159 2.2 SW driving impressions...
I have one of these as a loan today, and with the garage 35 miles away on a variety of types of road, got a good chance to check it out on the way back.
I have to say that overall I am very pleasantly suprised. I had low expectations of the 2.2 - as I do generally with 4-pots, and expected the car to feel much like our Focus 2.0 performance wise, as the 185 bhp is offset by quite a high weight. Actually, the engine is something of a triumph - much lustier than I expected in the mid-range, a smooth top end with an almost flat-four warble, and great throttle response - enough to make you feel there is performance on tap, without being jerky. Only when really pressing on, or at very low revs, does it feel genuinely flat next to the GTA. For normal driving it is perky and enjoyable - indeed the performance overall is sufficient to enjoy, which the Focus's is not.
The gearbox is straightforward and pleasant, though there is a slightly odd ECU interaction when taking up the clutch, that I'm sure I'd get used to. The ride is vastly better than in either of my (admittedly sporty) 156's, and while initial indications suggest it might roll a bit too much, when you press on, it doesn't. The road and wind noise is at least as loud as in the GTA at motorway speed - meaning it is greater than in my old Passat, or our Focus. Not by much...Steering is quick and faithful, not quite as feelsome as the GTA's modified 156 steering, and suffering the same mid-corner kickback on occasion, but still nicely alfa-esque without approaching nervousness. It's not the night and day improvement over the 156's aleady good steering that some mags suggested. Traction is superb, body control good, and overall this is a nice car to punt along at 3/4 pace and enjoy it.
It's much bigger than the 156, the boot especially, and vision over your shoulder is poor - offset by large mirrors. The interior I find a little fiddly and lacking in style compared to the 156's. They've tried to make it notably different to the 156, and lost the sporty swooping dial covers. Also, despite the fit and build being a bit better, the material quality feels worse in places and the controls are fiddly and not that intuitive. It's a pretty good interior compared to the cars around today, and retains its Alfa personality, but it's not the light and day improvement I expected over standard 156's, and nowhere near the 156GTA for style. The seats (alfatex) are possibly the most comfortable I've ever sat in, and decently supportive.
The brakes doubltess lack the ultimate power of the GTA's ****-off brembos but are far better servoed than in any 156 or 147 I've driven, with better feel.
Overall, this is a fine car - I'm suprised how well it retains the Alfa DNA despite the weight, size, and comfort. It drives with typical Alfa panache, without the drawbacks for normal drivers that 156's have - such as the ride.
Last edited by jwyatt; 12-06-07 at 16:23.