ONCE executives are a few rungs up the corporate ladder, the company car morphs into something different – it becomes more focused on reward than essential business travel.
This used to mean offering a choice between the three German brands if you wanted a complete executive package, but things are different for today’s fleet manager.
Alfa Romeo made some headway in this premium sector with the 156, but its eye-catching design masked reliability and build quality issues which undermined the prestige experience.
In its replacement, the 159 – sitting on a new platform which is wider to free up cabin space – Alfa is trying again and trying harder.
Initial impressions suggest there is enough to allow entry into the hallowed choice lists normally dominated by the Germans, although on reading the car’s brochure it doesn’t seem Alfa Romeo has been brave enough to introduce the word ‘quality’ yet.
The 159 tested here is in SportWagon guise, with a 2.4-litre JDTM turbodiesel engine offering a class-leading 200bhp.
This car certainly has the power to match its striking looks. The menacing front end blends into a square, squat stance.
The interior isn’t a disappointment either, especially with the leather seats which are standard in Lusso trim, and very comfortable.
The central console is topped by three round gauges, showing turbo pressure, engine temperature and fuel level. But the car still hasn’t shaken off the Italian passion for throwing buttons around the interior. There are lots of column stalks which all have dials or buttons, which add to the confusion.
It is practical, too, for a car of this type which falls halfway between a hatchback and full-blown estate. In SportWagon format the Alfa offers 445 litres of luggage space with the 60/40 split rear seats in place, compared to 405 litres in the saloon. Fold them down and you get 1,235 litres.
By comparison the Audi A4 Avant offers 442/1,184 litres, the BMW 3-series Touring 460/1,385 litres and the Volvo V50 manages 417/1,307 litres.
On the 159’s boot there is a high lip to negotiate so objects have to be lowered in, rather than sliding them.
For the majority of driving conditions, third and fourth gear are pretty much all you need, taking you from roundabouts up to 70mph with ease.
The five-pot engine sounds great, and although its real-world thirst was about 30mpg, you can’t help using its power. Turn-in is sharp and fuss free, with no sign of the heavy diesel engine pushing the front end wide.
This seems to be an Alfa Romeo with all the bad bits taken out, although the ownership experience will also depend on the buy-in of the dealer network to tempt fleet managers.
P11D value: £25,297
CO2 emissions (g/km): 184
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 26%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 40.4
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £8,175/32%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £554
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider
THE 159 tops Alfa’s range thanks to its high Lusso spec and 200bhp engine. The BMW offers 194bhp but costs £3,000 more. Volvo’s 180bhp V50 comes loaded with kit, and an auto gearbox, yet is the cheapest, while the base spec Audi is the least powerful at 178bhp.
Emissions and tax rates
DESPITE only being available as an automatic, the Volvo offers the lowest benefit-in-kind bills. Its low front-end price means it will cost a 40% taxpayer £216 a month in tax, £3 ahead of the Alfa. The Audi will cost the same taxpayer £231 a month and the BMW £236.
AROUND £400 separates these four over 60,000 miles, with the BMW coming in at under £2,500 and the Alfa in fourth on £2,800. The BMW and Audi head the table and both offer variable servicing intervals while the Volvo and Alfa need a garage visit every 18,000 miles.
325d: 4.15 (pence per mile) £2,490 (60,000 miles total)
A4: 4.33 £2,598
V50: 4.52 £2,712
159: 4.72 £2,832
THE 325d leads the way, with BMW claiming it will return 42.8mpg on the combined cycle. This translates into a diesel spend of nearly £5,900 over 60,000 miles. The Audi is close behind on 41.8mpg for a £6,000 fuel bill. The Alfa and Volvo return 40.4mpg, or £6,210 in diesel.
325d: 9.77 (pence per mile) £5,862 (60,000 miles total)
A4: 10.00 £6,000
159: 10.35 £6,210
V50: 10.35 £6,210
CAP estimates the BMW will retain 41% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles. However, its much higher front-end price counts against it, leaving it a penny-per-mile behind the Volvo – despite its RV of 36%. The Audi will retain 37% and the Alfa a lowly 32%.
V50: 26.48 (pence per mile) £15,888 (60,000 miles total)
325d: 27.73 £16,638
A4: 27.94 £16,764
159: 28.53 £17,118
DUE to its much lower P11D price and fairly healthy RV the Volvo wins the running costs section. However, it is only 0.3ppm ahead of the BMW – which costs nearly £4,000 more to buy at the front end. This just demonstrates the benefit of a rock-solid residuals.
V50: 41.35 (pence per mile) £24,810 (60,000 miles total)
325d: 41.65 £24,990
A4: 42.27 £25,362
159: 43.60 £26,160
WHILE the Volvo is the cheapest for a fleet to run, and in terms of driver taxation, it doesn’t win. The V50 doesn’t quite have the brand appeal of the German marques here. The Audi is a tempting package but in base trim is sparsely equipped. The Alfa has the looks and performance, but it is expensive on wholelife costs and has a poor RV for this sector. Which leaves the BMW – competitive running costs blend with the ultimate all-round driving package and strong RV to make it the winner.