More kerb appeal than rivals
Renowned for producing cars that are beautiful to look at, Alfa Romeo's stylish 159 can also be had sporting a TI badge. Short for Turismo Internazionale, the label is reserved for the most sporty and luxurious models in the range. The newcomer also comes with an upgraded version of Alfa Romeo's 2.4-litre JTD diesel engine and boasts sports suspension and a subtle bodykit.
A welcome addition to the range, the TI builds on the 159's role as executive ambassador for the brand. It is instantly recognisable thanks to its menacing look which is further enhanced by a lowered ride height of 20mm, 19-inch alloys, extended side sills, chrome effect door mirrors and handles plus a twin exhaust arrangement.
The capable 2.4-litre diesel engine is smooth and punchy and allows the 159 TI to glide smoothly from standstill to 62mph in a decent time. Power is delivered in a steady linear fashion and the Alfa benefits from the engine's ample mid-range torque. The steering is nicely weighted and feels precise while the slick gearshift allows the driver to tease out the most performance available in every gear while grip is particularly impressive.
Alfa has done a good job of the revisions to the front suspension and has added a new multi-link rear configuration. Consequently the car remains balanced and poised when cornering, and the stiffened chassis compliments the 159's straight-line performance. The ride however, does become unsettled on poor surfaces and overall it still doesn't quite match the engaging drive of some of its rivals, although it is fun to drive.
The 159 TI represents good value considering its generous levels of standard equipment, which includes goodies such as dual zone climate control, cruise control, a multifunction trip computer, front fog lights, alloy wheels in addition to its stunning looks and spirited driving characteristics.
The 159 TI is a great all-round package for motorists who are also dedicated car enthusiasts. Its excellent diesel engine, coupled with a fun driving experience and competitive pricing will appeal to people who are looking to buy a compact saloon but are looking for something a little different and with a lot of road presence. In a bid to remedy its poor reputation for reliability and quality, Alfa is aiming to produce cars that appeal to the head and not just the heart – the 159 TI appears to do the job successfully.
Priced below many of its rivals, the 159 is an attractive proposition for those wishing to buy an executive saloon at a reasonable price. However these savings are offset by the fact that the 159's German rivals tend to retain more of their value over time.
Unfortunately, the 159 doesn't score that highly with regards to space or practicality, and rear occupants will find themselves with only a modest amount of legroom. The boot is a fair size but could do with being a more regular shape for storing items such as golf clubs or children's buggies.
The cabin is undoubtedly stylish and features an aluminium-trimmed facia that is angled towards the driver, plus some beautiful cowled dials. It has a key-slot and push button ignition system, while the instruments are big and clearly labelled. However the stereo's low position on the dash, located just behind the gear lever, means it is sometimes difficult. Just as well access is available from the steering wheel mounted controls.
Despite offering a height adjustable driver's seat allied to a generous rake and reach adjustable steering wheel, tall drivers may still feel cramped when behind the wheel, although front passengers should find it roomy. The leather sports seats are firm and do not feel particularly well padded or supportive while rear passengers may find the back seats a bit of a squeeze.
With such alluring looks, the Alfa may attract unwanted attention so it's probably best to supplement the standard security devices – remote central locking, immobiliser and alarm system – with deterrents such as a steering lock.
The saloon scores highly in crash test results and safety kit is comprehensive. Seven airbags are fitted as standard and stability control, ABS, EBD and vehicle dynamic control are also fitted. There are also front-seat head restraints that move to minimise whiplash injuries. There are three Isofix mountings for child seats.
Overall the 159 TI is an entertaining drive and refinement is impressive with road and wind noise subdued. The diesel motor isn't the quietest when cold, although this gives way to a surprisingly tuneful exhaust note. The 159 might not be as sharp as a BMW 3 Series and Alfa does play heavily on the 159's looks, but the TI extras do make a welcome difference to the car's behaviour.
It's more likely to appeal to the moneyed company car driver than a family, thanks in part to the car's modest cabin. Also, the car's plush interior isn't exactly what you'd call child friendly. And don't forget that a people carrier will be more adept at swallowing the weekly shop and a pushchair in one go.
Drivers who are looking for their first Alfa Romeo should consider the smaller, more affordable 147. The 159 is a fine proposition but is quite large for first time drivers to manoeuvre. In addition, the car will command quite a high insurance premium thanks to its elevated performance status.
The interior looks very stylish and has a solid feel to it and it's clear that Alfa has used good quality materials too. Overall refinement is good and there is only a slight diesel clatter upon start-up from the 2.4-litre engine. Reliability and quality problems have plagued Alfa's reputation in the past and the Italian car maker is working hard to restore consumer confidence.
Front seat occupants should have no problem getting in and out of the 159. The doors open wide and the seating height is relatively low. However the car's rear doors are quite small in comparison, as is the door aperture, so rear passengers may find entering and leaving the car a little awkward. The boot however is a good size, and the tailgate opens and closes easily.
There's an array of high-tech equipment available including a CD/MP3 player, a Bose sound system, Alfa's Connect telematic service plus satnav and a phone function. Whether you stick with the standard kit or opt for the extra features, it all works well and the various controls are intuitive and sensibly located about the cabin.
Alfa is keeping the 159 TI models distinctive and exclusive by offering three exterior body colours only – Alfa Red, Stromboli Grey and Carbonio black – all colours that suit the 159 well. Inside, the TI badge adds extras such as the good quality black leather sports seats with contrasting red stitching and an embroidered logo.
It's a large car with a long bonnet but the driver benefits from good forward visibility, unlike rear quarter visibility which is obscured by the thick C-pillars. Speed sensitive power steering makes driving the car around town and into tight spaces easy and fortunately front and rear sensors are available and as such make manoeuvring the 159 straightforward despite the car's modest steering lock.
A space saver steel wheel is included as standard.
Petrol engine options – 2.2-litre (182bhp); 3.2-litre (256bhp). Diesel engine options – 2.4-litre (207bhp). Transmission options: each engine is available with six-speed manual or Qtronic automatic gearboxes. The Q4 4WD system is standard on the 3.2 JTS V6 and optional only available on the diesel. Trim levels: Ti.