25 February 2005

Alfa Romeo is bidding to be the star of next week’s Geneva Show with this sleek new Giugiaro-designed four-door saloon. The new saloon is the replacement for the much-admired 156, launched in 1998, and will be badged 159 (the next generation of Alfa saloons will have names ending in ‘9’). The car goes into production in a couple of months, will be on sale in Italy in the summer, and comes to Britain early next year. There is no guidance yet on pricing, but Alfa bosses have said there is little scope for price increases over the 156. The 159 is first of a new generation, its creators say, but they deny any association with the famous pre-war racing car of the same designation. It is closely related to the much-admired Brera coupé concept, destined for production in ’06. The 159 is nearly 23cm longer than its predecessor and much roomier inside, but carries forward the 156’s best features: a contemporary expression of the famous Alfa shield grille, and the driver-oriented fascia design. The 159 offers a choice of six engines, transversely mounted in the nose. The most powerful versions come with Alfa’s four-wheel-drive system, called Q4. Buyers can choose from three JTD turbodiesels (1.9 8v 120bhp, 1.9 16v 150bhp and 2.4 20v 200bhp) and three JTS petrol engines (1.9 16v 160hp, 2.2 16v 185hp and 3.2 V6 24v 260bhp). There are also whispers about 400bhp twin-turbo petrol V6 versions.

The 159 has similar overall dimensions to a Vauxhall Vectra and shares its 2700mm wheelbase, but there is no mechanical relationship between the cars. Instead the159 uses a new ‘Premium’ platform engineered with Saab, before the Swedes withdrew. It has all-independent suspension, with double wishbones at the front and a multi-link rear.

The 159 begins an intensive new relationship between Alfa’s parent company Fiat and Giugiaro: the design house is credited not only with the 159 and Brera, but also the new Fiat Croma (another Geneva launch) and a spectacular new Fiat Punto, due for launch late this year. Alfa’s claiming an important step forward in build quality with the 159 and reckons the car meets the ‘rational needs’ of modern owners. Previous research shows that while many owners buy an Alfa in a flush of enthusiasm, plenty don’t repeat the purchase. Loyalty, says Alfa, is the key to building the brand.

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