Alfa Romeo's new medium segment model, the Alfa 156, is a sports saloon in a great tradition, created to reinterpret the brand ethos in the light of the most advanced automotive engineering.
Here is a car that contains Alfa Romeo's heritage of sports character and superlative engines within a design which inherits all the elegance of the Italian school.
This is a car that excites in looks and performance. A saloon that sets new standards in handling and driving pleasure, while epitomising a sports car concept that incorporates all the comfort and elegance of a luxury saloon.
The Alfa 156 range consists of six versions: four petrol and two turbodiesel. The petrol versions are the 1.6 T. Spark with a 120 bhp engine, the 1.8 T. Spark (144 bhp), the 2.0 T. Spark (155 bhp), and the 2.5 V6 24V with a 190 bhp engine combined with a six-speed gearbox. The two diesels are both equipped with the new Unijet direct injection engines, turbocharged and complete with intercooler: the 1.9 JTD (105 bhp) 4-cylinder engine, and the 2.4 JTD (136 bhp) 5-cylinder engine.
Design and interior
At 4.43 metres long, 1.74 wide and 1.41 high, the Alfa 156 is an assertive yet compact saloon with a 2,595 mm wheelbase (55 mm more than the Alfa 155). It is a safe, sturdily build car with the ability to transmit all its engine power to the wheels. This car's exciting styling is highlighted by a number of distinguishing features, unique aesthetic details that proclaim its powerful personality and make it instantly recognisable.
The characteristic Alfa shield, for example, is a powerful presence, the core from which the entire car seems to expand, leading first to the two classic Alfa 'whiskers' and four small air vents, then to the single panes of glass covering the lighting clusters with their four recessed circular headlights, and then upwards to the big V of the bonnet.
These few elements and the Alfa 156 is already taking shape. The front section is completed by broad 'shoulders', and wings; the wheels that are flush with the body; and the generous radiator grille with its foglights and air intake; and by the bumper that has become almost an integral part of the bodywork.
The Alfa 156 is equally distinctive in side view. Key features include the housing of the rear door handle in the quarter light frame and a line that bulges over the wheels but flattens at the centre to create a clean surface where the front door handle can take centre stage as the conceptual link between the line of the two wheelarches. The picture is completed by glazing that has been used with deliberate restraint so that the high, protective sides can make their powerful statement.
The tail-end is equally attractive and distinctive: compact, tapered with a slight downward slope. The rear window is teardrop-shaped; the small lighting clusters are recessed into the body and the Alfa logo is set high up on the distinctively shaped boot lid.
As befits a saloon with a distinctly sporty character, the interior is built around the driver's seat. Facing him he will find the classic sports car array of two round instrument dials: speedometer and rev counter. The gear lever is positioned high, close to the steering wheel, to be in easy reach. At the centre of the wrapround facia a console holds three smaller dials, also circular and orientated towards the driver; the optional built-in radio, the climate control commands and ashtray are positioned lower down.
The understated Alfa 156 cabin has been designed with careful attention to ergonomics, acoustics and climate control. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach and the driver's seat boasts a 40 mm height adjustment. Meanwhile the seat back is equipped with self-adaptive position adjustment. Acoustic comfort has been maximised by combatting engine at source and minimising wind noise. The ventilation is particularly efficient, fine-tuned to create a climate rather than a fan effect.
Petrol and turbodiesel engines
So, the new Alfa Romeo model blends a forcefully expressive style with performance and driving pleasure to create a car that is lovely to look at, delightful to drive, yet safe and reliable in all situations.
The Alfa 156 is powered by big-hearted engines, all offering some of the best specific power outputs in their respective classes. Three of the petrol engines are Twin Sparks and belong to the recent family of modular engines produced in the Pratola Serra plant.
The 1.6 T. Spark is equipped with electrohydraulic variable valve timing. The 1.8 T. Spark has that too, plus variable geometry intake manifolds to guarantee optimal power output (90% of its maximum power is already available at around 3000 rpm). The 2.0 T. Spark adds two counter-rotating balancer shafts to the above package in order to achieve the silent running and lack of vibration of a 6-cylinder engine.
Top of the range is the 2.5 6-cylinder 24-valve unit, Alfa Romeo's first petrol engine to adopt electronic throttle control. This ensures that full power can be delivered without hesitation at all speeds. This engine, incidentally, is mated to a six-speed gearbox.
The Alfa 156's turbodiesels are a world first. Here, for the first time, the revolutionary Unijet direct injection system developed by Fiat and manufactured by the Robert Bosch company, is applied to a mass-produced car. On these engines, injection pressure does not depend on revs, but is managed independently by an electronic control system. The injection cycle includes a pre-ignition stage, in the form of a brief pilot injection of diesel oil. This warm-up makes for smoother running and enhanced fuel economy, while cutting exhaust emissions and engine noise.
