Alfa Scores Gold in Euro Competition

Alfa 156
The best color for a new Alfa is red.

Slickest 'Car of the Year' in Decades

Paris:- Wednesday, 26. November 1997:- If you have been reading Metropole for the past several weeks, you might think I am in the Italian journalist-payola scheme for having shamelessly plugged the new Alfa 156 for the prestigious 'European Car of the Year' award.

On Monday night the Alfa Romeo 156 was elected the award winner as 1997's 'European Car of the Year.'

There is no truth to this payola rumor - the Italians have not paid me one pfennig - yet.

It all started back in the Monday, 3. November Metropole issue 2.44 when I wrote about Mercedes new 'A'-Klasse car falling over during a 'moose-test,' undertaken by some Swedish journalists.

Following this item, I casually mentioned that the new Alfa 156 should be a candidate for the award, on looks alone. At the time I didn't know it was an entry in this annual contest.

Mercedes' troubles continued, so they were mentioned in following issues. I found an ad for the new Alfa in Der Spiegel and 'borrowed' a photo of it for Metropole for issue 2.45.

Mercedes was again mentioned in issue 2.46, but by last week I felt that enough was enough and 'anybody can make a mistake,' even if the bill rear Alfa 156 for it might be 200 million DM. Even if Mercedes can 'afford' it; they will pass the bill on to consumers anyhow.

From now on, until the Italians change their mind, this is how car rear-ends will look.

I remembered that Alfa had a showroom on the Champs-Elysées along with Mercedes, Peugeot, Renault and Citreon, and as a result of a convoluted editorial process, I decided to make a 'rainy weather' article out of it, plus try and put a bit of positive 'spin' on Mercedes' problems.

However, the Alfa showroom on the Champs-Elysées is no longer there, which was a big disappointment. Alfa Romeo may not be a big deal these days, but every time I see one or hear the name I automatically think, 'La Dolce Vita.' This is a bit false, because Alfas were on the hard-motor side of that.

With Monday's news of Alfa's winning the car award, I felt I'd better take a look at the car itself. Some cars photograph well and look rotten on wheels, and with other cars it is the other way around. I've been plugging something that may look like a boxcar.

All cars made in Italy now seemed to owned by Fiat, so it is to Fiat's Paris headquarters I go. It is not in the outer boondocks but it is difficult to get to by using bus or métro. This journey is not worth describing.

Besides Alfas, Fiat's HQ has Fiats of course, and Lancias. Fiat has been doing well in the award wars lately, because they won it last year for their ugly Bravo-Brava models and before that, for the not-so-ugly Punto, which is a face-lifted Uno, which was a pretty clean design.

Last year's winner, the Fiat Bravo-Brava - one is two-door, the other is four-door and they have slightly different bodywork - is a good example of poor design.

The Italians started the odd-looking rear-end designs in the '70's and I hope the Bravo-Brava are the last of them. The car looks okay at the front, but the rear-end looks like a brain-tumor. If this kind of design can win the car of the driver's seat Alfa 156 year award, then Mercedes had a good chance this year.

But not any more. The Alfa 156 looks good in real life and has a front end which belongs to the car's back end, and it is definitely a reminder of what Alfas looked like with they had names like Giulietta and Giulia.

The driver's parts look like they are '70's, but the seats are '90's.

The Alfa 156 competes directly in the upper-little or lower-medium car bracket and its direct competitors are the Audi A4, the BMW 318 or the Peugeot 406 - all worthy cars; except none of them is as harmoniously designed as the Alfa.

Le Parisien says the interior has an old-fashioned style. Instead of a panoramic, deep-sunk instrument display, the Alfa 156 has two huge, round instrument nacelles, with white instrument faces. Left is speedo and right is tacho - redline at 7,000 - and you can probably see them with your eyes closed. They may be 'old-fashioned,' but they are nice to see again. Also, black dial-faces are an option.

I am fairly tall, but I could not see the low front-end out of the big windshield. All the other windows are fairly small, which cuts summer heat. As usual, the trunk is high and you can't see anything but window in that direction - if you've driven fastbacks, this is the effect.

This is a four-door sedan, but the rear doors do not appear to have door-handles. The front door-handles have been lifted whole from a '53 Chevy, and you will never break a finger-nail using these solid ottos.

The slowest Alfa 156 is the lowball 1.9 turbo-diesel, but it tops out at near 190 kph. The smallest gas job will do nearly 200; all other models go over. All the four-cylinder gas models have 'twin-spark' which means two plugs per cylinder, so you need eight when you change them. Alfa's literature doesn't even bother to mention all the fours have 16 valves.

The 1.8T-Spark model can be ordered with a French-tax-lowering transmission, which lowers - on paper - gas consumption - but does not - on paper - lower performance, except for highest speed.

This mill puts out 144 EU HP or 106 EU KW - at 6500 rpm. Maximum torque is nicely situated at 3500 rpm and it is rated at 17.7 EU-somethings; good for zero to 100 in 9.3 seconds. Le Parisien says you'll get by on eight litres per 100 km, but in town it will probably be 11 or 12 litres, if you are an Alfa driver.

Diesels, much favored by the French, are getting a lot of criticism for pollution these days. All the same, what I have called a 'lowball' above has more torque than the V-6, and it comes on at 2000 rpm, not 5000 - and it will do zero to 100 in 10.5 seconds, with two on board Alfa 156-2 and 20 kilos of wine and paté in the rear. Rolling through the countryside at 90 kph, it should consume no more than five litres per hundred.

Actually there isn't much to say - it looks like a car and not like a old-fashioned bathtub.

Disk brakes all round, ABS, lots of options including a V-6, nine body colors including 'Alfa Red,' and a fairly small trunk round out the picture.

Alright ladies and gentlemen, here are the scores for the European Car of the Year Award: Alfa 156, 454 points; the new VW Golf, 266 points; the Audi A6, 265 points; Mercedes' 'A'-Klasse, 211 points; and Citroen's Xsara, 204 Points.

The jury was composed of 56 auto journalists from 21 European countries. I 'voted' without permission and the points I awarded are not included in the totals above.

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