Since 2006, when it arrived in Britain, the Alfa Romeo 159 has been the prettiest car in its class, making competitors such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra look like an M&S suit next to one by Dolce & Gabbana. But it wasnít until 2009 that the 159 added substance to the style, thanks to a new range of much-improved engines.
The new 2-litre turbodiesel was an evolution of the 1.9 JTD that increased power from 150bhp to 170bhp, lowered CO2 emissions from 159g/km to 139g/km and boosted fuel economy from 47.1mpg to 53.3mpg. Quiet and refined, it was the sweet spot in the diesel line-up and accounted for the majority of sales.
At the same time, a new 1.75-litre turbocharged petrol engine was introduced. Using direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, the 1750 TBi was efficient, achieving nearly 35mpg on a combined cycle, and potent, with maximum torque of 236 lb ft at just 1400rpm. The engine had the creamy smooth pulling power normally associated with one twice its size, and took the 159 from standstill to 62mph in 7.7 seconds.
Cosmetically, the refreshed 159 remained unchanged, although Alfa did introduce two new trim levels, Turismo Sport and Elegante, alongside the existing Turismo, Lusso and Turismo Internazionale ranges. Turismo Sport offered unique alloy wheels, a boy-racer steering wheel and new dials. Today these cars are worth £700 more. The new Elegante model was based on the Turismo Sport but also included parking sensors and Alfatex upholstery, a man-made material that looks like leather but grips like cloth and is easy to clean. Second-hand prices for the Elegante are similar to those of the Turismo Sport.
On the road, both diesel and petrol versions feel spirited, with sharp steering response, a great manual gearbox and impressive handling. In short, the 159ís performance is every bit as good as its aesthetic appeal.
Reliability and servicing
Servicing is due every 21,000 miles or 24 months, whichever is sooner, but Alfa advises an oil change every year, or after 10,000 miles. A minor service costs £202, a main one £378, while the oil change is £90. If you are considering the 1750 TBi, beware that after every six years or 63,000 miles (whichever is sooner) a cam belt change is required, at a cost of £570 inclusive of that yearís minor service.
Other wear-and-tear running costs include £400 for the front brake pads and discs, £355 for the rears and a minimum of £130 for a new tyre. According to independent customer satisfaction surveys, Alfa Romeo cars and dealers are improving in reliability and quality of service. In 2007 Alfa was 31st out of 33 in JD Powerís league table of reliability for manufacturers. By 2011 it was joint 10th.
A new Alfa Romeo 159 is worth just 29% of its list price after three years and 30,000 miles. This sounds scary, but a Vauxhall Insignia (successor to the aforementioned Vectra) fares even worse, retaining 26% of its original value. (These are trade predictions for auction prices, not the sale or part-exchange price an owner might achieve, which is likely to be about 40% of the carís original cost.) But the lesson is clear: from just £9,450, a three-year-old 159 with 40,000 miles is value for money.
Need to know
Higher-spec cars get larger wheels. Check for signs of kerbing damage and resulting excessive tyre wear, as replacement tyres cost more than £200 each for bigger sizes
Check invoices to see whether the belt has been changed on earlier models. If not, factor in the cost when haggling for a deal
A rare factory option that adds £500 to the cost of a used 159
UK models came with a puncture repair kit as standard, so check that it is unused
Cloth, Alfatex and leather are available across the 159 range, but purists prefer real hide and there may be a slight premium for it