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FIRST DRIVE: Diesel Alfa 159

2007-07-13 10:30

Hailey Philander

The Alfa Romeo 159 remains one of the most beautiful cars available on our roads today. This was confirmed again at the launch of the 2.4-litre 159 turbodiesel when I was required to reacquaint myself with this stunning vehicle.

Of course, that I had ever forgotten its magnetic attraction is a pity in itself. But can I really be blamed, considering how many of them I'm likely to encounter on the road?

New diesel, new auto

Be that as it may, about one year after its initial introduction in South Africa, the local division of Alfa Romeo has decided to deliver its next salvo in the form of a new 2.4-litre Multijet turbodiesel mated with a (also new) six-speed Q-Tronic automatic transmission.

The 159 range is currently available in South Africa with a choice of three petrol powerplants ranging from the entry-level 1.9-litre unit to the 3.2-litre range-topper.

The introduction of the diesel is an interesting one, justified by Alfa sales exec Riaan Grobler as being the result of a need to fill the gap in the line-up where the D-segment sees 40% of its automatic sales and 20% of its diesel sales.

Fascinating. The Alfa suits also went to great lengths to describe just how sporty and un-diesellike the 2.4 unit was, but the ultimate test was on the back roads of Pretoria leading to Bronkhorstspruit.

The 2.4 unit mated to the six-speed gearbox makes for a very lively combination. The second generation common-rail with Multijet direct injection is gutsy and fairly quiet. The five-cylinder 20-valve unit is fitted with a "for life" diesel particulate filter that should meet even more stringent Euro5 requirements when they are introduced in 2009.

On the road, the gutsy turbodiesel is fairly quiet, albeit with a slight diesel clatter at idle. Electing "sport" mode using the button to the left of the gearshift allows the engine to rev into the higher ranges - peak power of 147 kW is achieved at 4 000 r/min - for more rapid travel. The default "comfort" setting is adequate in most conditions, though. Up to 90% of the 400 Nm peak torque figure is available between 1 750 and 3 500 r/min.

Clever gearbox

The new six-speed Q-Tronic gearbox offers the choice between fully automatic and sequential modes. As nice as it may be to feel a level of control by switching gears manually - don't.

The smart gearbox won't force changes at the limiter when you feel the need for speed and emits a gentle "ping" when it disagrees with your shift choice, but changes up are excruciatingly slow and are probably best avoided. Some paddle shifts would be nice, too.

However, leave the gearbox to its own devices and it will reward you with slick, quick shifts and a very relaxing driving experience.

Alfa's 2.4 JTD essentially creates its own segment within the turbodiesel mid-sized sedan group. Dissecting the existing 2.0- and 3.0-litre categories, it certainly is worth considering when you're in the market for something different. Quality levels inside the cabin are good and the car handled rough bits along the route with much aplomb.

Alfa reiterated its drive to rectify the damage to the local brand and its perception among prospective owners, but one has to wonder who would be willing to part with R 345 000 as a symbol of goodwill...

Blue and Me

Alfa South Africa also chose this launch to announce the addition of its new Blue and Me communication and entertainment system as an option across the 159 range.

Launched at the Geneva Motor Show, the innovative system uses an open architecture that can be updated to keep up with the latest trends.

Currently, the system has a USB jack for playing MP3s, uses voice recognition, has an SMS interpreter and incorporates a hands free Bluetooth function.

The unit is only available as a factory fitted option (R 3500) and cannot be installed retroactively.


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