One date in Alfa Romeo's recent history was responsible for bringing about a revolution in Brand sales and image. The auspicious date, October 9 1997, was the day when the international press got its first glimpse of the Alfa Romeo 156 in Lisbon. At that moment, Alfa Romeo stepped up to reclaim its own tradition and also its place in the tight circle of prestige sports car manufacturers.
Later models were to build on this success: from the flagship Alfa Romeo 166 to the effervescent Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon and the newer, highly acclaimed compact Alfa Romeo 147. Yet the event that set Alfa Romeo on its new path was the appearance of the 156, a medium-sized car that encloses all Alfa's proud sporting and engineering heritage within one clean, stylish Italian-looking package.
We did not have to wait for long to see the results. The new car won acclaim from the press, who voted it 'Car of the Year 1998' (this award was followed by 35 more accolades) and motorists themselves, who ordered 90,000 units. The other motor manufacturers also had to sit up and take notice. It did not take long for them to follow suite and extend their ranges to include the common rail turbodiesel engines you first saw on the Alfa saloon.
The Alfa Romeo 156 has gone from strength to strength in the intervening four years. It has sold just under half a million saloon and Sportwagon units throughout the world. It now occupies an enviable position in European segment D, where it has easily tripled the Alfa Romeo share: from 0.7% in 1996 to 3.2% in 2001. It also boosted overall brand sales, which rose - in Europe - from 117,500 in 1996 (0.9%) to 202,100 in 2001 (1.4%), i.e. an increase of 72%.
The model now confirms its own vitality by offering the public the new Alfa Romeo 156 and Sportwagon. The only features that these two cars share with their predecessors are their external line (so appreciated by motorists around the world) and their intrinsic irrepressible personality and outstanding dynamic assets. Everything else has undergone deep-seated changes to offer: better performance, more safety, a comprehensive telematic array and more opulent interiors.
The new Alfa Romeo 156 also complements its range with two all-new cars. In other words, the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA and the Sportwagon GTA, cars that represent the quintessence of brand values and revive a legendary name that inspired the slogan 'A win a day for the car you drive to work' for the Giulia Sprint in the mid-Sixties.
The outcome is two good-looking, sporty cars that are designed for everyday use yet still able to ensure racetrack sensation under certain circumstances.
The new Alfa Romeo 156 and Sportwagon offer more performance. The model has another sophisticated automotive engineering ace up its sleeve in the form of a brand new power unit that is Alfa Romeo's interpretation of a direct injection petrol engine. The engine is referred to as a JTS (Jet Thrust Stoichiometric) and is the first direct injection petrol engine with a specific power greater than 60 kW/l and a specific torque higher than 100 Nm/l. It guarantees the performance of a 2.3 unit, yet consumes 10% less fuel.
This revolutionary new engine reduces fuel consumption by adopting a stratified charge lean burn system at speeds of up to 1500 rpm. Above this threshold, the engine harnesses all the engine's power to increase performance. Unlike other lean burn engines, the new unit is fitted with a normal trivalent catalytic converter and can use the normal unleaded fuel on sale today instead of low sulphur fuel. The engine already meets the strict Euro 4 emission limits due to come into force.
The new 2.0 JTS (the acronym destined to identify an entire family of future Alfa Romeo models) is joined by a 2.4 JTD turbodiesel with power increased from 140 to 150 bhp, a 2.0 JTS Selespeed (with improved sequential gearbox operation) and the tried and tested petrol-driven 1.6 T. Spark, 1.8 T. Spark and 2.5 V6 24V. Plus the 1.9 JTD. All in all, an engine range that is bound to accentuate the car's outstanding performance. As is borne out by the performance results.