The new Alfa Romeo 159 3.2 V6 Q4
Alfa has taken the fight right into the German manufacturer's backyard with its new Alfa 159 3.2 Q4, with no less than 191 kW of power coupled with a superb all-wheel drive system that gives surefooted handling and the ability to cross continents in super-quick time.
Our 120 km/h speed limit notwithstanding, the Q4 shortens journey times, especially when the going gets tight, by its ability to shrug off corners and enable the driver to maintain speed without having to slow down.
We drove the new car yesterday in Gauteng, and although there weren't THAT many opportunities to test the car at anywhere near its limits, it quickly became apparent that this is one of the most capable Alfas we have driven.
Most interesting was the way the car put that power down. The engine has been upgraded by adding direct injection, pushing power up from the previous 3.2-litre quad cam V6 as found in the 156 and 147 GTA versions from 184 kW to 191 kW.
More pulling power
But more important, the torque curve has been shifted dramatically, and instead of the 3.2 unit being tuned more towards sporty behaviour, it now develops massive pulling power from really low down the rev range, with 90% of its 322 Nm available between 1 800 r/min and right up to 6 250 r/min.
What this means on the road is tremendous flexibility and the ability to use the 6-speed manual gearbox's ratios to suit your driving style.
If you're feeling lazy you can just go first, second, fourth and sixth, or when you want to get the best out of the car you use all the gears and easily keep the engine "on song".
The last time Alfa offered an all-wheel drive car in South Africa was the 155 Q4 in the early '90s, but that had the disadvantage of only having 2-litre power, which meant the extra weight of the AWD system couldn't easily be offset by the improved handling.
It's not the same with the 159 Q4. Although it's fitted with an all-alloy engine, kerb curb weight still comes out at 1 680 kg, but this time the engineers have looked at the problem and ensured that the engine delivers.
As far as handling goes, the car feels absolutely neutral, with none of the fierce understeer that so mars the GTA versions.
The AWD system is key to this. Fitted with a torque sensing centre differential, it puts 53% of the power through to the rear wheels, ensuring that the nose of the car isn't pushed too hard into corners and creating understeer.
Performance is better than its Audi equivalent, the A4 3.2 FSI quattro, with a top speed of 240 km/h and zero to 100 km/h in just 7 seconds, while combined fuel consumption works out at 11.5 litres/100 km.
In fact the Alfa, despite having AWD, matches the acceleration of that other great competitor, the BMW 330i, which doesn't have the advantage of all-wheel drive.
The 159 scored a full 5 stars in Euro NCAP testing, and boasts as many as eight airbags, including special bags to protect the knees, and sidebags that extend all along the window area.
In addition, there are innovative restraint systems (pre-tensioners and load limiters on the seatbelts), and front seats with an anti-whiplash system that automatically brings the head restraint closer to the occupants neck in the event of a rear impact.
There are also a number of electronic systems that enhance the car's dynamic behaviour, including a Vehicle Dynamic Control system (VDC), Anti Slip Regulation (ASR), Hydraulic Brake Assistance (HBA) which cuts in during emergency braking, ABS anti-lock braking complete with EBD, and a Hill Holder to simplify hill starts.
The feature list is extensive and includes dual-zone climate control, radio/CD frontloader, steering wheel controls, leather interior and electric windows/mirrors.
Price: R376 000.
The new Alfa 159 3.2 V6 Q4 is covered by a 5 year/100 000 km maintenance plan and covered by the AA Fleet care roadside assistance for 12 months.
See our report on the launch of the first Alfa 159 models here.