Managed to pick up this car pre-registered from an Alfa dealer for over UKP 7,000 off list. It had been used as a demonstrator, and so came with a healthy sprinkling off the options list.
This is a very pretty car. It's finished in Gabbiano Blue which is a metallic grey/blue similar to the Moonstone used by Ford on the older Cosworth models. My car also has full leather, the Comfort Pack with heated front seats and lumbar adjust on the drivers seat, the Winter Pack with rain and mist sensors, Xenon headlights, and headlight wash wipe. Other extras include a fabulous upgrade Bose hi-fi system, an electric sunroof, and parking sensors on top of an already generous standard spec. I was able to pick up this car, with a new list price of just over UKP 24,000, for just UKP 16,700.
I will admit that taking on an Alfa was a tough decision. Having spoken to Alfa owners I tended to hear stories of either total delight or total despair. Very few were indifferent. After deciding to go ahead, I was very worried when the heater blower packed up in the first week, but the car was instantly sorted by the dealer under warranty. Since then, the car literally hasn't put a foot wrong.
To drive, it's fabulous. Although some still consider the idea of a diesel Alfa to be sacrilege, the 2.4 JTD M-Jet is exactly what you would expect Alfa's take on diesel power to be. In other words, quick. It pulls like a train from 1,500 RPM right through to its 5,000 RPM limit with no flat spots or hesitation, and makes a wonderful noise as it does so. Another review likens it to an Audi Quattro, and that's exactly how I would describe it too. A lovely gruff warble with no hint of diesel rattle, overlaid with turbo and induction noise. Punch in any gear is instantaneous and relentless. Economy is even respectable, the car returning 38-40 mpg with relatively hard use.
The handling is also very good, although there is more understeer at the limit than I was expecting which is presumably due to the big diesel engine hanging over the front wheels. The ride is on the firm side too, and can be a little crashy over the typical dilapidated British road surface. It's nothing I can't live with though. Overall it feels taut and sporting, with very "direct" and quick steering offering plenty of feel. Weighting is a little light, but no worse than my old Mondeo, and far better than anything from VW/Audi.
I have also been impressed with the build quality and attention to detail that the car offers. The interior is very attractive design with hooded dials that remind me of classic Italian sports cars like the Lamborghini Miura. I also like the additional central dials which angle towards the driver, and the stylish controls for the heating and air conditioning. The leather trim is also very pleasing, with a certain texture and smell that only the Italians seem capable of producing. The embossed Alfa logos on the seat backs are a nice detail, as are the stainless "Alfa Romeo" kickplates. Build quality and fit and finish are flawless.
I am delighted with this car quite honestly, and although I have no plans to change it just yet, I have got my eye on the gorgeous new 159 which now boasts a 200 bhp version of this engine. However, such is the depreciation of the 156, I plan to get some use and enjoyment out of it first.
People who buy 3 series BMW's, Mercedes C-Class or Audi A4's simply would never understand the appeal of an Alfa, and to me that adds to the appeal of ownership. Any clod can go out and buy a conservative German car that every magazine test tells you is fabulous, but for those who crave something a bit different, and a bit more exciting, that appeals about as much as having your teeth extracted with a pair of molegrips. As I sit in my Italian leather seats, look at that evocative badge on the wheel boss, hear that engine sing its heart out, and feel the steering weight changing with road surface conditions, I realise I at last "get" Alfas. I have no interest in bland, cloned boxes (German or otherwise) any more, and I am converted.