I start this piece with the admission that I have
been an abject failure. With the Alfa’s being produced locally, it
should have been easy for me to slide my bottom in one, and in fact I
had done this at the Bira circuit day, put on by the local Alfa
people. However, I had not done a proper test (I do not write about
vehicles that I have just driven round the block and pretend that I
can fully understand the car). I tried ringing the local office to
speak to “the man” but his super-efficient secretary was obviously
making sure that his morning was not spoiled by “coffee interuptus”.
But all was not lost, as my mate down-under, John
Weinthal, had just spent a week in one of these jiggers. So, after
that rather long-winded introduction, here are the Words from Weinthal.
“It took 39 years of regularly assessing cars for
me to endure the first injury inflicted on me by a test car. Last
month was notable also for only my second experience of what is rather
quaintly but accurately described as driving in ‘limp mode’.
“The injury meant that a big chunk was hacked
from the back of my leg. This happened when the sharp lower edge of a
new Camry Sportivo front door swung shut and gouged me. A few stitches
and two weeks later I now have only a scar to remind me of the event.
“Then, right at end of a most enjoyable week’s
motoring, the new Alfa Romeo JTS sedan suddenly became pretty
listless. It continued to progress - as they say - but City buses
easily had its number away from the lights. At the same time, a yellow
outline of an engine appeared as a warning symbol in the speedo. The
fascia-mounted information centre flashed in red: motor control
systems fault - go to dealer.
“And so I did, after a few small journeys during
which its performance alternated between Alfa hare and wind-up
tortoise, but it got us back to the stunning new Brisbane Alfa
dealership without any real pain.
“According to the John Briggs, Alfa Romeo man in
charge of these things, some Queensland (Australia) premium petrol is
rather less premium than most other people’s premium. The Alfa’s
electronic management system can detect this and slows things down
before real damage occurs. Fair enough ... but I am glad I was still
in the Metropolitan area. Exactly the same thing happened with an AUD
100,000 BMW 330ci last year. Brisbane BMW’s response was the same.
“The Alfa 156 is a compact, stylish four door
sedan. Considering its enviable heritage you expect above average
driving satisfaction. You will not be disappointed. You might be
surprised, however, to discover that you have an extremely economical
car in your driveway. This Alfa sports sedan will go more than 600 km
on a tank of premium; as good as 6.6 km per 100km on the European
“The 156 is not new by any means - it was the
1998 European Car the Year. However, it has recently had some
significant changes including acquiring what Alfa claims is the most
advanced engine of its type in the world. I am not sure what ‘of its
type’ means, but there’s no doubting that this high tech four is
extremely sweet be it around town, sweeping through winding hill
country or drifting down the freeway. Power from Alfa’s all-new two
litre JTS engine is 121kw - up from 114 for the long-lived Twinspark
engine it replaces. Torque is up from 187 Nm to an impressive 206 Nm.
The 156 JTS can cover the 0-100 kph run in just 8.2 seconds and go on
to a top speed of 220 kph. In typical Alfa style, this new engine
loves revs and delivers its best both in performance and aurally when
enjoying its upper limits. Effectively it is a four-speeder around
town, with fifth gear largely reserved for cruising.
“The steering is crisp; the ride is good; the
handling will impress most. Not for the first time with an Italian
car, the brakes are highly effective albeit a mite less reassuring in
feel than most cars.
“Standard equipment includes a multitude of
electronic suspension and braking enhancements, six airbags,
multi-zone climate control air-con, a fascia top information panel
(which clearly warned me to get back to the dealer), electronic cruise
control, front and rear centre armrest, Blaupunkt six-speaker sound
system with controls on the steering wheel and more.
“The Alfa has the expected remote central
locking, power windows and mirrors and various styling touches which
help distinguish Alfas from the common herd. The Alfa is a practical
and comfortable fun car. It will appeal primarily to the enthusiast
family man rather than your everyday motorist. At AUD 49,950 it is
fair value, and the coffee crowd credibility of the Alfa is more akin
to that of a BMW, Jag, Audi or Merc.
“The Alfa is a most satisfying alternative to the
run-of-the-mill. It will be most appreciated by those with long
memories and a love for a challenging drive.”
Thank you John, if only we had the availability of
test machinery the way they do in Oz. The Alfa 156 range starts here
in Thailand around 1.8 million baht.