The brand is seen by many as too fragile in terms of reliability and residual values, but all that is about to change with the 159, or so the company earnestly hopes.
Alfa’s parent company Fiat Auto says it has invested £650 million in the upper-medium sized 159 and that 90% of parts are new compared with the outgoing 156 which it replaces, so the elegant new saloon really has to deliver on its investment.
Due in the UK in December, the 159 is based on a new platform developed jointly with General Motors (GM) during its partnership with Fiat.
It was also supposed to provide the foundation for a new Saab but the Americans and Swedes pulled out, so Alfa has it alone to use for future models which include the forthcoming Brera coupe. The engines are new to Alfa Romeo too, and are derived from GM but given a dash of extra vigour by the Italians.
The sleek body, shaped in collaboration between Alfa’s own team and Ital Design, retains all that was distinctive about the 156, but with added strength in some of the lines.
All this invites confidence in the future of the 159 and Alfa Romeo itself, but Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, the former BMW marketing director who this year became its new boss, is more aware than anyone of the ‘buts’ that spring to many lips.
No matter how well the new 159 looks and drives, its ability to perform every day for at least the first three years of its life is what counts. Kalbfell’s concern is that many business drivers will adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude.
Those who are bold will enjoy a car which turns heads. It looks the business in the rearview mirror, has lithe lines from its front three-quarters and strong haunches above the rear wheelarches.
Three JTS petrol and two JTDM turbodiesel engines will be available in the UK. The petrol 1.9- and 2.2-litre units have four cylinders and front wheel drive, while the six-cylinder, 260bhp 3.2-litre gets four-wheel drive – Alfa reckons 200bhp is the limit for chanelling power through the front wheels.
Alfa has its own turbo-diesels, with the 1.9-litre displaying star quality. It is fast enough for most and has the best combined mpg figure (47.1) and CO2 rating (157g/km).
Behind the wheel
FULL-SCALE build does not begin until September and Alfa Romeo kept stressing that the 159s on the international press launch were early pre-production units.
If the real thing is even better, there are grounds for real optimism, for all five derivatives coming to the UK are fast (the slowest, the 1.9-litre diesel, has a top speed of 132mph, and all can do 0-62mph in under 10 seconds).
Not only that, they handle like sporting saloons and the ride is supple.
Alfa says it worked hard on the suspension, which gives the car an air of calm authority. The 159 has a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and the highest ratio makes it a genuine mile-devourer in the best traditions of the German stalwarts it dares to take on.
The extra space in the cabin gives driver and front passenger generous room, though the rear seat is a bit of a squeeze for three adults.
For fleet drivers spending hours on the road, the 159 has good supportive seats and a commanding position behind the wheel.
The interior does not have the same executive feel that Audi, for example, manages on the A4, but the 159 is intended to be anything but a copycat of Germany’s finest. The interior has a warmer atmosphere than German cars and there is an attractive intimate feel about the area around the driver. The cabin is also quieter, achieved by adding rigidity to the body and using thicker window glass.
THE 159 looks great and goes well and in that sense provides a genuine alternative to the core executive market. But can it finally banish Alfa’s reputation of inconsistency to history?
|Engines (cc):||1,859 JTS||2,198 JTS||3,195 V6||1,910 JTDM||2387 JTDM|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||160/6,500||185/6,500||260/6,200||150/4,000||200/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||140/4,500||169/4,500||237/4,500||236/2,000||295/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||132||138||149||130||142|
|0-62 mph (sec):||9.7||8.8||7.0||9.4||8.4|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||32.5||30.0||24.6||47.1||41.5|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||205||221||270||157||179|
|Prices (est):||from £18,000|