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Alfa Romeo 159 1750 TBi

Can the muscular 1750 TBi engine breath new life into Alfa's 159? Steve Walker takes a look.

Ten Second Review

The 159 compact executive saloon feels a less substantial and sophisticated car than newer German rivals but it gives nothing away in the looks department and the 1750 TBi engine is a remarkable piece of work. Feeling more like a 3.0-litre V6 than a four-cylinder 1.7-litre turbo, the engine has masses of torque low down and really adds to the 159's already impressive driving experience. A firm ride and a dated cabin are the downsides but keen drivers should give this Alfa a chance.

Background

The concept of keeping up with the Joneses is a major driving force in automotive industry. The need to impress the neighbours influences more car buying decisions than we'd like to admit while manufacturers are constantly peering over the fence to see what their rivals are up to, then adjusting their own products to compete. With Alfa Romeo's 159, the primary concern has been less about keeping up the Joneses and more about outdoing the Mullers, Schmidts and Brauns. The car is pitched into the German-dominated compact executive saloon segment where competition is fierce but could the lively 1750 TBi petrol engine give it an edge? When it was launched in 2006, the 159 was rightly viewed as a viable alternative to the likes of Audi's A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It offered something different that was still highly desirable to customers who appreciate striking looks and an entertaining driving experience. Of course, things move at lightening pace in the car world and we've had all-new versions of all the leading German models since the 159 first appeared, leaving it feeling somewhat off the pace. All is not lost for this handsome Alfa, however, especially with the 1750 TBi engine we look at here. As well as worrying the compact executive options, its performance and pricing might make it an attractive option for customers who had been concentrating their search in other areas.

Driving Experience

Alfa has been flexing its engineering muscles of late and coming up with some top class engines. The 1750 TBi unit is one of them and is used in the Brera coupe and the Giulietta hatch as well as the 159. It's a 1,742cc engine which Alfa rounded up for naming purposes and which uses a host of technologies to generate its 200bhp peak power output. Variable valve timing, direct fuel injection and turbocharging combine in many of today's top petrol engines but this Alfa unit also indulges in a spot of 'scavenging'. This is the name given to a process which electronically monitors and adjusts various parameters within the engine to generate airflow and get the turbocharger working much lower in the rev-range than normal. The effects of the technology built into the 1750 TBi powerplant are arresting. The 200bhp maximum power is achieved at 4,750rpm but more relevant is the flat torque curve which sees the 320Nm maximum torque generated at just 1,400rpm. It brings a diesel-like quality to the 159 1750 TBi on the road where there's major shove available almost regardless of the gear and engine speed. The 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in 7.7s but the car will pull from 25mph to 62mph in fifth gear in just 11.5s. It feels seriously muscular when overtaking or accelerating up to motorway speeds like a diesel but with the sweet, free-revving quality of the good petrol unit. The 159 is a car that puts the driver in the forefront. Great positioning of seat and pedals, a slick gearbox and tactile steering make it a pleasure to travel in and a match for any of the compact executive alternatives on grounds of simple enjoyment. Many will like the way it feels compact and nimble from behind the wheel but it's notably less sophisticated in the way the firm suspension jostles occupants and occasionally clunks over larger bumps.

Design and Build

The 159 remains a very sharp piece of styling, the gimlet-eyed headlamps and razor-sharp front grille looking rather intimidating as they loom in the mirrors of those soon to be overtaken. There isn't a duff angle on the car and if anything, the Sportwagon estate has even more capacity to attract lingering looks than the saloon. It's narrower car than the majority of its direct rivals which contributes to the feeling of compactness on the road but leg and headroom are better than you'd expect, as is the 405-litre boot (445-litres in the Sportwagon). If practicality was an absolute top priority, you might take your business elsewhere but the Alfa can certainly serve as a family car. The architecture of the 159's cabin is perhaps a little disappointing, offering an evolution of the old 156's fascia which looked great in '98 but which now seems a little dated compared to the more imaginative designs. Build quality is generally OK but the ambience inside the Alfa is some way behind the best in the compact executive class.

Market and Model

Priced just on the far side of the £20,000 barrier, the 159 1750 TBi is more affordable than the compact executive alternatives and even more so if you insist on an engine that can match the Alfa's performance. It also brings the car within range of those who had been looking at high specification hatchbacks like the Audi A3 or BMW 1-Series, and it even undercuts the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Any buyers in the market for a fast car with genuine character would do well to give this 159 a chance. It'll help that equipment levels remain strong across a range that now incorporates five trim choices - 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. Eight airbags are fitted as standard, along with Vehicle Dynamic Control and ABS brakes featuring EBD and a Hill Holder to simplify hill starts.

Cost of Ownership

An investment in a 159 will be less secure than in a German-badged compact executive model as residual values are less strong. The 1750 TBi engine also holds its value less well than the diesel engines with around 32% of the new price retained after three-years compared to 40% for an oil-burner. Economy and emissions are also less strong than similar cars with similar performance with this 159 managing under 35mpg on the combined cycle with 189g/km emissions of CO2. The Volkswagen Group's 2.0-litre TSI powerplant has around 208bhp yet returns nearly 39mpg in the Volkswagen Golf GTI and 44mpg in the Audi A4.