The four-cylinder 1.9 JTD (the letters stand for Jet Turbo Diesel) delivers 105 bhp and a peak torque of 26 kgm at 2000 rpm, figures that change to 136 bhp and 31 kgm, still at 2000 rpm, on the five-cylinder 2.4 JTD. Both these engines offer the sparkle and performance of true Alfa Romeo power units. Neither will induce wistful longings for petrol engine.
Suspension, chassis and engineering
An extraordinary car for roadholding, handling and driveability, the Alfa 156 owes most of its excellent road manners to its suspension layout. The double wishbone arrangement at the front combines the superlative stability of front wheel drive with exceptionally precise steering. This configuration maximises tyre contact with the road surface, independent of any bodyshell or suspension movement, for optimum grip on bends, in acceleration and braking. The independent rear suspension is an updated version of the MacPherson strut layout with a wheel mechanism that adapts harmoniously to front suspension behaviour to ensure stability at high speed, and agility and prompt responses on mixed routes. It also incorporates an innovative high-tech aluminium cross-member. The flexible setting and damping of the Alfa 156 suspension allow the car to make an excellent job of absorbing bumps in the road.
These excellent results are due in part to its exceptional torsional rigidity of 110,000 kgm/rad, worthy of a true sports car.
The braking system is servo-assisted hydraulic on all versions, complete with active sensor ABS and an EBD electronic braking distributor. The front discs measure 284 ventilated or 281 mm (1.6 and 1.8 T. Spark; 1.9 JTD) in diameter, those at the rear 251 mm. It all makes for optimum efficiency.
Indeed the Alfa 156 will brake to a stop in 39 metres from 100 km/h.
The steering is ultra-precise at high speeds for a really sporty feel but also light enough at low speeds to make for easy parking and effortless manoeuvring around town. This was made possible by a very direct ratio: just a little more than two turns of the wheel for complete lock. The power steering system is particularly efficient, and specific measures were taken to ensure that vibration transmitted to the steering is almost nil.
The Alfa 156 range comes with a choice of gearboxes. There is one for the Twin Spark range and one for the diesel engines. From the latter Alfa Romeo has derived the six-speed gearbox, (sixth gear is not an overdrive ratio), that is reserved for the 2.5 V6 24V petrol engine. The company has also adopted a coaxial hydraulic clutch for the four-cylinder petrol engine versions, which guarantees outstanding efficiency, less effort on the clutch pedal and great reliability in time.
As the most advanced expression of Alfa Romeo's new sports car philosophy, the Alfa 156 is thus a genuinely gutsy performer that is always easily managed and offers the utmost in driving pleasure. This is also a very safe car.
Preventive safety is enhanced by a noiseless, comfortable cabin, superior climate control and optimised siting of all the controls.
Active safety is derived from precision steering, exceptional roadholding and a braking system that incorporates ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake Distributor).
Passive safety is the combined affect of several elements: crumple zone front structure, collapsible longitudinals and steering column on one hand, combined with a very rigid passenger compartment on the other. Plus of course, impact beams in the doors and Fiat's FPS (Fire Prevention System). A driver's airbag is standard on all versions and the front passenger airbag is equipped with a sensor that deactivates the system if the seat is unoccupied. The system can also be deactivated to fit an infant seat. In addition, the Alfa 156 will also offer side airbags that are stored inside the seat back, the position that studies identify as offering the most effective protection. Even the seat-belts with their pretensioners are doubly anchored to the seat, to provide the correct amount of tension no matter what size or shape the occupant is.
Thanks to these systems, the Alfa 156 easily passed all the safety tests imposed by the latest EU regulations.
Quality and reliability
For car owners, quality means guaranteed reliability and quality is what the Alfa 156 was designed for with the aid of the latest defect analysis and prevention techniques (FMEA - Failure Mode and Effect Analysis). Prototypes were fatigue and durability tested over 6,000,000 kilometres at all latitudes and in the most extreme climate conditions.
The quality of components employed in production is guaranteed by the supplier. The quality of every assembly operation is certified either by the person who performs the operation (by a personal stamp), or by a machine that prints a certificate of conformity.
The results of all checks are noted on the test form that accompanies each car as it progresses along the line.
In addition to approval of individual operations, overall conformity of the finished product is certified at the end of the line in each operating unit (Pressing, Panelling, Painting and Assembly).
The dynamic reliability of each Alfa 156 produced is tested on the track by Pomigliano test drivers, and some cars undergo even more severe testing, lasting up to 180 kilometres on out-of-town roads and motorways. But that is not all.
From objective quality to perceived quality. Before leaving the plant, the Alfa 156 undergoes two more types of verification, to simulate the impression that the car has upon the customer who sees or drives it for the first time.
The first is an aesthetic and functional check similar to that performed by a possible purchaser in a showroom: door closing, glove box opening, the look of the paintwork. The second is a road test performed by employees who put themselves in the shoes of a customer who goes for a test drive.
The car is built on systems employing the world's most advanced quality monitoring systems by trained workers (a minimum of 80 to a maximum of 320 hours training for every assembly line employee).