I found this thread very interesting, I am thinking about swoping my FL 156 jts for a 1.9 159.
I was aware of some of the issues, like weight and sharpness of handling, but I was not aware of the gearbox issue. I thought that had all been sorted. I was looking for a 1.9 purely on economy grounds, running costs are now an issue for me. I have been looking at an 08 1.9 with 150k on the clock, it has FSH and looks have been well looked after. I was very keen on it until now, not sure whether or not to keep my JTS.
It might be worth considering the auto?
I used to have a 2003 156 Twinspark Selespeed once. Bought cheap in 2009, high mileage, as a semi-project, I put a month's work into it (suspension, clutch, engine refresh, total cost including the car $8000). I drove it for over two years without a problem - excellent really. Very rewarding to get such reliability from a Selespeed. I did wonder if the structure was as strong as it should have been, but the red leather interior was smart even if a bit 'cheap' in places compared to a 166.
I sold my 156 2.5 years later for $7000, wanted to replace it with a 159, but I bought a FIAT 500 instead (quite pricey, $22000, and the nasty vinyl-seat 'Sport' trim). Wasn't quite 'enough' (bumpy and noisy), so I bought a last-of-the-line 166 as well. The 166 was magnificent, but a tad unwieldy and very thirsty. I ended up driving it very little and disliking the 500 on a daily basis.
A five-cylinder FIAT Stilo provided a decent all-round solution and was very cheap, perfectly reliable while I continued to test-drive 159s. This took a year (10 examples) but eventually, I carefully selected a 1.9JTDm auto. One lady owner, silver, good condition, $15k.
An unexpected 159 surprise was a smaller turning circle than the other cars, but otherwise, stiff and heavy was a fair description of the feel around town. Had a similar feel to my 156 out on the open road - nicely weighted steering (compared to any electric assisted system), same slightly choppy ride as a 156 (but very nice compared to a 500), good balance driving into corners, bit less roll than a Stilo. I would have thought the sharpness was as good as my 156, which had Konis and Eibachs
Is there body flex in a 159 (bending rigidity problems) - hard to be sure, it did seem to shudder a bit twixt wheel and seat over bumps. Nowhere near as much flex, or as much other luxury soundproofing and trim as the 166 - even the carpet was less plush.
The 159 interior is more solid than a 156 (and the seats are almost at 166 levels of sophistication) but it's only at the same mass-produced 156 level really. It doesn't have the bespoke feel of, say, my Alfa Spider, which has seemingly hand-stitched trim - and pathetic seats
I didn't mention the three Spiders I've owned, for fear of boring you. They have a lot of torsional body flex...
The outside dimensions of the 159 are large - difficult to get around it in my garage, yet not a lot of room in the back for passengers.
But it was the diesel engine sound and vibration that got me in the end. It's fine for a long trip - very quiet in fact - but for popping down to the shops, annoying. Straining against the brakes, surging gently, and then moving off with an awkward pause, a wave of torque, and a slipping feeling from the Japanese automatic transmission. That's if I'd found the plastic button from the wobbly shifter, which had a habit of flying out. It's the little things that degrade the quality feel - and I found the black interior rather sombre. Those gauges with the silver paint aren't exactly compelling to look at.
Never actually got around to polishing the outside either - didn't expect much improvement or reward anyway (it was silver, too). I ran out of money due to work-related problems (employer unable to pay me), so I sold my 159 a few weeks ago to release some much-needed cash. I got back what I paid.
My next car will be a Grande Punto in orange or blue with a small petrol engine and Dualogic - I couldn't do a diesel again.
Take from that what you will - but after years of anticipation, I was a tad disappointed with my 159, even though there were no unexpected costs or problems (apart from the shifter button) and it cost me nothing more than fuel and an oil change. It was reliable and economical, but I didn't find it a pleasant drive because of the diesel and the auto. It is difficult to have 'lively' and 'solid' both at once, but hopefully I can find it in the Grande Punto - costs exactly half as much to buy too