ALFA Romeo – the name conjures up roaring around winding Italian mountainside
roads, under azure skies, with a blonde in sunglasses and a headscarf by your side. Nice thought, but not a reality for most of us (although my wife wore a woolly hat on one trip to Tesco). The Italian manufacturers, a division of Fiat, realise this and have joined the rest of the car-making world by pumping money into new, greener and more efficient motors.
One of these is the marque’s saloon, the 159, which has new trim levels and engines. All say the two new engines – the 1. 7 ¬litre 200bhp turbo petrol and the 2-litre diesel – deliver increased power and lower emissions, plus improving figures for fuel economy. I tested the petrol version, 159 750 TBi and on first sight you can see that although the Italians have added a degree of practicality to their cars, thankfully they haven’t lost their flair for glamour.
This saloon has a look of its own, standing out from the crowd. It’s beautiful.
Small headlight clusters scowl down into the stunning heart-shaped grille, with the V¬effect continued with the sloping lined from the bonnet.
This sleek, sporty feel carries on towards the rear end, with simple lines curving towards an equally unfussy rear, with the rear-light clusters split by the chunky boot.
In a sporty Italian red, it’s a stunningly attractive car that really couldn’t be mistaken for any other.
So it talks the talk, but can it walk the walk?
This 1.7 engine has 0-62 figures of 7.7 seconds, which means the 159 packs a punch.
Alia have tweaked the timing so that the maximum torque of the petrol engine is achieved at just 1400 revs, which they say is little more than idling speed.
What this translates is that the 159 has great acceleration at lower revs, meaning that it can pull away in any gear and is comfortable overtaking throughout the six gears.
The downside of this tweaking seems to be that first gear goes by in the blink of an eye, and the lower gears can be jerky at low speeds.
But the 159 is a great drive. It can deliver a surge of speed with a push of the pedal, and can really fly off the mark when pushed hard.
So this Italian stallion is handsome and powerful, but how does it handle? Well, pretty good, actually.
The steering is surprisingly rigid. The first couple of minutes behind the wheel of the 159 left me unable to decide whether I liked it or hated it.
Despite the rigidity, the saloon corners well and you feel in touch with the tarmac and safe when cornering at all speeds. But it takes a while to get used to the feel of it. The suspension has a tendency to clunk over bumps and potholes, which sends a flutter through your stomach because it sounded similar to the bodywork hitting the tarmac.
There’s an amount of body roll but after picking a few CD cases off the floor I got to grips with it. The 159 has excellent brakes, too, which was useful during the first frosts of the year.
Inside the cab the 159’s simple but striking theme is continued. Noise from the outside world is effectively hushed, but not completely silenced. The engine is a distant whisper but there is road and wind hums.
There are five trim levels, from Thrismo through to top-of-the-range TI.
The entry-level Thrismo models come with cruise control, dual-zone climate control, alloy wheels and electric windows as standard, while Thrismo Sport trim add sportier styling and Bluetooth stuff.
The Elegante model I drove had parking sensors and rain¬sensitive wipers.
The dashboard is set out stylisWy and simply, with easy-to-read dials lit up in a striking red.
The plastics, including the silver effects dotted around, look attractive and are soft to the touch, and the leather seats, which were an option in my car, finish off the understated, classy look.
There is plenty of leg and head space for both driver and passengers and the driver sits in a comfortable position, with good visibility all around.
Families will be accommodated with a decent amount of room in the boot, and no once can grumble about a lack of safety on board.
This family saloon is in a highly competitive market pitted against the likes of Audi’s A4 and BMW3, but coming in at just under £20,000 for the base model, it compares favourably in the wallet department. What the Alfa Romeo 159 doesn’t compare favourably with is reliability, with the marque underperforming in recent reliability and customer satisfaction surveys. Emission figures and a fuel economy of 34mpg are less than many rivals, and repairs and servicing are on the high side, too. Resale prices can’t match its German rivals.
But you can’t argue that the 159 is a fine¬looking car that will stand out in a crowd, comfortable nipping around own or on long family journeys.
It’s fun to drive and handles well and is well worth a look if you want something a little different, a bit of Italian style.
ALFA ROMEO 159
ALFA ROMEO 159 Engine: 1.7-litre
ALFA ROMEO 159Transmission: six-speed manual
ALFA ROMEO 159 0-62: 7.7
ALFA ROMEO 159 Top speed: 147mph
ALFA ROMEO 159 Combined mpg: 34.9mpg
ALFA ROMEO 159 OTR price: £22,750