Summary

Whether or not you're an Alfa Romeo 159 kind of person rather depends on your priorities. The car has been around for a while now and initial promise that it might loosen the German stranglehold on the compact executive car market didn't materialise. That said, this car still has a lot to offer for those in tune with the Alfa way of thinking, particularly in 1750 TBi guise. This high tech powerplant combines with the involving driving experience of the 159 in compelling fashion. The amount of pulling power Alfa has managed to wring from a 1.7-litre turbocharged unit is quite phenomenal and with its free-revving nature, performance is more akin to what you'd expect from a big petrol V6. Running costs are higher than 200bhp petrol engines used elsewhere but those units can't match this Alfa's torque. The 159 isn't the most modern option out there but it still has the looks to impress the neighbours and if you can live with the firm ride, the 1750 TBi versions will have a similar effect on the person behind the wheel.

Whether or not you're an Alfa Romeo 159 kind of person rather depends on your priorities. The car has been around for a while now and initial promise that it might loosen the German stranglehold on the compact executive car market didn't materialise. That said, this car still has a lot to offer for those in tune with the Alfa way of thinking, particularly in 1750 TBi guise. This high tech powerplant combines with the involving driving experience of the 159 in compelling fashion. The amount of pulling power Alfa has managed to wring from a 1.7-litre turbocharged unit is quite phenomenal and with its free-revving nature, performance is more akin to what you'd expect from a big petrol V6. Running costs are higher than 200bhp petrol engines used elsewhere but those units can't match this Alfa's torque. The 159 isn't the most modern option out there but it still has the looks to impress the neighbours and if you can live with the firm ride, the 1750 TBi versions will have a similar effect on the person behind the wheel.

Whether or not you're an Alfa Romeo 159 kind of person rather depends on your priorities. The car has been around for a while now and initial promise that it might loosen the German stranglehold on the compact executive car market didn't materialise. That said, this car still has a lot to offer for those in tune with the Alfa way of thinking, particularly in 1750 TBi guise. The effects of the technology built into the 1750 TBi powerplant are arresting. The 200bhp maximum power is achieved at 4,750rpm but more relevant is the flat torque curve which sees the 320Nm maximum torque generated at just 1,400rpm. It brings a diesel-like quality the 159 1750 TBi on the road where there's major shove available almost regardless of the gear and engine speed. The 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in 7.7s but the car will pull from 25mph to 62mph in fifth gear in just 11.5s. It feels seriously muscular when overtaking or accelerating up to motorway speeds like a diesel but with the sweet, free-revving quality of the good petrol unit. This high tech powerplant combines with the involving driving experience of the 159 in compelling fashion. Running costs are higher than 200bhp petrol engines used elsewhere but those units can't match this Alfa's torque. The 159 isn't the most modern option out there but it still has the looks to impress the neighbours and if you can live with the firm ride, the 1750 TBi versions will have a similar effect on the person behind the wheel.

The concept of keeping up with the Joneses is a major driving force in automotive industry. The need to impress the neighbours influences more car buying decisions than we'd like to admit while manufacturers are constantly peering over the fence to see what their rivals are up to, then adjusting their own products to compete. With Alfa Romeo's 159, the primary concern has been less about keeping up the Joneses and more about outdoing the Mullers, Schmidts and Brauns. The car is pitched into the German-dominated compact executive saloon segment where competition is fierce but could the lively 1750 TBi petrol engine give it an edge? Alfa has been flexing its engineering muscles of late and coming up with some top class engines. The 1750 TBi unit is one of them and is used in the Brera coupe and the Giulietta hatch as well as the 159. It's a 1,742cc engine which Alfa rounded up for naming purposes and which uses a host of technologies to generate its 200bhp peak power output. Variable valve timing, direct fuel injection and turbocharging combine in many of today's top petrol engines but this Alfa unit also indulges in a spot of 'scavenging'. This is the name given to a process which electronically monitors and adjusts various parameters within the engine to generate airflow and get the turbocharger working much lower in the rev-range than normal. The effects of the technology built into the 1750 TBi powerplant are arresting. The 200bhp maximum power is achieved at 4,750rpm but more relevant is the flat torque curve which sees the 320Nm maximum torque generated at just 1,400rpm. It brings a diesel-like quality to the 159 1750 TBi on the road where there's major shove available almost regardless of the gear and engine speed. The 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in 7.7s but the car will pull from 25mph to 62mph in fifth gear in just 11.5s. It feels seriously muscular when overtaking or accelerating up to motorway speeds like a diesel but with the sweet, free-revving quality of the good petrol unit. Priced just on the far side of the £20,000 barrier, the 159 1750 TBi is more affordable than the compact executive alternatives and even more so if you insist on an engine that can match the Alfa's performance. It also brings the car within range of those who had been looking at high specification hatchbacks like the Audi A3 or BMW 1-Series, and it even undercuts the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Any buyers in the market for a fast car with genuine character would do well to give this 159 a chance. An investment in a 159 will be less secure than in a German-badged compact executive model as residual values are less strong. The 1750 TBi engine also holds its value less well than the diesel engines with around 32% of the new price retained after three-years compared to 40% for an oil-burner. Economy and emissions are also less strong than similar cars with similar performance with this 159 managing under 35mpg on the combined cycle with 189g/km emissions of CO2. The Volkswagen Group's 2.0-litre TSI powerplant has around 208bhp yet returns nearly 39mpg in the Volkswagen Golf GTI and 44mpg in the Audi A4. Whether or not you're an Alfa Romeo 159 kind of person rather depends on your priorities. The car has been around for a while now and initial promise that it might loosen the German stranglehold on the compact executive car market didn't materialise. That said, this car still has a lot to offer for those in tune with the Alfa way of thinking, particularly in 1750 TBi guise. STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, side and knee airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, ABS with brake assist

Scores
Performance 8
Handling 8
Comfort 7
Space 6
Styling 9
Build 7
Value 8
Equipment 8
Economy 7
Depreciation 7
Insurance 7
Total 82
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