Thursday, August 16, 2007

Alfa Romeo 159 Road Test

Alfa Romeo 159

There’s no doubt it’s a looker. Just like the Alfa 156 put the E46 BMW 3-Series in the shade, the 159 does the same to the E90. But the 159 is styled by the master, Giorgetto Giugiaro, not Walter d’Silva who left and went to SEAT. All through my life my blood has been stirred by Giugiaro designs, starting with the 105 Series Giulia GT when he worked for Bertone. Whether the 159 quite does it in the same way as d’Silva’s 156 is a vexed question. It’s certainly a far more beautiful sight to open your garage doors to than an E90 3-Series.

But would you rather have one than an E90?

That’s something Alfa is not banking on. They will only import 3,500 in 2006, less than 5% of E90 3-Series likely to be sold. So, like ‘The Man Who Loved Women’ (in the movie he drove a Giulia Ti), if you go for an Alfa 159 you’ll be ostracised by many, but admired by a significant few.

Will you enjoy the car as much as the attention?

They only had diesels on the day I drove. So I was denied the tactile and aural pleasure of the four wheel drive 260PS 3.2 V6. Instead I had to make do with a 200PS 2.4 diesel. I’ll write that again. A 200PS 2.4 diesel. If anyone thought Alfa Romeo diesel was an oxymoron, then this will definitely dissuade them.

We set off together tramlining madly down a wet and muddy lane. Partly because the brake discs were a bit wet and partly because the 235/45 ZR 18 tyres were set up to bite as hard as they could rather than offer limo-like comfort. Happily, the brakes soon developed plenty of bite too. Which they really needed to because this diesel pulls like a steam train.

There’s none of that horrible, sudden turbo surge. You just get power, then more power, in a steady stream, right up to around 4,800rpm. Not too shabby.

The solid, vice-free, neat changing 6-speed transmission gives you a gear to exploit every kW and Nm the engine develops. 6th pulls very nearly 40mph per 1,000rpm. And those front tyres keep on gripping like they’ve got claws. This is partly down to the improved “high double wishbone” front suspension and new multi-link rear suspension. And partly the way Alfa sets its cars up, with more toe-out than average.

There’s a further penalty to those low profile tyres, though. Quite a lot of road roar. At the low revs you drive a high geared diesel it’s the only sound you hear, and that is bound to bother some people.

Another criticism is the very thick B pillar that at my driving position meant I had very little side vision, especially pulling out of oblique junctions. There are side mirrors, though, conforming to the new EU legislation and giving an excellent view along the flanks.
At the half-way point I moved down to the 150PS 1.9 diesel.

Essentially the same engine as found under the bonnets of SAAB 9-3s, Vectras and Astras. This one was on 225/50 ZR 17s, so not quite as grippy at the front, but with better ride and less road noise. Gearing wasn’t as high either. More like 35mph per 1,000rpm in 6th.

Again, it’s a very well balanced, sporty car. You don’t feel you’re in a poor relation to the 2.4. It looks, goes and handles very well indeed. It’s easy to get comfortable. The gearshift is nice and tight. Performance comes in a linear manner instead of a sudden rush. And two small bonuses are that with 159g/km CO2 it qualifies for £135pa VED and sensible BIK tax. If you had to pick a company car in which to do 40k miles a year it deserves a place along with the A4s, 3-Series, 9-3s, Jettas and Passats. And the looks will get you plenty of admiring glances.

There was no chance to drive the 4-cylinder petrol cars on this launch, and no 3.2 V6s at all. That car promises to be a very worthy leader of the pack, boasting 260bhp (without a turbo) and Torsen centre diff four-wheel drive with a 57% rear wheel bias.

But the range seller will inevitably be the 150bhp 1.9JTD. An Alfa Romeo diesel that isn’t sacrilege because it still has that Alfa magic.
Source: honestjohn

No comments:

Related Articles