Alfa male

 

alfa156gtasw2_2_4931eba55d09a-lightboxFirstly, it’s been a more expensive time. When you buy a new car there’s a protracted lull before anything is needed beyond a very perfunctory first service, which for my 156 was very cheap. This year has seen a 24k service, which was not pricey by compact exec standards but was still more than I expected after a few years away from main dealer servicing, particularly as I supplied my own oil and brake fluid to be sure of what was used…

 

Four new tyres were needed at about the same time, not bad for a 250bhp FWD car. After the usual forum discussions about what to choose, I went for P Zero Rossos again – I like the feel of the tyre on the limit, especially in the wet, and it has decent refinement for a sports tyre. There may be slightly grippier options available, but the fact I opportunistically bought two spare wheels via the Alfaowner forum and kept two of the old Rossos mounted on the old rims as trackday fronts made me keener to stay with them. Also, there seems to be something essentially “right” about Pirellis on an Alfa.

 

The paint seems slightly prone to chipping, as with all modern paints I’ve seen, and the dark colour shows the white undercoat when chipped. I’m very glad I had the car Armourfend-ed from nearly new, particularly as I know from experience how vulnerable the vertical 156 nose can be. Only the bonnet is prone to the occasional chip as a result. Otherwise the paint seems of decent quality, and retains a deep lustre with just a basic polish every few months, with none of the orange-peel effect I see on so many modern cars.

 

The interior still looks like new, the leather has retained its appearance with just a yearly treatment, and is pleasingly matt and textured against the shiny characterless stuff I see in some cars. I love the high-back leather bucket seats, they look great and keep me securely placed when pressing on, plus I find myself fiddling with the controls less than in any other car I’ve driven, so my back appreciates them too.

 

I find Alfa V6’s the most confidence-inspiring engines I’ve used; they just perform the same, all the time. My Passat V6 had some ECU glitches, all the Fords we’ve run have occasionally not wanted to start, and even my wife’s Civic Type R had a busy and variable idle from cold; the Alfa’s lump just catches immediately and settles to a bassy, steady idle exactly the same way every morning whatever the weather, and exactly the same way if you come to a standstill from a trackday session or from a steady 130mph cruise on the Autoroute.

 

A change of job has seen me shorten my usual commute markedly to one where the oil/water only just warms up fully, so mpg has fallen, but the underground car park at work gives me huge amusement as the exhaust note when parking in a confined area is exceedingly loud and bassy for an OEM system. The top end of the engine has continued to free up as well, it rushes through the last 500revs to the 7k red line with more vigour than when new, and the way you can let the car run to a virtual standstill in third gear in traffic without dipping the clutch, then just smoothly power away with a tiny prod of the throttle is the kind of thing that makes a V6 owner happy and makes driving in traffic less of a pain.

 

On the open road the car is still making me grin. The roads I typically drive on – mostly sweeping A-roads with brief periods of dual carriageway – are ideally suited to the car and destroy arguments about FWD not being a valid performance setup. It’s not ideal, but I’d prefer a better engine and more overall performance to RWD with insufficient power to make use of it, which was the real-world choice at this budget. You could pick a road to embarrass the chassis if you wanted to make a point, but for the driving I do (mostly 3rd gear and up) the benefits of the brakes, lack of dive/roll, and the smooth engine and slick close ratio box make up for the layout. I find that the car can be turned in with very little lock but some judicious trail-braking to a slight oversteer stance, then power can be applied to exit the corner more swiftly than you’d expect, the instant throttle response helping with some right-foot traction control where needed.

 

France has caught the “speeding is the root of all evil” bug so you have to be more careful than before on the way to Le Mans, but some lengthy periods of acceleration and steady cruises on the naughty side of 130mph showed the engine, gearing and slick aerodynamics off to their best.

 

Arriving at a French campsite with a boot full of camping gear, and transporting 4 spectators about the circuit in air conditioned luxury with a door each highlight the all-round benefits of the layout.

 

The car has been out briefly at Bedford when the friend’s Caterham I was sharing became ill, and while FWD road cars and circuits do not provide the best entertainment it changes direction well, gets the power down with little fuss and the brakes can take sympathetic track use – as they ought to at that size!

 

Finances willing, I do plan an economical upgrade consisting of Quaife LSD, Pagid pads, and possibly better shocks and an induction kit/chip at some stage next year.

 

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James Wyatt