Modifications for Alfa Romeo 156
- Improvement or destruction?


Why is it almost always big interests among the Alfisti how to tune their cars?
Actually, it isn't very strange. Most of us know that the factory had to
make a whole lot of compromises in construction and choice of materials
to mass produce the car to a competitive price.

Story: Řyvind Iversen - chairman of Klubb Alfa Romeo Norge (in article from Alfanytt 04/2002)
Translation: Anders Bull - webmaster@alfa156.net

Alfanytt has tried several different solutions and most of these are better than the factory
setup in all areas. Unfortunately, this is knowledge many of the authorized Alfa Romeo
dealers does not have. The reason is that many of them are actually not very interested in
Alfa Romeo. They might as well sell Toyotas. This is very sad as many of the Alfa Romeo
buyers are far more interested in cars than most people.

We have been in touch with large garages saying you should not lower your car! They say this even though they have never tried it. In other words a total lack of interest and respect for the customer.

Does the factory know best?

People mainly have two attitudes about this:
1. The factory knows best, we better not change anything.
2. The factory has to make compromises and this means that there is always room for
improvement.

The representatives of group 1 have in most cases not tried modified cars, and they are not
very interested in cars. Or they might have a special need which makes it hard to do some
of the changes in this article. Because: yes - lowering and stiffening suspension does have
a few negative side effects. Some people might have experienced rock hard suspension, which
makes them very sceptical to make any changes. But it doesn't have to be like that. There
are alternatives for every taste. This, together with the factory's sometimes bad and in
some cases ridiculously bad choices of components, will say that both comfort and
sportivity will have room for improvements.

The representatives of group 2 have fun most of the time. More comfortable and way sharper
driving characteristics at the same time. Or just way sharper handling.

Practical advantages

Driving over speed bumps is a very well known problem with the 156 (and 147). The front of
the car combined with soft springs (and dampers) result in the car scraping the road on
the way down from the bump. The cover under the engine will touch down very easily.
Because of this, it is very common to change that cover because it is cracked. Changing the
springs will almost eliminate this problem. Also changing the dampers eliminates this almost
entirely. 156 (sedan) with the sportpack is far better over speed bumps than a standard car.

Disadvantages

The only practical disadvantage of lowering a car is that it's obviously getting lower.
The lowest spot will be the cover under the engine. Winter driving on a very snowy road
(or an old gravel road with grass in the middle) you will notice that the cover scrapes
the road. It is possible to bind up this cover to make a bit more clearing under the car.
For those who mount very stiff kits, they will actually have worse handling on a rough road.
This is because the suspension does not allow enough movement for the wheels related to each
other. The result is that you will lose grip easier with one of the wheels. Very stiff cars
are because of that not as good in snowy conditions.

The alternatives

Can I buy the 156 new with sportspack so I don't have to make any mods after? Yes and no.
If you buy a 156 sedan, you can have it with a effective sportspack. If you buy a Sportwagon,
you can forget about the sportspack. But, people say, from the price list at the dealer it
says that the sportspack can be delivered on the Sportwagon. But that is unfortunately rubbish.

On the 156 sedan, the sportspack will include among other side skirts (which will also
function as a stone chip protection), 16" wheels with 205/55 tires, "carbon look" interior,
different seats (pack 1 has slightly different seams in the seats and a different upholstery
- pack 2 will have fabric seats from Recaro and pack 3 will have the same seats as in pack 1,
just with Momo leather). The pack also includes predisposition for a roof antenna and for
mobile phone. But the most important are the lowering springs from Eibach which lowers 2,5cm
and sports dampers from Bilstein.

The sports pack for Sportwagon is just cosmetic, no lowering and no sports dampers. A tragedy!

The car on this picture is lowered, though.

Standard 156 with 185/65/15 wheels

This is a fairly good harmonious set up. Soft and comfortable. Easy to touch the ground
over speed bumps and the stability can be improved on high-paced driving. Very nice, but
miles away from the potential of the car.

Standard 156 with 17" wheels and 215/45 tires

Mounting 17" wheels will instantly give you a sense of sportscar to put it very simple.
The steering improves a lot and it is possible to drive a lot faster trough the corners.
The car feels instantly stiffer and with less roll. It is mainly when the speed goes up
you'll start noticing this is just apparently a sportscar. Neither springs or dampers manage
to keep up with the car and it gets very floaty trough corners if there is any roughness to
the road.

The 17" wheels gives less in the tires side than the standard 15" and that is what fools you
to believe that the car is stiffer. Wheels in this size do not necessarily tend to be
unstable on bad roads (e.g. from spike winter tires). Wider tires, especially 235, will be
more noticeable unstable on the bad roads. Conclusion: Very simple upgrade, but mostly for
show. 17" wheels cost more than lowering springs and sportsdampers which will give better
handling.

