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Alfa Romeo 159 range

Alfa Romeo's 159 continues in its quest to shake the German establishment thanks to an improved engine range. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.

Ten Second Review

If you habitually buy the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes, it'll take some mental adjustment to tune into the Alfa Romeo 159. Still, though less buttoned down, it's impeccably tailored, a class act. Two of the most recent range additions, the 200bhp 1750 TBi petrol model and the 2.0 JTDm 170bhp diesel, are the variants to choose and both saloon and Sportwagon estate body styles remain stunningly seductive.

Background

Alfa Romeo's 156 did an effective job in establishing the Italian brand firmly in the Compact Executive territory previously dominated by BMW's 3 Series, Mercedes' C-Class and Audi's A4. Its 159 replacement had to improve on perceived build quality, styling and interior space and managed to do so in a way not reflected by sales figures since. The Italians have kept at it though, further improving 159 saloon and Sportwagon estate models at every opportunity. First we had the Q-Tronic automatic gearbox for turbodiesel models, then the sporty-looking TI trim level. By late 2009 however, the 2.2-litre JTS petrol model that many liked was no longer efficient enough to tempt company buyers who also saw a huge gulf between the 150bhp 1.9 and 210bhp 2.4-litre diesel variants. Alfa's response was the introduction of a couple of far more modern powerplants to convince the doubters.

Driving Experience

Let's start by talking diesel. Ten years ago, no one would have believed that best selling Alfas would fuel from the black pump - but that's the case today. Alfa's sales focus now is on their latest 170bhp 2.0 JTDm engine with its impressive pulling power but for the time being at least, it also sells alongside the older 1.9-litre Multijet unit which soldiers on in 120 or 150bhp guises. At the top of the diesel range, the 210bhp 2.4 JTDm continues on unchanged. Petrol buyers these days get a much better deal in the form of the 1750 TBi variant, offering 200bhp and a useful 320Nm of torque, developed at 1,400rpm, little more than tickover speed. The 0-62mph benchmark is dispatched in just 7.7 seconds, before topping out at 147mph. However, it's the flexibility of the in-gear acceleration that sets the engine apart from its competitors. The older 185bhp 2.2-litre JTS engine continues on at the bottom of the range until Alfa UK sell them all, while flagship status remains for the Holden-developed 260bhp 3.2-litre V6 with its Q4 four wheel drive chassis. On the move, it's not worth pretending that the Alfa 159 can hold a candle to a BMW 3 Series as an enthusiast's performance car. Its front wheel drive chassis precludes that but handling can be as rewarding as the best rear-drive chassis and, of course with the top of the range 159 3.2-litre V6 Q4 now dropped, so is the all-weather security of four-wheel drive.

Design and Build

The 159 remains a very sharp piece of styling, with more overtaking presence than almost any BMW, the gimlet-eyed headlamps and razor-sharp front grille looking rather intimidating. The rear end is genuinely tricky to differentiate from that of the old 156 at first glance, but the side view shows sharper creasing and swage lines and a longer front end. As cohesive a piece of penmanship as the 156 was, the 159 is a better balanced car. The architecture of the 159's cabin is perhaps a little disappointing, offering an evolution of the 156's fascia which looked great in '98 but which now looks a little dated compared to the more imaginative designs. Build quality remains good however and rear legroom and headroom are both better than you might expect, although you'd opt for a Saab or Volvo if this was a priority. The boot though, is as big as any in the class and the folding rear seats endow this Alfa with an admirable load carrying ability. The Sportwagon of course, is even better. With 445 cubic litres of luggage space when the rear seats are in place, it's only 15-litres shy of a 3 Series Touring and a whopping 80 litres up on the old 156 Sportwagon.

Market and Model

If Alfa Romeo's UK dealer network can get enough executives behind the wheel of either 1750 TBi petrol models or the 2.0 JTDm 16v 170bhp diesel, then it stands a chance of rejuvenating the 159's dwindling fortunes in the compact executive sector. This is a big ask against rivals as good as BMW's 3 Series and Audi's A4, but with performance, fuel and CO2 figures that are now class-competitive, they have at least finally been given the tools to do the job. It'll help that equipment levels remain strong across the a range that now incorporates five trim levels - Turismo, Turismo Sport, Elegante, Lusso and TI. Turismo Sport is likely to be popular, offering sporty upgrades including 17" sport alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, sports seat cloth, a sports leather steering wheel with remote audio controls and gear knob, and sports dials. Plusher Elegante trim adds rear parking sensors, a visibility pack and a luxury 'Alfatex' interior. As well as eight airbags there are also a number of electronic systems that enhance the car's dynamic behaviour, including a Vehicle Dynamic Control system (VDC), Anti Slip Regulation (ASR), Hydraulic Brake Assistance (HBA) which cuts in during emergency braking, ABS anti-lock braking complete with EBD, and a Hill Holder to simplify hill starts.

Cost of Ownership

This market sector has changed a good deal in the past few years. Whereas a compact executive car was once an exclusive vehicle with quite some cachet, the collapse of the traditional fleet market took many customers out of Mondeos and Vectras and many of them have opted for BMWs. Alfa have belatedly recognised this trend and are playing catch up with some success. Tailored finance packages for business user choosers make the 159 one of the more interesting yet still affordable choices for many execs. The latest engines should make a lot of difference to this Alfa when it comes to running costs. The 170bhp 2.0 JTDm 16v diesel unit, for example, reduces CO2 levels over its predecessor down to 142g/km, with combined cycle fuel economy of 52.3mpg. For the petrol 1750 TBi, the respective figures are 34.9mpg and 189g/km. Depreciation remains a few notches below the premium German marques but you'll claw a few pounds back if you're insuring the car yourself, as premiums for the 159 tend to be slightly cheaper.

