Alfa Romeo 155 (1992 - 1998) review

BY GLENN BROOKS

Introduction

Way back when BMW made the Austin 7 under licence, Alfa Romeo were making cars that won on race tracks and sports saloons that were the envy of other makers. Then, despite the odd flash of glory, the Italian company largely lost its way. The release of the big 164 saloon in 1988 changed all that, however, as the newly Fiat-owned company dramatically improved both quality and reliability, starting at the top of its range. Buyers and the motoring media alike hoped the 164's smaller brother, the 155, released in 1992, would give the BMW 3 Series a run for its money. The purists who had had to eat their words when the front-wheel drive 164 turned out to be a great handler, wondered whether the first front-drive Alfa family-sized saloon would be just as entertaining. To a large extent it was, though sales, sadly, never lived up to expectations. Eventually, though, Alfa's range enjoyed success and sold in reasonable, if never spectacular, numbers.

Models

Models Covered: First generation 155 - June 1992 to May 1995 (1.8 Twin Spark Saloon / 2.0 Twin Spark Saloon [base, Lusso] / 2.5 6cy Saloon) Second generation 155 - June 1995 to February 1998 (1.8 Twin Spark Saloon / 2.0 16v Twin Spark Saloon / 2.5 6cy Saloon)

History

Succeeding the controversially styled 75, the 155 was deemed a great improvement. Despite a high-profile marketing programme, sales, however, were a lot less than they deserved to be. Alfa responded by releasing a thoroughly-redesigned 155 only three years after the original launch and these cars finally had the motoring press declaring that the Alfa revival had taken another, stronger step forward. Build quality, performance, reliability and value of these facelifted models were all far superior to the original 1.8, 2.0 and 2.5-litre 155 range that had arrived in June 1992. The mid-1995 facelift saw the adoption of flared wheelarches across the model line-up, as well as equipment upgrades including an alarm and an immobiliser. The 1.8 and 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines kept their Twin Spark badging but these were, in fact, new designs, featuring 16-valve cylinder heads, in combination with two spark plugs for each cylinder. The design of the 12-valve 2.5 V6, on the other hand, remained virtually unchanged. The 1998 Car of the Year, Alfa's all new 156, replaced the 155 in early 1998, with much fanfare and an even bigger leap in quality, handling and driveability. Though the 155 never sold in huge numbers, there should still be a good selection of 155 models knocking about the small ads.

What You Get

Any 155 you see will be well equipped. Indeed, on the second shape series, even the 1.8 featured anti-lock brakes, a driver's airbag, power steering, alloy wheels, central locking, an immobiliser and a leather steering wheel and gear knob. Many post-1995 155s you'll see also feature a more aggressive look, courtesy of the optional `sport pack`. This included bulged-out lip-less wheelarches, five-spoke dark metallic grey Speedline 16" alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and sill skirts. The look of the car is distinctive and obviously Alfa but it's quite dated by modern standards. Build quality in the interior isn't all that it could be.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Make sure any 155 you're considering has a service history. These cars are sporty by nature and an unsympathetic former owner may have been unkind. This is not a delicate Italian thoroughbred, though, so fears of fragile mechanicals are unfounded. Nevertheless, these cars have engines which are tuned for performance and though the V6 once had a reputation for head gasket trouble, such stories are rare. Don't forget to check all those clever electric gadgets - horror stories of 'Spaghetti electrics' may be unfounded on the 155, but better to make sure everything is in working order before you hand over the cash.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2.0 Twin spark, excl. VAT) A clutch assembly will be around £125, while a replacement headlamp will be £119. A starter motor will be about £299 and an alternator approximately £273. Front brake pads are about £52. A rear exhaust section should be just under £150.

On the Road

Pick any 155 and the story is the same. Punchy power delivery, super-sharp throttle response and precision handling. Dab the accelerator or touch the wheel in an Alfa and it responds instantly. The post 95 cars have tauter suspension and handling that's sharper still. Particularly at this stage, these are probably the ones to go for. Whether you want one of these cars will depend as much on your character as that of the car. That's the magic of owning one; the feeling that you've set yourself apart from the Mondeo and Vectra-driving herd.

Overall

For no more than the cost of a double glazing salesman's saloon, this is a car you could be proud of.