received a Giugario designed “face” and slighted re-designed rear boot, bumper and lights while the interior remained unchanged. At the same time the 156 received the 2.0 JTS 16v direct-injection engines with 165bhp.
Check the panel gaps to make sure they are all even as poor fit of panels could mean the car was involved in accident damage. Another tell tale of accident damage is paint chipped off various panel fastenings or nuts and bolts, of course any signs of welding or knocking.
Alfa 156 are very reliable cars if serviced well, however as with all vehicles there are a number of things to look out for when purchasing. The TS engines ‘drinks’ oil and if when you check the oil there is little or none in the sump this is an indication that the car has been neglected it is probably best to walk away at this point. The timing belts should have been replaced at the 60,000km service.
On cold start, if there is rattling from the 4 cylinder engines that sound like a diesel, this is caused by worn cam variator and need to be replaced. This sound goes away once the car is warmed up so we suggest to view the car early in the morning be the first one to do a cold start.
The V6 engines should also have had their timing belt changed at 60,000km and it is advisable to replace the water pump while doing this as the impellers are made of plastic and have a tendency to crack. The original spark plugs last 100,000km but we recommend changing them at 80,000km interval for best performance. We only recommend original spark plugs as no other plugs works better.
If you find there is lack of power during test driving, it usually means the airflow meter is faulty, which could lead to lost of 10-20bhp and erratic idling.
Clutches and gear boxes are very generally reliable. On the Selespeed, make sure that you check that all of the different ways of changing gear are used i.e. the paddles, the gear knob and city mode. During test drive, if you find the gear is not engaging smoothly, or there is a irregular delay in shifts or skip gears, it signals a problem with either the clutch or the selespeed system. Gear boxes are generally trouble free but do check that all gears engage smoothly without crunching.
Suspension has a number of areas to check these are the upper wishbone which can have play at either end and may manifest itself as a creak coming from behind the dash. If you hear knocking sound from front when going through uneven roads, it usually means that the front lower arm or front antiroll bar needs to be replaced. The rear suspension rear arm bushes wear as do the bushes in the rear hub, you will know this if you see uneven rear tyre wear and this is usually on the inner edge of the tyre.
The interior electrics are generally very reliable but just give it a quick check that everything works well. Check fan, electric mirrors, electric windows, lighter, radio, climate control, windscreen wipers, windscreen washers, lights, sun roof, boot release, petrol flap release and rear window wiper.
When you start the car 3 important systems (air bag, ABS, engine management) are checked by the car, so do not crank the engine straight away! These 3 systems have a warning light that illuminates on start up and will go out after a few seconds. So if the lights does NOT come on or stays on then there is a fault with that system and needs to be fixed. The air bag light is a little man with a large balloon in front of him that is situated on the bottom left between the rev counter and speedo. The ABS light is a circle with ABS written in the centre which is again between the two instruments and the fuel injection light is in the top right of the rev counter and looks like a yellow engine. The display in the centre of the dash should also display warnings of any faults.
This is a basic guide to buying an Alfa 156. It is also advisable for you to bring your car to an Alfa specialist to check the car one last time before buying the car.