An Alfa for males
At last — a petrol 159 that lives up to the look
THE affection felt for Alfa Romeo says much more for the power of nostalgia than that of its recent models. With the exception of the excellent new Giulietta hatch, Alfa’s heraldic crest— dignified in decades long gone by some great sporting cars— has come to adorn some dead ordinary devices.
The 159 comes with a capable if coarse five-cylinder JTD turbo diesel but the two petrol engines available to date fell far short of inspiring. More than five years into its life cycle and barely 18 months before it’s replaced by an all-new sedan, the visually ravishing but commercially stillborn 159 gets the petrol engine it’s always needed.
Almost all 159s sold here go out in extravagant Ti trim (pictured), lowered, with low-profile 19-inch wheels and vivid interior stitching. You needn’t look past the $49,990 model with six-speed manual (no auto with the TBi engine) and lustrous Alfa Red paint. Full leather, 18-inch alloys of new design and talking dash are standard.
The direct injection 1.75-litre turbo four is found in full-cream form in the Giulietta QV. Even with the 159’s mildly reduced 147kW/320Nm output, it kills the revvable but wheezy and now-retired 2.2 JTS. Losing some 70kg (kerb weight’s now a reasonable 1430kg) hardly hurts. Strangely, there’s an element of diesel in the TBi’s drive characteristics. Almost all that torque turns up at 1000rpm and power puffs out well south of the 6500rpm redline.
It’s all about mid-range response and fuel efficiency. At 7.7 seconds, the TBi’s just behind the petrol V6 in the 0-100km/h run. Using 8.1L/100km, it equals the diesel.
The Giugiaro design is six years old but honestly, darling, you don’t look a day over three. From the Alfa shield grille on the tip of that long patrician nose to the tapered taillights, it remains the most distinctive four-door on the road.
It’s also singular inside, though not so age-resistant. Still, love the centre console and Italian dials. Seems churlish to point out the boot opening might have been designed to discourage use.
A five-star crasher with seven airbags, collapsible pedals and brakes with the right feel and bite. The spare’s full-size. Huzzah!
The tauter suspension and massive tyres of the Ti editions would make more of this tractable, talented drivetrain but in almost all situations the non-enhanced version is surely preferable.
It pulls emphatically from almost as low as the tacho can go to the extent you can always stay in fourth, or even higher and drive almost automatically. Overcook take-offs and there’s playful tugging through the beautifully sculpted steering wheel but that— and the vast turning circle— are the chief reminders that it’s a front-wheel-drive.
There’s none of the aural fizz that characterised past Alfas (sadly that’s been so since they went to direct injection) but the composed ride and predictable handling are more than welcome new traits.
Niche model within a niche brand though it is, the 159 with TBi is finally able to give its fellow Euros something to think about.
Distinctive: The Alfa 159 finally lives up to the promise of its looks. Talking dash is standard (Ti edition shown)