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Driven: Alfa 159 - on sale now


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It doesn’t take much to tarnish a brand – just ask Alfa Romeo. Its heritage is in stylish sports cars, but financial troubles and some poor quality models in the Seventies and Eighties gave it a reputation, particularly in the UK, as a producer of unreliable cars that started to rust at the merest hint of rain.

Although recent offerings have been much improved reliability issues still persist, so with the 159 Alfa aims to reinvent the brand in the UK.

First impressions are good: the 156 replacement has a head-turning road presence and is longer and wider than its predecessor. The sharp front end and notchy rear complete a coupé look.

The interior is equally stylish with an unfussy centre console, which features three recessed gauges, along with well thought out stereo and climate controls. Most satisfyingly, though, there is an absence of squeaks and rattles and everything closes with a reassuring clunk.

In terms of handling, the Alfa lives up to expectations. The steering is well weighted and direct with plenty of feedback to the driver, while it corners with minimal body roll.

The ride is firm but not too harsh as to be uncomfortable. The 159 has the usual active safety features, including dynamic control, which is designed to enhance cornering stability.

One of the keys to Alfa’s success in this sector, particularly if it wants to appeal to fleets, is the engine line-up.

The two diesel units are impressive. The smaller 1.9-litre is quiet and smooth, while the 2.4-litre has extra power and torque to boost enjoyment. The petrol offering starts with the 1.9-litre, moving up to the 2.2-litre, but the gem in the range is the 3.2 V6 with 260bhp mated to the Q4 four-wheel drive system.

Targets are 3,500 sales this year, rising to 5,000 in 2007. Fleet will take 40% of sales, restricted to protect residuals.

Styling, diesel engines

Boot is not the easiest to access

Will appeal to fleet as well as retail buyers

Unreliability image lingers

Style combined with quality

Fact file

Price: £19,995-28,195
Engines: 1.9-litre petrol: 160bhp, 2.2-litre petrol: 185bhp, 3.2-litre petrol: 260bhp, 1.9-litre diesel 150bhp, 2.4-litre diesel: 200bhp
Performance: 0-62mph: 7.0-9.7sec; top speed: 130-149mph
Transmission: Six speed manual, six speed automatic
Efficiency: 24.6-47.1mpg; 273-159g/km CO2
CAP RV 3yr/30k: £9,025 (40%)
Rivals: BMW 3-series, Mercedes-Benz C-class, Audi A4

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