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The 156 saloon was Alfa Romeo‘s best car in years. Three years later, we were treated to the handsome and tidy-handling 156 estate. 

To adapt the saloon’s chassis for estate car use, the floorpan, roof, pillars and damper attachments were strengthened, while revised rear doors and a re-profiled bumper helped to create a beautifully cohesive three-door profile. The 2.0-litre Twin Spark four-pot and five-speed manual gearbox were carried over. 

Despite its modest 155bhp output, the engine yielded impressive performance, delivered smoothly from idle to the 7000rpm redline, although the Sportwagon was a tad slower — and thirstier — than the 55kg-lighter saloon. The brakes were strong and fade-free. 

As with the saloon, the steering was sharp but suffered kickback. The ride was firm without being harsh, and the optional self-levelling suspension coped well with heavy loads.

The boot was flat-floored but high of lip and compromised for volume and practicality by intrusive wheel wells. Although lacking the finish of German rivals, the interior was attractive and ergonomically sound for the most part.

For: Looks, value, performance, handling, brakes 

Against: Lack of space, steering kickback

Price £19,574 Engine 4 cyls in line, 1970cc, petrol Power 155bhp at 6400rpm Torque 138lb ft at 3500rpm 0-60mph 8.3sec 0-100mph 24.7sec Standing-quarter mile 16.6sec at 85.8mph Top speed 129mph Economy 24.6mpg

Other petrol engines consisted of 1.6 and 1.8 Twin Sparks and a 190bhp 2.5-litre V6 (a handful of which were sold with four-wheel drive), while the diesel offering was a 1.9-litre four-cylinder and a 2.4-litre five-pot. 

The 156 remained on sale in saloon and Sportwagon forms until 2005, at which point it was replaced by the 159.

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