Charismatic and hair-raisingly quick, the 156 GTA offers plenty of performance for the money. Here's what to look for if you're looking to buy..
The 156’s curvaceous lines, appetite for a good corner and the weight of expectation brought by wearing an Alfa Romeo badge meant it was only a matter of time before press-on drivers were treated to a proper sporting derivative.
Launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2001 and introduced here in May 2002, the GTA dropped the manufacturer’s sonorous 3.2-litre V6 behind the 156’s V-shaped grille, deploying 247bhp to the front wheels. Developed alongside the smaller 147 GTA – with which it shared its engine – the 156 GTA represents value for money, considering they weighed in at a hefty £27k when they were new.
It may have had a wider track, lower ride height and revised steering geometry than the rest of the range, but it’s still a driver’s car dominated by the nose-heavy – but wonderfully melodic – powerplant.
Sadly, its production stint was short-lived – both it and the 147 GTA were canned in 2005 when the 3.2-litre V6 was unable to meet emissions regulations.
TORQUE 221lb ft@4800rpm
MAXIMUM SPEED 155mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 23-30mpg
TRANSMISSION FWD, 6-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Check the water pump
The V6’s coolant is circulated by a plastic impellor, which is known to split and then fail altogether with age. Replacing it is a tricky – and expensive – job that requires removing the cambelt, tensioner and idler pulleys, so check through the history to see if a previous owner has replaced it. Switching the GTA’s plastic part with the metal one from the GTV is a common swap.
Has the cambelt been changed?
It’s recommended the belt is checked at 36,000 miles and replaced completely at 72,000 miles, but as it’s not an easy part to access some owners hold out for longer. It’s a similar story with oil filters – it’s awkward but not impossible to get at, but make sure previous owners haven’t neglected changing it.
Try that clutch
Clutches tend to last at least 70,000 miles, but replacing them is a fiddly job that involves taking out the front suspension and subframe to get access. A car that’s had the work done is a plus, but if you can’t find proof then check for a heavy pedal feel or a biting point that’s very high up. A worn clutch slave cylinder will also manifest itself through pedal feel, but it’s a cheaper and easier fix.
Is it a track day car?
The GTA’s rampant performance and affordability mean there are plenty that have been thrashed at track days. On cars made before November 2003 – which are fitted with 305mm front brake discs – brake juddering will often indicate whether the car’s had a hard life. It’s also worth listening for creaks or knocks from the front suspension, which is usually a anti-roll bar sliding around due to worn bushes.
Has the bonnet been fixed?
Both the 156 and its 147 sibling were issued with safety recalls due to failing bonnet catches, which can cause the bonnet to fly open at speed. Check the car’s history to see whether a dealer’s looked at your car in the past – early ones had a plastic catch, and while the later metal items are better it didn’t completely eradicate the problem, so make sure the bonnet closes properly and that it’s been greased regularly. In very rare incidents, the roof may have been damaged as a result of an errant bonnet – check for signs of rust around the top of the windscreen.
Unlike its primarily German opposition – and mass-market rivals like Ford’s Mondeo ST220 and Vauxhall’s Vectra GSI – the 156 GTA majors on charisma. You’d never tire of listening to the noise the 3.2-litre V6 makes or the trouble Alfa goes to with the visual details, like the chromed inlet manifolds, the 17-inch teledial alloy wheels and the individual dashboard pods for the instruments.
It’s a charismatic sports saloon that rewards a fastidious owner – there is no point in skimping crucial servicing because some of the parts are tricky to reach. It’s also in the price doldrums at the moment, so now’s the time to buy one before prices start going up.