Summary

Buying an Alfa Romeo has, for too many years, been an exercise in heart ruling the head and while the 159 is several large steps in the right direction, choosing one is still rather contingent on falling for its good looks and charisma. Do the hard maths and it'll often work out cheaper to pay a few more pounds at the outset for a German car and enjoy lower running costs and better residual values. This pounds and pence approach does little to address why we buy cars of this ilk - cars that on an objective basis do little not achieved by, say, a Ford Mondeo. These cars are about the way they make us feel and few cars engender a warmer, fuzzier feeling of self satisfaction than an Alfa Romeo 159. Higher mileage owners should choose the 2.0 JTDm 170bhp diesel, with lower mileage buyers doing better to target the 1750 TBi petrol versions.

Buying an Alfa Romeo has, for too many years, been an exercise in heart ruling the head and while the 159 is several large steps in the right direction, choosing one is still rather contingent on falling for its good looks and charisma. Do the hard maths and it'll often work out cheaper to pay a few more pounds at the outset for a German car and enjoy lower running costs and better residual values. This pounds and pence approach does little to address why we buy cars of this ilk - cars that on an objective basis do little not achieved by, say, a Ford Mondeo. These cars are about the way they make us feel and few cars engender a warmer, fuzzier feeling of self satisfaction than an Alfa Romeo 159. The 3.2-litre car is almost a mini Maserati Quattroporte but back in the real world, higher mileage owners should choose the 2.0 JTDm 170bhp diesel, with lower mileage buyers doing better to target the 1750 TBi petrol versions.

If you habitually buy the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes, it'll take some mental adjustment to tune into the Alfa Romeo 159. Still, though less buttoned down, it's impeccably tailored, a class act. Two of the most recent range additions, the 200bhp 1750 TBi petrol model and the 2.0 JTDm 170bhp diesel, are the variants to choose and both saloon and Sportwagon estate body styles remain stunningly seductive. Let's start by talking diesel. Ten years ago, no one would have believed that best selling Alfas would fuel from the black pump - but that's the case today. Alfa's sales focus now is one their latest 170bhp 2.0 JTDm engine with its impressive pulling power but for the time being at least, it also sells alongside the older 1.9-litre Multijet unit which soldiers on in 120 or 150bhp guises. At the top of the diesel range, the 210bhp 2.4 JTDm continues on unchanged. Petrol buyers these days get a much better deal in the form of the 1750 TBi variant, offering 200bhp and a useful 320Nm of torque, developed at 1,400rpm, little more than tickover speed. The 0-62mph benchmark is dispatched in just 7.7 seconds, before topping out at 147mph. However, it's the flexibility of the in-gear acceleration that sets the engine apart from its competitors. The older 185bhp 2.2-litre JTS engine continues on at the bottom of the range until Alfa UK sell them all.

If you habitually buy the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes, it'll take some mental adjustment to tune into the Alfa Romeo 159. Still, though less buttoned down, it's impeccably tailored, a class act. Two of the most recent range additions, the 200bhp 1750 TBi petrol model and the 2.0 JTDm 170bhp diesel, are the variants to choose and both saloon and Sportwagon estate body styles remain stunningly seductive. Alfa Romeo's 156 did an effective job in establishing the Italian brand firmly in the Compact Executive territory previously dominated by BMW's 3 Series, Mercedes' C-Class and Audi's A4. Its 159 replacement had to improve on perceived build quality, styling and interior space and managed to do so in a way not reflected by sales figures since. The Italians have kept at it though, further improving 159 saloon and Sportwagon estate models at every opportunity. First we had the Q-Tronic automatic gearbox for turbodiesel models, then the sporty-looking TI trim level. By late 2009 however, the 2.2-litre JTS petrol model that many liked was no longer efficient enough to tempt company buyers who also saw a huge gulf between the 150bhp 1.9 and 210bhp 2.4-litre diesel variants. Alfa's response was the introduction of a couple of far more modern powerplants to convince the doubters. Let's start by talking diesel. Ten years ago, no one would have believed that best selling Alfas would fuel from the black pump - but that's the case today. Alfa's sales focus now is on their latest 170bhp 2.0 JTDm engine with its impressive pulling power but for the time being at least, it also sells alongside the older 1.9-litre Multijet unit which soldiers on in 120 or 150bhp guises. At the top of the diesel range, the 210bhp 2.4 JTDm continues on unchanged. Petrol buyers these days get a much better deal in the form of the 1750 TBi variant, offering 200bhp and a useful 320Nm of torque, developed at 1,400rpm, little more than tickover speed. The 0-62mph benchmark is dispatched in just 7.7 seconds, before topping out at 147mph. However, it's the flexibility of the in-gear acceleration that sets the engine apart from its competitors. The older 185bhp 2.2-litre JTS engine continues on at the bottom of the range until Alfa UK sell them all. In this sector, buyers tend to take a pounds and pence approach but this does little to address why we want cars of this ilk - cars that on an objective basis do little not achieved by, say, a Ford Mondeo. These cars are about the way they make us feel and few cars engender a warmier, fuzzier feeling of self satisfaction than an Alfa Romeo 159. The 3.2-litre car is almost a mini Maserati Quattroporte but back in the real world, higher mileage owners should choose the 2.0 JTDm 170bhp diesel, with lower mileage buyers doing better to target the 1750 TBi petrol versions. FUEL CONSUMPTION: [2.0 JTDm 16v] (urban) 39.8mpg / (extra urban) 64.2mpg / (combined) 52.3 mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, side and knee airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, ABS with brake assist

Scores
Performance 7
Handling 8
Comfort 7
Space 6
Styling 9
Build 7
Value 8
Equipment 8
Economy 8
Depreciation 7
Insurance 6
Total 81
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