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Alfa Romeo 159 range

Introduction

The Alfa Romeo 159 holds a definite appeal for motoring writer June Neary

Will It Suit Me?

The Italians are passionate about food, clothes and cars. True to form, Alfa Romeos have always raised the pulse a little higher - as does the gorgeous 159. The difference between this car and its predecessors however, is that it will do so across a wider cross-section of people than ever before thanks to the introduction in recent times of more competitive engines, a 1750 TBi petrol variant and a 170bhp 2.0 JTDm diesel. People like me, who've never owned an Alfa, are used to considering cars on a purely practical level. However, my first thought on taking a long, slow look at the aristocratic lines of the 159 was not practical at all. It was entirely materialistic: I want one.

Practicalities

Visually then, Alfa are halfway there. But in the cut-and-thrust commercial reality of the prestige sports saloon market - the arena in which the 159 must compete - the car has to measure up in other more practical areas. Lovely and hot-blooded it may be, but in BMW territory the battle is intense. From one perspective at least, the car begins with a head start. Women who enjoy driving will love this car - and that's important. By the year 2015, so the statisticians tell us, there will be as many women drivers on Britain's roads as men. Current thinking suggests them to be more open-minded, more fashion-orientated and less badge conscious. Current thinking suggests they'll like the 159 a lot. Having said that, the individuality of the 159 will, I think, appeal to women as much as its eye-catching looks. Not that this is a car you can pigeonhole to either sex and it is this perfect balance that appeals to me. The contours flow from the bonnet, creating the impression that the 159 has been fashioned in a single stroke. The Sportwagon estate version looks equally well proportioned.

Behind the Wheel

This is a car for people who are going places. For me, there has always been a real thrill in turning the ignition key in an Alfa and the 159 is no exception, except that it has a starter button. The muted roar of the engine fulfils the promise of that sporty exterior. Yes, it could be called aggressive, but there's none of the machismo which often steers women like me away from other so-called 'driver's' cars. And male or female, you will appreciate the interior design. There's something very intimate I think, about the way the dials on the dashboard are angled towards the driver, to be viewed at a glance by him or her alone. The steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach and it takes only moments to settle comfortably into the seat, which somehow contrives to be luxurious yet supportive, another illustration of that perfect Alfa balance. The gear lever is set high and is also angled towards the driver for ease of reach. An area of car design I often think would be better left to women - and often is - comes in the choice and fabrics in the cabin. Trust the Italians, however, with their keen eye for fashion, to produce a tasteful array of options across the range. There's rich velour on most models or the option of soft black leather according to your taste. The interior of the 159 pleases not only the eye but the ear as well. Refinement is impressive and this, combined with excellent climate control (with air conditioning standard on all models) means comfortable driving, however long you spend behind the wheel.

Value For Money

Prices sit mainly in the £20,000 to £30,000 bracket that's common to this class of car, with a premium of around £1,100 if you want the Sportwagon estate version rather than the saloon. Obvious (and mainly pricier) rivals theoretically include to obvious BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class German alternatives, but in reality, likely 159 customers will more likely to be people prepared to consider more left-field options like Volvo's S60, Saab's 9-3 and Lexus' IS. As I've suggested, though this car was launched with charismatic 183bhp 2.2-litre four and 257bhp 3.2-litre V6 cylinder options, plus 1.9 and 2.4-litre diesels, the two stand-out engines to which buyers should now direct their attentions are this 197bhp 1750 TBi petrol and the 170bhp 2.0-litre JTDm diesel. At dealer level, it'll help that equipment levels remain strong (expect cruise control, dual-zone air con, alloy wheels and four powered windows across the range), with sportier versions offering upgrades that include 17" alloy wheels and a more sporting flavour for the dials, the seats and the steering w heel. Safety-wise, as well as seven airbags (including a driver's knee 'bag) and front seat head restarints that move in an accident to minimise whiplash injuries, electronic systems run to 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.

Could I Live With One?

So whether, like me, you'd buy your Alfa Romeo with your heart or, more pragmatically with your head, you'll find the arithmetic as pleasing as the car.

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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