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Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - 159 - sedan range

Launch Story

2 Jun 2006

MOVE over 156: the Alfa Romeo 159 is in the passing lane and moving to the front as its successor on 1 June.

This is going to be an interesting task for a car replacing a model that, from its launch in February 1999, almost single-handedly brought the Italian marque back out of the cold.

The 156 was not the first of the new-era Alfas here – that honour belonged to the Spider convertible and GTV Coupe in June 1998 – but it was the car that enabled the company to start thinking again about decent sales volumes.

The 159 is an all-new car, from the platform to the suspension to the bigger and heavier (200kg or so) body, which stretches out significantly in all directions.

Three models are available, defined by three new engines a DOHC four-cylinder 2.2-litre JTS VVT producing 136kW and 230Nm, a Holden-derived 3.2-litre 191kW/322Nm JTS VVT V6, and a 2.4-litre five-cylinder 147kW/400Nm JTD turbo-diesel complete with particle filter.

Even more noteworthy is the arrival of full-time all-wheel drive in an Alfa.

The three-differential Q4 permanent all-wheel drive system is standard in the 3.2-litre JTS V6 version and slightly favours the rear wheels with a straight-line 57 per cent rear, 43 per cent front torque split.

A self-locking Torsen centre differential apportions torque in less straight-forward conditions according to traction needs.

For the moment, the drivelines include standard six-speed manual transmissions on all three models. Six-speed autos for the JTD and 3.2 JTS will arrive early next year.

The 159’s front suspension is a development of the MacPherson strut system used on the 156, while at the back is a new multi-link setup providing more wheel travel, (claimed) better handling and more isolation from road noise via – among other things – carefully tuned and located high-tech bushing.

Braking is by four-wheel discs, ventilated at the front only on 2.2 JTS, but using four ventilated discs with Brembo front calipers on 2.4 JTD and 3.2 JTS.

The Alfa’s electronic systems aim at enhancing the driving experience as well as safety and include a BMW-like list of acronyms including VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control), Anti-SchlupfRegelung (ASR all-speed traction control), Motor Speed Regulator (MSR) to prevent wheel lock under deceleration, and a hill-holder function to simplify uphill starts.

The 159’s highly rigid, all-new body is, according to the specifications, bigger in all directions. This means a bigger interior and a bigger boot – increased in capacity over the 156 to 405 litres, and going to as much as 645 litres with both split-fold rear seats utilised.

Then there is the pricing. Alfa Romeo has minimised sticker shock with the 159, setting the 2.2-litre JTS at $49,990, or only $40 above the outgoing 156 2.0-litre JTS.

The 2.4 JTD is accessible at $55,990, but the all-wheel drive 3.2 JTS V6 stretches the 159 budget to $74,990.

Standard equipment is much better, including, on both the 2.2 JTS and 2.4 JTD, seven airbags (including a driver’s knee bag), anti-whiplash front seats (all playing a part in the 159’s five-star EuroNCAP safety rating), rear park-distance control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a 120-Watt, eight-speaker, 10-CD sound system.

Dual-zone climate-control, leather trim on seats and steering wheel, trip computer, heated and folding external rear-view mirrors, cruise control and a new electronic key with a cute starter button are all part of the basic 159 deal.

The 3.2 JTD adds Xenon headlights, power front seats, a 570-watt Bose sound system and 18-inch alloy wheels as well as Bluetooth hands-free phone and USB i-Pod connection. A power sunroof is optional on all three 159 models.

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