Have recently 'disposed' of my quirky 156 JTS selespeed, am now looking at the 159 to replace the fun factor. There appears to be quite a choice of engines and petrol/diesel versions, also being accustomed to the selespeed in the 156, would prefer a semi-auto gearbox for the 159 and also the Qtronic models look appealing from the drivability aspect. Do they do a semi-auto Qtronic? Petrol or diesel? What to look for? Do these also have the dreaded timing belt service intervals? ...........any suggestions on where and what to look for would be most welcome? Best place to get a nice second hand model, dealer or private?
I can help a little with my experiences. I'm in the same boat as you (figuratively I mean), as I drove a 156 Selespeed for several years, then sold it, intending to replace it with a 159. However, the choice of 159 engines and the fact that I didn't want a diesel meant that I ended up buying an almost-new FIAT 500 instead, as I wanted something economical. The 500 was too expensive for what it was, so I sold it before the price cuts on new models (I got back over 90% of what I'd paid) and I bought a ten-year-old FIAT Stilo Abarth (Selespeed). That's serving me well, but it's been a year now, and I've been looking at 159s, even Breras, almost every week.
Selespeed 159s and Breras use the 2.2L JTS engine. I drove a Brera Selespeed from Japan last weekend. I don't think these are available in the UK, but you might find a special import. The Selespeed has a strange new personality, though it is more 'normal' in its Sport mode. In its ordinary mode, it thinks that if it tries really, really hard, you might think it's an automatic. It does this by ri-iiiiii-iding the clutch a large amount as you set off, and then when it's time for a gearchange, it gently lets off the throttle, makes the change, and then rides the clutch a little more. Super smooooooooth unless you're having to slow down or speed up at the same time (i.e. in traffic), in which case it's super slooooooow.
The 2.2 JTS engine can suffer from a ticking timing chain, so although there is no cambelt service interval to worry about, there is instead the very-practical concern of timing chain problems. On many examples. Also, although 185bhp is claimed, it doesn't feel like much more than the 155bhp of my 156 Selespeed, due to the extra weight of the 159. That also hurts the fuel economy - expect it to be worse than the 156 (around 9L/100km).
The 3.2V6 Q4 - I've driven several of these - two of the three had more complex timing chain problems with rattling and knocking noises. Vast amounts of petrol (16L/100km) are converted into underbonnet heat and some motive power, but in auto (Q-tronic) form, my personal opinion is that you won't find the transmission to be in-sync with the engine much of the time. It seems to kick down two gears and immediately back up one when you want to overtake. The overall impression is of a very solid, heavy car, with a beautifully smooth ride and impeccable traction from the four-wheel-drive system. Nothing at all like the 156! Even the old 166 seems to have a bit more of the old Alfa character to it. I felt that the capability of the 159 V6 Q4 was wasted here in NZ, where we have a 100km/h speed limit and no snow to drive in unless you live in the southern mountains.
The 2.4 diesel with Q-tronic auto - this is my pick of what's available here. Yes, it has a cambelt, and yes, there have been DPF problems in England, but here in NZ they seem reliable. The auto is the same as in the V6, a six-speed Japanese-made conventional auto with 'tiptronic'-style manual override. The good news is that the six ratios are well-matched to the diesel engine's characteristics, giving an effortless and refined drive with occasional five-cylinder growls reminiscent of my five-cylinder Stilo. These 159s, usually Lusso spec, are quite common here and good value. Ti trim level is nearly twice the price. Fuel economy is average (poor for a diesel, but this is a performance diesel) - it's about on par with a 156 Selespeed, 8L/100km.
The 2.4 diesel with manual - or the 2.2 petrol with manual - both examples of these that I drove had sticky, heavy, and recalcitrant gear shift action. So, be careful to test-drive before deciding between auto or manual. My other car is a V6 Spider with nice 6-speed manual, so I would prefer an auto in the 159.
The 1.9 diesel with auto - I haven't driven yet, but performance-wise on paper it looks slower than a 156 Selespeed, so I'm a little concerned. Fairly ordinary four-cylinder sound too. It is more economical, though, at 6-7L/100km.
The 2.0 diesel - not available here in NZ - has some worthwhile improvements in having the DPF located closer to the manifolds, plus a little more power and torque on paper.
The 1.75 petrol (turbo) also seems like a great engine choice for character and performance - but again, either not available here or very few last-of-the-line mega-expensive examples rule it out for me.
Hope that helps - basically I'm suggesting to test-drive a 2.4 diesel auto, you'll find it quite a different experience to the 156 Selespeed (much smoother, faster, easier to drive). If that's not quite your thing and you need more 'character', then a 2.2 petrol manual would be my next suggestion. If you need better fuel economy, try the 1.9 or 2.0 diesel. If you expect to do very low mileage, then consider the V6.
Just my $0.02