Impressions of a 159.....hired in Italy
Just back from holiday in Italy where I hired a 159 for 3 weeks and covered 2000 kms over all sorts of roads. I particularly wanted to try this car to see if I would change to one from my beloved 166.
First impressions - fantastic. The car wasn't there when we arrived to collect it so had to wait in the car-hire pound for half an hour amidst dozens of silver or white Puntos, Stilos, etc. Then we saw it approaching - dark blue with headlights ablaze, it was just something else and made everything else look bland and ordinary.
The car was a 1.9 JTDm. I was happy enough to try the diesel because I had so little experience of driving with this type of engine on an every day basis and everybody has been raving about how good diesels are.
I had been worried about the small boot (compared to the 166) when I saw the 159 at the local dealers, but was able to get three suitcases in (just about). So far so good.
On motorways, the car was a revlation - extremely refined with very good performance. It would cruise very happily at 160-180 kph with no noticeable engine noise. Very impressive indeed. It was also very economical - I didn't work out the consumption, but could tell by how slowly the fuel gauge was moving compared to my 3.0 V6!!
However, I just couldn't get to grips with the characteristics of the engine, especially on country roads and even around town. There is no power up to about 2000 rpm and then it comes in with a bang before tailing off around 4500 rpm. As a result, I never felt totally in charge of the power delivery and was frustrated by the relatively narrow power band.
On twisty country roads it was very frustrating - you needed to be in 2nd gear to exit the bends because it would just die in 3rd, but 2nd was too noisy and ran out of steam before the next corner, so you were constantly changing gear. In my own car, I could have stuck it in 3rd and kept it there, while also enjoying a lovely engine note.
Consequently, I am now convinced that diesel is not for me. In a petrol engine the responses to the throttle are much more linear and predictable and therefore much more enjoyable. Only if I was doing a lot of motorway mileage would I consider a diesel, notwithstanding their economy benefits.
Handling-wise the car was fantastic on those same country roads with much better suspension control than Alfa normally manages. The ride was very good indeed, it stayed flat in the corners and had excellent grip. No complaints on that score. It was also great to have a tight turning circle while still retaining Alfa's quick steering rack.
Quality wise, there were absolutely no squeaks or rattles and everything worked as it should (although the aircon did on occasion decide to "have a rest" from time to time for some reason). The power of the aircon was better than my old 156 but not quite as strong as the 166.
Conclusion - very good car and I would now consider changing to A 159, but it would definitely have to be a petrol-engined version. A 3.2 Sportwagon might be very tasty...