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Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon range

The Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon prompts potential buyers to ask some searching questions of themselves. Andy Enright reports

Ten Second Review

Most of us buy estate cars for solidly practical reasons. Alfa 159 Sportwagons, on the other hand, tend to be bought for reasons that masquerade as practicality but are, in truth, more about style and elegance. The Sportwagon variant of the 159 is a better load lugger than its predecessor but remains very much the anti-Volvo.

Background

Your pen is hovering over the dotted line on a sales contract for an Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon. This is the car you always promised yourself, you reason. Life's too short not to own an Alfa at some point and this seems as good a time as any. You glance over to the demonstrator car in the showroom. You're right. It's beautiful in a way no estate car has any right to be. But before you put pen to paper, ask yourself a question and answer it honestly. Would you really buy a car purely on the basis of looks? The trouble with this car is that its styling tends to steamroller all other concerns. Your neighbours may label you a narcissist as they mutter jealously and lumber away in their more aesthetically-challenged wheels. Some cars have that 'want one' factor by the barrow load. The 159 Sportwagon has room in the back for more of it than most.

Driving Experience

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 with all-wheel drive versions introduced, the 159 has an advantage when it comes to all-weather security. And engines? Well, 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.

Design and Build

Rarely an Alfa byword, practicality is one area addressed moderately well in the 159 Sportwagon. I say moderately because, as an 'estate car', its predecessor, the 156 Sportwagon was, and let's not get too delicate here, a joke. With its rear seats in place, it possessed less useable luggage space than the saloon on which it was based. It had other redeeming qualities insofar as it was better looking and, well, better looking but beyond that, it was never the most pragmatic choice. Nor is the 159 Sportwagon, if your blend of practicality involves lugging wardrobes or cubic hectares of garden waste. Where the 159 Sportwagon does move the game forward, albeit moderately, is that despite having the same overall length as the 159 saloon, luggage carrying capacity actually rises. With 445 cubic litres 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 156 Sportwagon. The rear seats may be pleasantly light and easy to flip forward but the seat squabs stay fixed, which means that the seat backs won't fold flat. This limits the overall carrying capacity. As well as an auxiliary power supply in the luggage bay, there's a light, a pull cover and, best of all, the basic shape of the load area is broad, flat and low with no intrusion from the rear suspension. The actual useable space may well be greater than those with greater quoted capacity in cubic litres. The rear seats split 60/40 and there's a fold down section in the middle that's great for carrying longer items. There's even a small cargo net on one side that's a handy place to store gloves, a torch or other bits and pieces.

Market and Model

Prices are around £1,100 over and above what Alfa Romeo will charge for the equivalent 159 saloon and most canvassed seem to think the Sportwagon shape even better looking than the sharky 159 saloon. That's quite some compliment. The 159 is proving a key component in improving the marque's fortunes here. 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. A limited edition TI version was available for a while. 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. The 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine remains a much pricier proposition of course, its 77 pence per mile figure in saloon guise significantly more than a BMW 325i M Sport. 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

There's a lot to like about the Alfa 159 Sportwagon but to truly appreciate this car, one has to first accept the depth of your superficiality. After that, the rest is easy. No, it's not the biggest prestigiously badged compact executive estate you can buy. It's not the fastest either - or the most frugal. But in a world full of boredom, perhaps none of that really matters. It looks great in the driveway. You'll feel great about owning it. And you can even try and justify it as a practical purchase. For all these reasons, this car will sell. And rightly so.

There's a lot to like about the Alfa 159 Sportwagon but to truly appreciate this car, one has to first accept the depth of your superficiality. After that, the rest is easy. No, it's not the biggest prestigiously badged compact executive estate you can buy. It's not the fastest either - or the most frugal. But in a world full of boredom, perhaps none of that really matters. It looks great in the driveway. You'll feel great about owning it. And you can even try and justify it as a practical purchase. For all these reasons, this car will sell. And rightly so.

There's a lot to like about the Alfa 159 Sportwagon but to truly appreciate this car, one has to first accept the depth of your superficiality. After that, the rest is easy. Rarely an Alfa byword, practicality is one area addressed moderately well in the 159 Sportwagon. I say moderately because, as an 'estate car', its predecessor, the 156 Sportwagon was, and let's not get too delicate here, a joke. With its rear seats in place, it possessed less useable luggage space than the saloon on which it was based. It had other redeeming qualities insofar as it was better looking and, well, better looking but beyond that, it was never the most pragmatic choice. Nor is the 159 Sportwagon, if your blend of practicality involves lugging wardrobes or cubic hectares of garden waste. Where the 159 Sportwagon does move the game forward, albeit moderately, is that despite having the same overall length as the 159 saloon, luggage carrying capacity actually rises. With 445 cubic litres 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 156 Sportwagon. No, it's not the biggest prestigiously badged compact executive estate you can buy. It's not the fastest either - or the most frugal. But in a world full of boredom, perhaps none of that really matters. It looks great in the driveway. You'll feel great about owning it. And you can even try and justify it as a practical purchase. For all these reasons, this car will sell. And rightly so.

Your pen is hovering over the dotted line on a sales contract for an Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon. This is the car you always promised yourself, you reason. Life's too short not to own an Alfa at some point and this seems as good a time as any. You glance over to the demonstrator car in the showroom. You're right. It's beautiful in a way no estate car has any right to be. But before you put pen to paper, ask yourself a question and answer it honestly. Would you really buy a car purely on the basis of looks? You're not that superficial are you? The trouble with this car is that its styling tends to steamroller all other concerns. Your neighbours may label you a narcissist as they mutter jealously and lumber away in their more aesthetically-challenged wheels. It's certainly true that there will be any number of people who will buy the 159 Sportwagon on the basis of a picture they've seen in the pages of a glossy magazine. Some cars have that 'want one' factor by the barrow load. The 159 Sportwagon has room in the back for a whole lot more of it than most but here we'll make the case for the car if it had a face like a sack of spanners. Let's start with practicality. Rarely an Alfa byword, this is one area addressed moderately well in the 159 Sportwagon. I say moderately because, as an 'estate car', its predecessor, the 156 Sportwagon was, and let's not get too delicate here, a joke. With its rear seats in place it possessed less useable luggage space than the saloon on which it was based. It had other redeeming qualities insofar as it was better looking and, well, better looking but beyond that, it was never the most pragmatic choice. Nor is the 159 Sportwagon, if your blend of practicality involves lugging wardrobes or cubic hectares of garden waste. Where the 159 Sportwagon does move the game forward, albeit moderately, is that despite having the same overall length as the 159 saloon, luggage carrying capacity actually rises. With 445 cubic litres 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 156 Sportwagon. At least now it can justify its existence as something other than a pretty face. Prices are around £1,000 over and above what Alfa Romeo will charge for the equivalent 159 saloon and most canvassed seem to think the Sportwagon shape even better looking than the sharky 159 saloon. That's quite some compliment. There's a lot to like about the Alfa 159 Sportwagon but to truly appreciate this car, one has to first accept the depth of your superficiality. After that, the rest is easy. 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 And engines? Well, 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.

Scores
Performance 7
Handling 8
Comfort 7
Space 7
Styling 9
Build 6
Value 7
Equipment 7
Economy 7
Depreciation 5
Insurance 6
Total 76
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