Alfa, We Have Landed

Azfar Hashim
26 Dec 2006

Ever wish for a Ferrari? Well, keep on wishing – but in the mean time, you might want to take a good look at the Alfa Romeo 159 instead. It’s cheaper, and they come from the same family. Driving experience is almost similar too – well, almost…

Alfa Romeo is nothing short of an institution in the motoring world. Even those who are not particularly interested in motoring can spot one a mile away and there are few who have not admired the sleek, flowing lines of one model or another. Boasting all the class of a Ferrari, Alfa Romeos are a more achievable dream for most, and it has enjoyed a reputation as a performance marque.

Before the arrival of the 159, Alfa Romeo’s representative in the junior executive sedan category is the 156. Although it was overshadowed by the German C-Class and 3-Series, the 156 is truly in a class of its own when it all comes down to styling and driving dynamics. Now, who can ever forget the coupe-like side profile of the 156 thanks to it’s hidden door handle? Or that punchy Twin Spark engine mated to F1-inspired Selespeed transmission?

Giugiaro was obviously at his best when designing the 159. Physically, not much change was done to the exterior outlook to transform the 156 to the 159 – there are still elements of the 156 on the 159, and that is in a good way. It shows that Alfa Romeo recognises how distinctive the original plot is. They decided to maintain it, make it longer (by 225 mm) and wider (by 85 mm), add some supplementary muscular bits here and there, and presto – the 159. And knowing Giugiaro’s quality, everything has been sculpted crisply. But it’s just a pity the rear door handles are now placed along the sides, unlike the 156’s.

The 159’s front looks more menacing, all thanks to the new façade Giugiaro has given it. It looks fantastic from any angle, and the individually housed lamps compliment the central grill well. Tail lamps look slit-eyed like the 156’s, but are much brighter. Two exhaust pipes protruding from the rear bumper should give a hint to tailgaters that this car means business. The 159’s overall muscular stance is exactly like an Armani-clad gentleman.

Inside, the 159 continue its signature classy finishing. The test car came fitted with red leather, which we think should be able to impress potential buyers bored of the common German chaps. Fit and finish is certainly top notch, and there’s no fault in there at all – gaps are well hidden, leather is well stitched and plastics used are of the same quality with that chap from Bavaria. Driver and front passenger both get electrically adjustable seats. The rear bench is sculpted for two passengers, but as tested by, it won’t have a problem even with four. Anyone above 1.8 metres might complain when put at the rear though. Audiophiles should be gleeing happily once they experience the sound system of the 159 – it’s superb enough by this writer’s standard.

Boot space is definitely cavernous for a junior executive sedan. At 405 litres, it should be able to swallow up to two golf bags and two travel bags – useful especially for those long driving holidays up North. Talking about the boot, it is rather weird to find the boot release button placed on the roof, together with the cabin light cluster.

Pop the hood of the 159 and seated at the centre is the 2.2-litre Jet Thrust Stoichiometric (JTS) 16-valve engine. Mated to a 5-speed Selespeed gearbox, the 159 churn out a cheerful 185bhp @ 6,500rpm, and the century sprint is achieved under 9.2 seconds. Purists should be glad to know that the 159 is also available in 6-speed manual guise. And just to let the cat out of the bag – well, literally – the manual 159 is able to achieve a 0 to 100km/h timing of 8.8 seconds!

Switching on the engine of the 159 is akin to waking up with a hot cup of strong espresso, and stretching it is just like sipping the espresso slowly as you enjoy the taste and smell. The 2.2-litre JTS engine sounds charismatic, and, working in harmony with the bassy growl from the exhaust pipes, is similar to listening to an orchestra. The 159 doesn’t disappoint when stretched, even when faced with cut-and-thrust traffic situation.  There’s also the F1-like gear shifter mounted at the steering wheel – useful when there’s the urge to play Michael Schumacher on our local roads.

Handling wise, the 159 is one of those cars that does not disappoint. The 159 offer a pliant ride, soaking bumps and road imperfections with gusto. Although it rides on tallish  225 / 50 R-17 Pirelli rubbers, it still has the ability to tackle corners and bends without much problem. It’s mind boggling when you see the tail of the 159 slide sideways! Although most understeer can be kept under control, a little more feedback from the tyres would be better, as some might find the steering too light for their liking. In a brake-and-evade exercise, the 159 manage to pass with flying colours despite the screeching noise coming from the rubbers.

Summing up, the Alfa Romeo 159 will surely appeal to the driver who understands performance and practicality. Keeping in mind the Alfa Romeo’s racing pedigree, it’s quite amazing to see the marque come up with such a practically and technically well-balanced car like the 159.

Potential buyers should take note that the first batch of twenty plus 159s have all been answered for. And that alone should be a reason itself for you to check out the 159. Add to the fact that it isn’t as boring as the Japanese, not as common as the Beemers and Mercs and is closely linked to Ferrari, the asking price of $120k is quite a bargain.

Still not convinced? Go talk to an Alfisti. Now, where did I put my bank book…

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