If you’re after a slightly left-field choice, it has real appeal

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.

John McIlroy

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GazzyP 2 February 2010

Re: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon 1750 TBi TI

This is the first of a range of power outputs we will see from this new engine. This versons is to replace the 2.2 JTS so is tuned for economy, ease of driving and a modest 197bhp. It is both up on power and down on consumtion/emissions compare to the 2.2 it replaces.

The forthcoming Giulelletta will get a 235bhp version of the same engine.

I would imagine we will eventually see this engine giving outputs to enable it to replace the thirsty 3.2 V6 - which is no longer sustainable.

I wonder if this engine will get MultiAir to further boost power.

I see no direct comparison to an overtuned Mini engine which are either derived from Chrysler of Peugeot - You can stick a great big turbo on the side of any engine and it will give a huge output. But will it give have good drivability, a flat torque curve, virtually no Turbo Lag, and long service intervals etc? I would guess not.

Mart_J 31 January 2010

Re: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon 1750 TBi TI

Lee23404 wrote:
Bit of a pointless analogy isn't it? i could come back with Italian Fashion v German fashion. Would you rather wear Versace or Lidl? What about wine? A nice Barolo from Italy or Blue Nun from Germany? Florence or Dresden? The list could go on and on.
I agree a bit of a poor analogy, 2 of the top German fashion designers are German (Lagerfeld and Boss) and as for a company Lidl, who are they? As for wines, there are plenty of German wines that don't even reach the consumers that are really good. It's a bit like saying all Aussie wines are Hardys... Back to topic; if you look at the history of German cars, it has quite often been a marriage of German technology and Italian design. but the qualitative factor is always the German augmentor.

Mart_J 31 January 2010

Re: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon 1750 TBi TI

crashbangwallop wrote:

£26,000 for a badly built car which can't fit 4 adults and has bad ride and handling. In what way is this pile of junk.

] Are you talking about the current A4???? I had a previous version and you perfectly describe the A4. I moved to a 159 Diesel and had 3 years without trouble and nearly 60k miles of joyous driving. I still feel like I will never want to one one of this bling machines as being stranded in a car park with a boot full of shopping not knowing if the central locking that will in fact keep your doors locked is not a chance I no longer take. Let alone the other [many] problems with it and the atrocious customer service from it's dealers.