What is it?
It’s Alfa Romeo’s 3-series and A4 rival, given a fresh injection of poke. Or rather, a fresh direct injection of poke, thanks to a new powerplant that promises to be a mainstay of the Italian firm’s entire range over the next few years.
The 1750 TBi unit has turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing among its technical arsenal. In this 159 Sportwagon, this unit produces 197bhp from just 1742cc. More tellingly, it also musters 236lb ft from just 1400rpm.
That’s enough, claims Alfa, to take the 159 wagon from 0-62mph in 7.9sec, and on to a maximum of 146mph. What’s more, CO2 emissions of 194g/km mean the 1750 TBi is several bands lower in company car tax than the old 2.2 JTS petrol model. And you only have to service it every 21,000 miles.
What’s it like?
All of the impressive stats would be meaningless if the new powerplant had glaring weak spots in its torque curve, or if it proved thrashy. But in fact it’s quite the opposite; the 236lb ft does arrive commendably low, and yet you can rev the unit out to 5500rpm before it starts to tighten. The torque curve feels extremely flat, offering excellent throttle response in any of the gearbox’s six ratios.
Refinement is excellent; even if you choose to flirt with the red line, the 1750 remains smooth and far from unpleasant in tone. And once you’re at motorway cruising speeds it just fades into the background, despite a relatively short sixth gear that equates to 3000rpm in sixth at a fast motorway pace.
The 159’s chassis is no spring chicken, but it’s capable enough to hold its own. The steering is direct and reasonably communicative, and body roll is well contained; given an empty, smooth, flowing cross-country route, there’s fun to be had here.
The spec is relatively generous too; our range-topping TI test car costs a whisker over £26k, but for that you get heated sports leather seats, sports suspension, 19in wheels, a sports steering wheel, Brembo brake calipers, rain, dusk and condensation sensors and Bluetooth connectivity.
The 1750 lives up to the promise shown during its continental launch last summer, therefore, but well known 159 foibles do remain; the ride, while generally composed, can get a little thrashy over large potholes – although the suspension and wheels on the T1 probably didn’t help in this area.
The fascia is stylish, with deep-cowled instrument dials and excellent flourishes of aluminium trim, but Alfa’s stock of black plastic does the rest of the front cabin few favours.
And while the gearbox is slick once it’s warmed up, it’s a bit nuggety on a cold winter morning. Boot capacity is short of the C-class estate, A4 Avant and 3-series Touring too, and rear legroom is still in short supply.
Should I buy one?
Minor idiosyncrasies mean the 159 will probably remain the choice of the individual in a market dominated by the relentlessly mainstream Audi, Mercedes and BMW. But with this motor, Italy’s contender has probably never made such a compelling case for itself. If you’re after a slightly left-field choice, it has real appeal.