Week at the Wheel: Alfa Romeo 159 1750 TBi

22 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Week at the Wheel: Alfa Romeo 159 1750 TBi
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Week at the Wheel | Alfa Romeo 159 1750 TBi |

Inside Out:

This generation of Alfa’s D-segment saloon doesn’t stray from the blueprint of the 156 before it. The 159 still stands as the choice of the car fashionista – or someone too principled to go with the pack and buy German. Particularly since the Saab 9-3 went all Vauxhall Vectra, the Alfa saloon has cemented its little segment of the market – and that’s despite being hamstrung by an infamous dealer network and a reputation for less than steadfast build quality.

Well, it’s difficult to gauge whether those latter two, erm, hamstrings tie up the 159 with a mere week behind the wheel, but we can confirm that impeccable style is still present and correct. No surprises there, but the 159 takes all that was pleasant about the 156 (hidden rear door handles aside) and beefs it up a bit.

However, as is often the case when such an approach is taken, some of the predecessor’s charm has been lost in the process, despite the newcomer being subjectively better looking. Think of the difference between new MINI one and new MINI two – it’s sort of the same here.

Inside, the jury is still out, so to speak. Our test car came furnished with tan leather, which this writer thought a quite beautiful complement to the black exterior, while others described it using adjectives usually reserved for marmite milkshakes. Unanimously disliked, however, was the metallic green finish of the dashboard centre stack. There’s nothing offensive about the design of the interior, which is very obviously angled toward the driver, but it lacks sparkle.

The driving position is good though – Alfa finally seems to have ditched the ape-ish ‘long arm, short leg’ thing that blighted it for so long. All-in-all, the 159 is blessed with plenty of style and a degree of idiosyncrasy, but for us it’s too close to sensible for its own good.

Engine Transmission:

The 1750 TBI engine is new to the line-up – a whole new engine in fact. The four-cylinder unit features direct injection and is turbocharged, and it also takes its name partly from its 1,742cc capacity and from the old 1750 Berlina saloon. It develops 200bhp and a nice 236lb.ft chunk of torque at jut 1,400rpm. Result?

V6 performance and non-turbo character, but small engine economy. It pretty much works too because it will hit 62mph in 7.7 seconds, yet returns 34.9mpg combined. Hmm. that’s not quite small engine economy, is it?

Not bad though, and it’s a lovely smooth engine that’s as happy to sit in the depths of the rev range as it is being worked like a Japanese employee of the month. If it has a problem it’s that it’s too smooth – there’s very little drama as it piles its speed on, and compared to the V6 Alfas of yore (whenever that was) it’s a little lacklustre and lacks a rousing engine note.

But you can’t help but be impressed at the TBi’s drivetrain, because the six-speed manual – with its lever set high on the transmission tunnel – is lovely to snick from cog to cog. The engine is so flexible that you don’t have to rely on gear changing too much, but when you do it’s no chore.

Ride Handling:

When will Alfa switch to rear-wheel drive? It’s not that the 159 feels badly set up – far from it, in fact – but without sending power to the back it’s never going to be able to dish up the kind of response and purity of BMW’s 3 Series it so wants to wrestle narcissistic middle managers from. Having said that, there’s a safety to the front-wheel drive setup, if it’s well done, that makes a car easier to manage for most people at reasonable speeds.

The 159 is indeed well done. Yes it snaps into understeer when sharply turning in on the power, but it’s also very predictable, grippy and quick to change direction, with a sense of lightness at the nose. The steering wheel feels too big though – a seemingly innocuous point, but one that makes a difference.

Alfa has also set it up with far more compliance than it might have, resisting the urge to do that thing some makers do to mimic handling prowess: wind the springs up so tight that all of a sudden your street feels like it’s been quilted with broken glass. As such, the 159 rides with composure.

Alfa Romeo

Equipment, Economy Value for Money:

No less than five trim levels can garnish your 159: Turismo, Turismo Sport, Elegante, Lusso and TI. All are well-equipped and well priced, with every model rocking on a nice set of alloys and featuring cruise control, dual-zone climate control, a decent CD player and a leather wheel. Any higher spec adds Bluetooth, bigger wheels, and a sportier/more luxurious interior.

Go to the top of the tree and bells accompany whistles, with TI versions getting 19-inch rims, painted Brembo callipers, chrome effect wing mirrors, a body kit, lowered suspension, and heated leather sports seats.

Prices start at Ј19,950 for a 120bhp diesel Turismo and end at Ј27,800 for a 3.2-litre V6 TI, which we think you’ll agree makes this a good value saloon. Add Ј1,100 for a Sportwagon estate body.

On the engine front, this 1750 TBi is a good example of the strides Fiat Group is taking with its engines in terms of making them both more efficient and better performing; we reckon it doesn’t get the plaudits it deserves. Alongside the TBi is a new 2.0-litre JTDm diesel with 170bhp, which is both more powerful and more economical that the old 1.9 JTDm unit it replaces.

Overall:

We’re torn on giving this Alfa Romeo 159 four stars, but we have to. It’s easy to recommend, because it’s well-priced, well-equipped, economical, quick and will probably prove reliable. However, where you want an Alfa to be the mildly off-kilter choice for the wannabe weekend eccentric, the 159 is too sensible for its own good.

Imagine going to see Harry Hill live and watching as the curtain rises on a man wearing a regularly sized collar and you’ll understand the mild disappointment, but no doubt he’d be as hilarious as ever.

Mark Nichol – 25 Nov 2009

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