2.0TS with sports pack, 16" or 17" wheels

The optimal standard 156! The lowering springs from Eibach lowers about 25mm and the
dampers are from Bilstein. Doesn't touch down as easily over speed bumps. Never touches
down on bad roads. Very fast driving reveals a bit soft springs for the Bilstein dampers. You'll
notice a bit blunt car over uneven roads and slightly bigger bumps reveals that the springs should
be a bit harder. The car runs a bit on the dampers. Why didn't Alfa Romeo tune this kit all
the way? It is so close, but slightly stiffer springs would make it perfect for normal use.
Recommended upgrade is Eibach springs from the Alfa Romeo accessories catalog.

2.0TS with Eibach (35mm) lowering springs and 17" wheels

Very good first impression, but you'll notice that the standard dampers are to slow for the
springs. There are tendencies that the springs makes the movement with the result that
the car tends to bounce over bumps with hard and fast driving compared to if the dampers
had been a bit stiffer. Nevertheless more stable than the standard car. A very noticeable
improvement for a relatively affordable price. These springs are the ones from the Alfa Romeo
accessories catalog.

2.0TS with Eibach springs (35mm) and Novitec dampers

Same car as the above. Very big improvement! The car feels very much more at ease and less
bouny. Both more comfortable and very much more controllable. It being more comfortable
might sound like a paradox, but what does this is that the springs and dampers are very in
harmony to each other. Will let you push it without giving any uncontrolled movements.
When it looses grip, it is very controlled and undramatic to regain control. Better handling
and sportier than with Alfa Romeo sportsdamper (Bilstein Sprint).

1.8TS SW with Eibach springs (35mm) and Bilstein Sprint in front

With the lowering springs and without the dampers it is to soft. The dampers do not manage
to damp the springs movement and the car nods over bumps. It feels as the dampers do not get
along as it works at another area of the dampers it was not meant to be using. When mounting
the Bilstein dampers everything gets more comfortable at the same time as the handling
improves a lot. The dampers at the rear wheels are not changed and this is noticeable. Change
at the rear would stabilized the car more, but it works somehow as a compromise for the
lower price.

2.0TS with Novitec springs (40mm) and AR sportsdampers

The car has 17" Selespeed rims with 235/35/17 Pirelli P Zero tires. Now we are talking
a setup that is a lot more uncompromising. The basis is a car with a standard sportspack,
but the owner wanted something more intense. Novitec is a well know German tuning company
for Alfa Romeo. The springs lower 40mm and are progressive. With normal driving, this isn't
uncomfortable. The steering response is good and and the car tilts very little. The setup is
not completely optimal as the dampers do not quite keep up with the very hard springs. There
is therefore noticeable bouncing when driving over several bumps in a row. The car moves on
the spring and the damper is not able to stop it very well.

If you hit sharp ends, the spring will take all the impact and there is a noticeable stroke
in the car. Not very unlike the GTV, but harder. Driving hard in turns makes the springs
to compress some without the damper being able to stop it completely. The stability will be
improved with stiffer dampers.

Conclusion: Serious stuff, but when said A, you should also say B and go all the way. This will
need stiffer dampers and a strut brace. A typical example of got some, want more. Because
this is really starting to get somewhere. But compared to this, the setup with Eibach springs
and Novitec dampers was better.

V6es

156 2,5 V6 has standard suspensions almost like a sofa on wheels. Driving it hard reveals
an unstable car and tends to bottom out the springs! Very bad of Alfa Romeo to release this
to the market. Cars with sportspack is a completely different experience. In some countries
they actually stopped importing the V6 without the sportspack. This car have great room for
improvement!

'99 156 2,5 V6 with Eibach springs, strout brace and 215/55/16 wheels

The lowering kit has newly been mounted and compared to standard, this is lovely! With fast
driving it feels very well balanced. It is first when you are closing the limits that
the dampers starts to fail their mission. In a bend that works well with my 1.8TS SW with
lowering springs in 120 km/h, it tends to understeer already at 110 km/h. Some of this is a
result of the extra weight from the V6 engine.

In a situation like this, you can with a 4 cylinder engine just release the throttle and
the car regains the ideal line trough the turn. This is not the same for the V6. It gets very
unpleasant with a little change between weight from the front and from the rear. The car
shifts in a way because the dampers does not manage to damp the springs movement in an extreme
situation. Stiffer dampers and strout brace would done good here, but this is still far
better then the original setup.

Strut brace

We have not had the chance to experience the same car before and after the mounting of
a strut brace. But feedback says that this will improve the steering handling in extreme
situations some. A little side effect is that some people has gotten rid of squeaks in
the dash due to the improved stiffness by the suspension towers in the engine room.

Roll bar

Stiffer roll bars is mounted to reduce tilting trough corners. The advantage by this as
compared with very stiff springs/dampers is that this in very less degree reduces
the comfort. The V6 owners has reported great improvement. This can also be done without
lowering the car.

Conclusion
The 156 is a very good standard car, but we have in this article revealed that there are great rooms for improvement. The modifications shows what the potential of the Alfa 156 really is. Strongly recommended!

Thanks to Řyvind I for letting me use his text!