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Alfa Romeo 159 JTD range

Alfa Romeo's 159 JTD Range offers diesel buyers something a little less ordinary. Andy Enright Reports

Ten Second Review

Why is it that it still seems ever so slightly sacrilegious to put a diesel engine under the bonnet of something as beautiful as an Alfa Romeo 159? After all, modern diesels have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and in many respects are more desirable than their petrol counterparts. Sales figures would certainly suggest so. Nevertheless, diesel engines still have a reputation as unsubtle, weighty, oily things that should be kept locked away. A quick 'mental floss' is required before you get behind the wheel of a 159 JTD.

Background

Replacing the Alfa 156 with something bigger and better was always going to be difficult. After all, the 156 sold over 680,000 units worldwide, making it the most successful midsized Alfa ever. When it came to replacing the 156, the key objectives were perceived build quality, styling and interior space and the 159 nailed all three squarely. The aborted dalliance with General Motors stalled the introduction of the 159 a little but sales have been strong since it arrived at the start of 2006, the market warming to a genuine alternative to the German and Swedish marques. Both saloon and Sportwagon estate versions were launched concurrently and the JTD diesels we look at here were a key part of the range from the start. Alfa introduced a Q-Tronic automatic gearbox for the 159 turbodiesel models in January 2007 and a TI version in July 2007. In Autumn 2009, a 170bhp 2.0-litre unit was added to the line-up. Improvements in the Alfa Romeo dealer network have also helped improve the brand's perception, especially amongst buyers migrating from premium marques.

Driving Experience

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. This is an absolute stormer, capable of zipping to 60mph in a tad under 8 seconds. All the engines have something to be said for them, but the 2.4-litre unit is particularly impressive. This is one of the most advanced diesel engines you can buy anywhere and comes complete with a counterbalancing shaft to all but do away with almost every one of those traditional diesel rumbles. Common-rail technology we're well familiar with by now, but what exactly do Alfa mean by Multijet? Here, injection pressure is independent of engine speed and can therefore be varied throughout the rev range, irrespective of the amount of diesel being delivered. This improves combustion, which has significant benefits for both performance and economy. Performance first. The rest to sixty sprint takes just over 8 seconds on the way to 140mph - but that only tells a small part of the story. The pulling power of this engine is just astonishing. This is thanks to a 284Ibft peak torque figure that's greater even than the classic 3.2-litre V6 24v engine can muster. Mind you, it's necessary to adopt a distinctly un-Alfa-like driving style to get the most out of the JTD. Instead of searing the engine up to the red line as you would in a JTS petrol model, you have to get used to changing up a lot earlier. The surge of power begins at 1,500rpm and is all over by 4,500rpm. In-between is enough acceleration to take you comfortably into licence-confiscation territory. Of course, you don't get that lovely JTS zing while you're doing it - though the five-cylinder engine's note is much more appealing then that of a conventional diesel. But you don't buy a car like this for aural pleasure. Alfa reckon that, thanks to their Multijet technology, this 159 is on average 15% more frugal than its immediate rivals - and the figures bear this out. With an average fuel economy of around 52mpg from the 170bhp unit, this is a car that doesn't penalise you for having fun.

Design and Build

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 Romeo initially took advantage of this trend with the 156 but it's a fast moving market and the company's uncertain dalliance with General Motors perhaps stalled the introduction of the 159 for long enough to dent the company's bottom line. Still, better late than never. The 159 has grown in virtually every dimension compared to the 156, but it's still a very sharp piece of styling. Watching one appear in my rear-view at the Nurburgring, I can assure you this vehicle has 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 the 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 seems better than before and rear legroom and headroom have both improved, although you'd opt for a Saab or Volvo if this was a priority. The boot, however, is way bigger than you'd have any right to expect and the folding rear seats endow the 159 with an admirable load carrying ability.

Market and Model

There's a choice between 120 and 150bhp 1.9-litre JTD units, the 170bhp 2.0-litre powerplant and a 210bhp 2.4-litre JTD. Equipment levels are strong across the range with even the entry-level Turismo hardly looking shy of gear. Alfa Romeo has concentrated on simplifying the 159 proposition and there are now two trim choices. Turismo remains the mainstream choice with Lusso adding more toys. 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. Naturally the diesel engines make more sense if you're going to rack up the miles, the 1.9-litre and 2.4-litre units averaging 40 and 46mpg respectively, with the 170bhp 2.0-litre unit returning over 50mpg. 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

The 159 diesel range offers a beguiling blend of elegance and practicality. You can forgive the fact that it's behind the very cream of the crop in most departments because its overall showing is so strong. At last a diesel car you can really lose your heart to.

The 159 diesel range offers a beguiling blend of elegance and practicality. You can forgive the fact that it's behind the very cream of the crop in most departments because its overall showing is so strong. At last a diesel car you can really lose your heart to.

The 159 diesel range offers a beguiling blend of elegance and practicality. You can forgive the fact that it's behind the very cream of the crop in most departments because its overall showing is so strong. At last a diesel car you can really lose your heart to. 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. This is an absolute stormer, capable of zipping to 60mph in a tad under 8 seconds. Naturally the diesel engines make more sense if you're going to rack up the miles, the 1.9-litre and 2.4-litre units averaging 40 and 46mpg respectively. 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. Watching one appear in my rear-view at the Nurburgring, I can assure you this vehicle has 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 the 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.

Why is it that it still seems ever so slightly sacrilegious to put a diesel engine under the bonnet of something as beautiful as an Alfa Romeo 159? After all, modern diesels have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and in many respects are more desirable than their petrol counterparts. Sales figures would certainly suggest so. Nevertheless, diesel engines still have a reputation as unsubtle, weighty, oily things that should be kept locked away. A quick 'mental floss' is required before you get behind the wheel of a 159 JTD. 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. This is an absolute stormer, capable of zipping to 60mph in a tad under 8 seconds. 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. It's necessary to adopt a distinctly un-Alfa-like driving style to get the most out of the JTD. Instead of searing the engine up to the red line as you would in a JTS petrol model, you have to get used to changing up a lot earlier. The surge of power begins at 1,500rpm and is all over by 4,500rpm. In-between is enough acceleration to take you comfortably into licence-confiscation territory. Of course, you don't get that lovely JTS zing while you're doing it - though the five-cylinder engine's note is much more appealing then that of a conventional diesel. But you don't buy a car like this for aural pleasure. Alfa Romeo's clever Q-Tronic gearbox is also available as an added extra. This allows the car to be driven in automatic mode with all the functions typical of an automatic transmission (parking, reverse, neutral and drive) or in sequential mode by simply moving the gear selector. Alfa reckon that, thanks to their Multijet technology, this 159 is on average 15% more frugal than its immediate rivals - and the figures bear this out. With an average fuel economy of around 52mpg in the case of the 170bhp JTD unit, this is a car that doesn't penalise you for having fun. The 159 diesel range offers a beguiling blend of elegance and practicality. You can forgive the fact that it's behind the very cream of the crop in most departments because its overall showing is so strong. At last a diesel car you can really lose your heart to. 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 9
Depreciation 7
Insurance 7
Total 83
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