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In the hills above Malaga in southern Spain, on a brilliantly sunny day, the 1998 European Car of the Year let out a distinctive burble coming out of a bend.

It was an expression, perhaps, of how hard it is to understand why the Alfa Romeo 156, on sale at the end of this month, got the title.

The Mercedes-Benz A-class would surely have driven off with it had it not been toppled in a moose test - the Scandinavian handling exam which the 156 passed nimbly.

Moose or elk tests are no joke, even if the likelihood of swerving to avoid one on the M8 is fairly unlikely.

Anything which gives a major car-maker like Merc such bad publicity can't be taken lightly.

The Alfa 156 was, however, nimble and secure on the tight curves in Spain - matching the confident approach of the company's marketing team.

Alfa is playing a very smart selling card, saying the 156 is the latest in a line of Alfas from the 1900 to the Giulietta, and from the Giulia to the Alfetta ... the marque of style and success, in fact.

They've restyled the front, too, and made the shield grille bigger, then had to offset the number- plate to the nearside because there is no room in the centre.

They then added horizontal whiskers (two narrow slits) running beneath the headlamps purely for the visual impact.

Comparisons with the Alfa GTV coup are inevitable and welcomed by the makers.

The 156 feels sporty, but its ride is a little more rounded and the balance is about right between the cars.

That Alfa burble actually came from the 155bhp 2.0-litre engine of the Twin Spark (pounds 19,728), which has ample pep for the car.

For those who will sell their kingdom for some horsepower, though, there's the 144bhp 1.8-litre (pounds 17,573) and the 190bhp 2.5- litre V6 (pounds 22,232).

All prices are on the road and the 156 has the right feeling of quality for a car priced between the Ford Mondeo/ Vauxhall Vectra and BMW 3 Series/ Audi A4.

Anti-lock brakes and power-steering are standard on a car which looks good and has the acceleration and handling to match.

The 156 was preceded last year by, as you might expect, the 155. That was voted the Car of the Year last year and had more flaws than you'd care to think about.

But don't be put off. The 156 is a totally new car and, though it isn't a jewel yet, it puts a sparkle in the Alfa crown to give the car-maker a long-awaited boost.

And if you do buy one, you'll be in an exclusive club - only about 4000 cars are heading for the UK this year.

MOTORISTS risk a fine of up to pounds 1000 by taking a car with no tax disc off the road without telling the DVLA. This is the latest crackdown on tax dodgers who sometimes claim they were not using the car. Owners must have either a valid tax disc or declare SORN (statutory off road notification) on a V11 tax reminder form.

A DVLA spokesman said: "We want to reduce the number of `month skippers' who accounted for pounds 175 million in lost revenue in 1996."

MERCEDES-BENZ say more than 6000 people in the UK have asked to go on the waiting list for the new M- class, which goes on sale in the autumn priced from around pounds 31,000.

The company claims it will be a class leader, "combining the luxury and comfort of a Mercedes saloon with true off- road capability".

The M-class will be sold with a choice of 217bhp, 3.2 litre V6 and 268bhp, 4.3- litre V8 engines.

VOLKSWAGEN has been named "top advertiser" by Campaign magazine for its ads showing that the company's cars cost less than most people think.

These included TV commercials in which a woman becomes faint in a shopping centre, ending with a shot showing a poster with a VW price.

The series was vital for VW, which needed to tackle a general belief that its cars were over-priced.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Head, Tony
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 11, 1998
Previous Article:Record Money; Parc life for beer giants.

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