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Alfa Romeo 156 Saloon (97-05) - rated 3.5 out of 5

Few cars shake up their market segment for their sheer beauty the way the Alfa Romeo 156 did when sales began in 1998. In a finger click, the Audi A4BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class looked dull and ordinary, although the German brands could teach the Italians several chapters from the book on build quality.

Launched first as a four-door saloon to replace the quirky Alfa Romeo 155, a number of styling elements which would become brand hallmarks were introduced. Ensuring that deep shield-shaped grille remained proudly on display, the front number plate was off-set to the nearside, while the rear door handles were hidden around the window trim to give a hint of coupe-like appearance.

Initially powered by a range of charismatic petrol engines, 2000 saw the arrivals of the first modern diesels (dubbed ‘common rail’) – a format commonplace today.