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Stylish Alfa 159 arrives in SA

2006-06-06 07:48

John Oxley

An Italian stallion is among the most desirable of cars around - but for most of us that means a Ferrari, and it's simply out of reach.

But what about that other Italian stallion - Alfa Romeo.

It's got just as much history as Ferrari (more even) and it's got as much style.

And none more so than the new Alfa Romeo 159 sedan, one of the best-looking four-doors I have seen in a very long time.

The new Giugiaro-designed 159 is simply stunning.

At the front there's a big and deep version of the classic Alfa Romeo shield, flanked by big air intakes each side and one beneath. And the headlights, three small projectors, are set into tapered apertures that narrow towards the centre of the car.

Along the flanks the car's shape is more distinguished than that of its predecessor, the 156, and the car has four large chromed door handles instead of the "hidden" rear ones of its predecessor.

Oodles of style

At the back the car just oodles more style, with a similar tapered look to the rear lights, a large classic Alfa badge in the centre, and the choice of twin or single exhausts depending on the model.

And from the top there's a clear arrow shape to the front of the car, the grille the foremost point of the car, thrusting, powerful.

For now there are just two Alfa 159s available - the 1.9 JTS and the 2.2 JTS - but these will be followed later by the latest 2.4 JTD turbo-diesel and the rumbustious 191 kW 3.2-litre V6. What's more, Fiat Auto SA boss Giorgio Giorelli told me, there's an all-wheel-drive Q4 version coming, too.

Both versions of the 159 follow the same interior trim pattern, with the instruments deeply inset in a panel in front of the driver, and a powerful centre console trimmed in two grades of aluminium - plain on the 1.9, patterned on the 2.2.

There's also leather standard in the more expensive model, and lots more aluminium trim, including a new three-spoke sports steering wheel with aluminium spoke trim.

Very much a cockpit feel.

Of course, it's under the bonnet where Alfa Romeos really excel, and these two are no exception.

Both get the new all-aluminium four-cylinder direct injection JTS engines, which have double variable camshafts with low-maintenance chain drive.

Good power output

The 2.2 JTS delivers 136 kW at 6 500 r/min and peak torque of 230 Nm at 4 500 r/min, taking the car to a top speed of 222 km/h and accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.8 seconds.

Torque is also excellent on the 1.9 JTS (190 Nm at 4 500 r/min) 88% of which is already available at 2 000 r/min. Power is 118 kW at 6 500 r/min to give a top speed of 212 km/h.

On the road this translates into brilliant performance, as expected, again, from Alfa.

The 2.2 is the better of the two, naturally, with huge mid-range torque which translates into superb driveability.

We drove on the highways and the byways of the Natal sugarcane areas, sometimes tight and poorly maintained roads that taxed the cars' suspensions to the limit.

The 2.2 was effortless at high speed; the 1.9 required more rowing from the 6-speed manual gearbox, standard on both cars.

The gearboxes are smooth and refined, albeit marred slightly by being designed primarily for left-hand-drive, which means there's a spring bias which sometimes prevents quick changes between fifth and sixth.

Handling is just superb, with a new double wishbone/strut front suspension and a multi-link rear.

Electronic devices

Both cars also also feature numerous electronic systems that control the car's dynamic behaviour, including Alfa's version of electronic stability control, Vehicle Dynamic Control system (VDC), Anti Slip Regulation (ASR), Hydraulic Brake Assistance (HBA) which intervenes during emergency braking and ABS complete with EBD and Hill Holder.

No matter what the corner, the car is a "point and squirt device" - you just aim it, and that's where it goes.

There was little front-wheel drive understeer, except on really tight, hard corners, and even really bad mid-corner bumps (of which there were many) failed to unsettle the car.

Both cars come standard with 16 inch alloy wheels shod with 215/55 R 16 tyres, with 225 tyres available, and both 17 inch and 18 inch wheels available as options.

The 2.2 version we drove had the fatter tyres, and I must say this showed a definite improvement over the narrower tyres both in terms of roadholding and ride quality.

The new Alfas are bigger than both the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4, and the result is excellent interior space both front and rear.

For instance, even if a tall person (188 cm) is seated on the front seat of the Alfa 159, another person 178 cm tall can sit comfortably on the rear seat.

There are up to 14 storage areas of various sizes on the Alfa 159 for small and large items.

These include a large glove compartment in the lower part of the fascia in front of the passenger, storage compartment and an insulated box in the armrest between the two front seats (with cooling airflow from the aircon at the flick of a switch), a storage compartment in the pull-out central rear armrest, and a ceiling-high spectacles holder.

Easy loading boot

The boot has a fairly low loading lip and holds 405 litres, including a space saver spare wheel. Tank capacity is a very useful 70 litres.

As mentioned the cars are very well specced, and features include an electronic key which includes remote controls for the central locking, plus a starter button - the latter very much in vogue these days.

Other features include electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning (with outlets in the back), dual zone and climate controlled, leather on the 2.2, an excellent sound system with frontloader CD/radio, and controls on the steering wheel.

Speed control is also standard.

The seats are adjustable for height as well as reach, and the steering column for reach, making it easy to get a good driving position - not always possible with Italian cars in the past.

Safety is of a high order, and the 159 got 5 stars in Euro NCAP crash testing.

Intrinsic to this is the high-strength body and ultra-stiff chassis, as well as an excellent braking system backed up by BOSCH 5.7 ABS, with 305 mm ventilated discs at the front and 278 mm solid discs rear.

Then there are up to eight airbags (seven are always standard equipment), including dual stage front bags.

The Alfa 159 gets a free 5 year/100 000 km maintenance plan, and there's AA Fleet care roadside assistance for 12 months.

Services are every 30 000 km.


Alfa Romeo SA has put a lot of time and effort into trying to improve sales and service, with brand-new showrooms and workshops, and a whole new attitude.

Certainly the product is right, the quality is right, and the commitments seem to be there.

Could the 159 be the turning point for Alfa in SA?


  • 159 1.9 JTS R246 000 (R254 000 if specified with leather)

  • Alfa Romeo 159 2.2 JTS R271 000.

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