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Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon review (2006 onwards)
image © Alfa Romeo
Model: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon
Bodystyle: five-door estate
Engine: 2.4-litre turbodiesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
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What is it?
It’s the load lugging version of the slickly styled 159 saloon but don’t call it an estate. That word seems to have fallen out of favour and manufacturers are desperately seeking sexier nametags for their four-wheeled holdalls. Alfa Romeo’s chosen moniker is Sportwagon for a car we last drove in its 3.2-litre V6, four-wheel drive form, which we found worryingly thirsty so here we’ve gone for the 2.4-litre turbodiesel which weighs in at £25,495 on the road.
Where does it fit?
Whatever they’ve been called by their makers, there are plenty of executive estates out there with the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 Avant being top of the heap for car park bragging rights, soon to be joined by an estate version of the new Mercedes C-Class. Alfa may have the badge kudos to compete with the German triumvirate but some buyers may still be put off by fears over reliability. The Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord and sharply styled new Mondeo are also potential rivals.
Is it for you?
Well that depends of your cargo-carrying needs are of the “lifestyle” variety or whether you do actually need to shift a chest of drawers occasionally. If the latter then the aforementioned Accord and Mondeo will be your best bet but if you’re after arguably the best looking of the bunch then the Alfa should definitely be top of the list, as it manages to outdo even the very handsome 159 saloon thanks to a well-integrated rear end, fat, well-filled wheelarches and that snarling front end with its six circular headlights.
What does it do well?
In 2.4 JTD guise it goes as well as it looks thanks to 200bhp and a whopping 295lb/ft of torque from its five-cylinder turbodiesel. That’s good for 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds and a top end of 140 mph, all the while accompanied by a most non-diesel like growl that genuinely does sound suitably sporty for an Alfa. Given the extra capacity, it is surprising how flat the Alfa can feel off-boost but once 2,000rpm has been passed the revs rise with the sort of alacrity associated with petrol engines and the tremendous torque makes overtaking a matter of fact rather than a matter of planning. The car continues to entertain away from the straights thanks to swift steering with a positive feeling through the wheel and surefooted handling.
What doesn’t it do well?
It may sounds the part from inside but standing outside the car there is no mistaking it for anything other than a DERV burner, particularly at idle. It is also not the one to choose should you actually be planning on carrying much. Ridiculously, its predecessor the 156 Sportwagon actually held less than its saloon counterpart but the 159 does at least addressed that issue, boosting loadspace by 80 litres. However a high loading lip and rear seats that don’t fold completely flat won’t do sore backs any favours when it comes to loading up.
What’s it like to live with?
Stepping inside the 159 unfortunately means no longer being able to see it but at least the interior goes a long way to making up for that. The driver is faced with two deeply recessed dials (to stop nervous passengers realizing just how much fun he or she is having at the helm) with speed and engine revs indicated by red numerals and needles. A further three dials in the centre console are charmingly labeled in Italian and monitor petrol, water temperature and, in a signal that this is meant to be a sporting diesel, turbo-boost pressure. There’s no longer any hint of the “Italian ape” driving position thanks to a thick-rimmed three-spoke wheel that adjusts for reach and rake. Cleverly the seats also allow the angle of the base to be adjusted, giving good under-thigh support on long hauls. Out hard used and abused press car showed no signs of squeaks, rattles or loose trim and didn’t miss a beat during its time with us. Passengers won’t be short-changed either, the only quibble being tight rear legroom.
How green is it?
However much fun you may be having behind the wheel, it shouldn’t leave you feeling shortchanged at the pumps. Combined economy is 40.4mpg, rising to 50.4mpg on the motorway and with CO2 emissions of 184g/km it attracts 23% company car tax.
Would we buy it?
OK, so we’re smitten by the car’s looks to the point where we are prepared to overlook the inherent contradiction in buying an estate car that’s not very good at carrying luggage. Even so, the 159 will easily cope with family clobber while giving Dad something cool to park at the office without bowing to the inevitable and buying a Beemer. We say go for it.
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