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Alfa Romeo 159 JTD Selespeed 2009 review

I still have fond memories of my Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti.

I still have fond memories of my Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti.

Sure the ignition key jammed — regularly — oil constantly found its way on to the front inboard disc brakes, the driving position was abysmal and the general build quality in 1983 was not a patch on the Japanese cars of that time.

But I didn't want a reliable Japanese hatch. I wanted an Italian car with razor-sharp handling and steering, a rorty note from the engine and some European cache.

The Alfasud provided that and more.

It wasn't fast but you felt fantastic every time you slid behind the wheel and fired up the 59kW 1.5-litre "boxer" engine.

Driving involvement is what Alfas are about and it's something that continues today with a philosophy of injecting passion into their cars.

The 159 sedan is a perfect example.

Both the sedan and wagon seduce you with beautiful looks and cabins that have been designed by someone who appreciates what a driver wants.

Fortunately too, quality is no longer a problem.

The 159 JTDm we drove was solid and the cabin presentation as good as the Germans.

The more powerful 2.4-litre five cylinder diesel should expand the car's appeal.

Power goes up an extra 7kW to 154kW for 2009.

The sedan is a big step up in size and comfort over the previous 156 and adding a Ti version gives shoppers more option.

Visually, the 159 is still one of the best-looking modern sedans on the road.

With the 2009 Ti upgrade come nice alloy touches, like the rear view mirrors and pedals, a subtle body kit and stylish 19-inch alloys.

It also gets a 20mm lower sports suspension.

The Ti has a five-star crash rating and when it comes to safety gear is well equipped.

Stability control, seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag) and anti-skid brakes are part of the package.

Inside there are some new gauges and easier to use climate controls on the centre console.

The gauges are set deeply into the dash with the air vents in the centre stack turned towards the driver.

Soft grey alloy highlights on the dash and around the cabin complete the picture.

The start button is now computer controlled so the driver does not have to hold the button until the engine starts.

The JTDm opener is $59,990 for the six-speed manual or $62,990 for the Q-tronic six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

It sprints to 100km/h in a respectable 8.4 seconds and according to Alfa's figures, has a top speed of 224km/h.

Apart from the JTDm there's still plenty of choice in the lineup.

Entry into the 159 family starts with the 2.2-litre four cylinder petrol JTS from $50,990, a 1.9-litre JTD diesel from $49,990, culminating in the cracking 3.2-litre V6 at $76,990 for the six-speed manual.


The diesel rattle, particularly in a confined space, was loud and chattery.

Fortunately from the cabin this noise is reasonably muted and once the 2.4-litre five cylinder warms up it recedes a little.

The only way to tell this 159 is improved is the small "m" after the JTD badge on the rump, which signals this is an uprated version of this engine.

Apart from the seven extra kilowatts the JTDm has better low-end response.

Torque remains unchanged at a very usable and sizeable 400Nm at just 2000 revs.

It's an engine that is certainly full of character, the five cylinders delivering a gravelly edge and a distinct soundtrack that becomes more obvious when revved.

The Ti also manages to ride comfortably and handle better than any Alfa we've sampled recently even though the car has a sports suspension setup and 20mm lower ride height.

The steering has consistent balance with plenty of feel with little kickback in sharp corners.

The Pirelli low-profile tyres also have lots of grip but they do generate a bit of noise on our coarse-chip roads.

Alfa has improved the software between the engine and optional Q-Tronic six-speed automatic but there are still some hiccups.

Starting off there is some turbo lag under 1500 revs but at mid-range speeds response is good.

The JTDm's substantial torque helps it crush hills and seize overtaking opportunities.

Once you've experienced a modern `sports’ diesels you will be hard pressed to turn back to a petrol-engined car, regardless of the extra cost of diesel at the pump.

The latest common rail diesels deliver huge amounts of torque from relatively small capacity engines. The economy is a plus too.

Against a claimed 7.0 litres/100km combined fuel economy figure for the automatic, we managed the high eights in mostly city driving.

After an Alfasud and a brief fling in a Brera and Spider I fully expected the 159's driving position to be a little, well, Italian.

Fear not. It has surprisingly good seats and a comfy driving position. The electric and heated sports seats are supportive and lushly upholstered in Italian leather.

Negatives? The steering wheel mounted buttons are too fiddly initially but with familiarity most drivers will get use to them.

Back seat passengers get a tad more legroom thanks to the redesigned seats and there is more compact headlining to improve headroom.

Compared to some of its competitors though, the 159 still has some way to go with interior storage options. Like the Citroen C5, the door pockets are virtually useless.

Not so the boot. It is roomy and the rear seats fold for extra space.

The boot has a compact opening but 405 litres of space. This expands to 770 litres with the seats folded.

The 159 is a handsome Italian thoroughbred that is entertaining to drive, comfortable to ride in and reasonably spacious.

It seduces you. You come away from the experience really wanting to love the JTDm engine.

The box it comes in is beautifully crafted but the diesel does let the side down.

After Alfa's delightful four and V6 engines the chatter of the JTDm might be too much for many.

Pricewise, it is also pitched into some competitive diesel territory for buyers cross-shopping against the accomplished German diesels from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Alfisti will love the 159 Ti but in JTDm form the Germans still edge it out with diesel engine refinement.

Verdict: 68/100

$61,990 as tested

Engine: 2.4-litre five cylinder turbo diesel

Power: 154kW at 4000 revs

Torque: 400Nm at 2000 revs

Transmission: Six-speed sequential automatic

Fuel: 7.0 litres/100km combined


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Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

2.4 JTD 2.4L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $6,500 – 10,120 2009 Alfa Romeo 159 2009 2.4 JTD Pricing and Specs
2.2 JTS 2.2L, PULP, 6 SP $5,700 – 8,800 2009 Alfa Romeo 159 2009 2.2 JTS Pricing and Specs
Sportwagon 2.2 JTS 2.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $5,900 – 9,130 2009 Alfa Romeo 159 2009 Sportwagon 2.2 JTS Pricing and Specs
Sportwagon 1.9 JTD 1.9L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $6,100 – 9,460 2009 Alfa Romeo 159 2009 Sportwagon 1.9 JTD Pricing and Specs
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