The first new vehicle I bought was a silver Alfa 156 2,0 Twin Spark back in 1999. The car had just been rolled into the Alfa Romeo dealer showroom in North End, Port Elizabeth… The back of the car said Twin Spar… the “k” must have fallen through a crack on the way down from Pretoria or something. But I instantly fell in love with the 156 and bought the car after pondering the purchase for about half a second. The car was delivered to me (with the missing “k” now affixed at its rightful place) and I had three and a half years of virtually trouble-free miles with my silver steed. Sure, it had a bit of a rattle in the top of the dash, a huge turning circle, a slight squeak in the driver’s seat and the air-con wasn’t particularly powerful, but the car was a crowd-puller wherever it was parked and utilised as a wedding car on more than two occasions. My family loved driving it and even my gran copped a couple of speeding fines while at the wheel!
Does the 159 stir my senses in the same way the 156 did? Without a doubt. Whereas the 156 was voluptuous and feminine the 159 is more sculptured, purposeful and athletic, but without losing the sensuality that made its predecessor so popular. Once you step into the cabin you can’t help but be impressed with the quality finishes and upmarket feel of the interior. The signature Alfa Romeo circular olio, acqua and benzina dials, combined with a bank of fuss-free rounded vents, cowled instrumentation dials (with a scarlet LCD display) and chunky on-board controls are all there, finished off by a stubby, silver-coloured gear lever and a perfectly-sized leather-trimmed steering wheel with the famous Milanese badge in the middle. Pictures suggest the interior is relatively conservative by Alfa standards, but it’s very elegant and the quality of the dashboard and the trim very much upmarket. This is, by far and away, the best-finished Alfa Romeo cabin I’ve ever sat in! The 159 feels (and is) bigger than the 156, but I found the rear passenger room a little disappointing. The boot capacity was very good, though.
Press (and hold) the starter button on the fascia and the 159’s direct-injection JTS engine barks into life. The idle is hardly of the awe-inspiring variety… The 113 kW 16-valve four-pot seems at least as perky and responsive as its 114 kW TS predecessor, but palpably more flexible, with a notable punch early in the rev range. The clutch action is quite light, but not insubstantial, and the gearshift is slick and precise. Alfisti will undoubtedly like the raspy engine note and the car’s ride quality is definitely more composed than I remember from my days with the 156. Thanks to the well-insulated interior, road noise is minimal on smoother roads and the 159 wafts where its predecessor hustled.
In conclusion, the most impressive aspect of the 1,9 JTS was that it was dead easy to just slot into the car’s contoured seats, press the starter button, select first and pull away. It’s a delectable driving enthusiast’s delight that cossets its driver (thank goodness for the improved driving position) in an air of luxury and sophistication (despite the model’s entry-level status) and even though I did not get to fully exploit the car’s handling capabilities during my short drive through town, I can’t wait to have another go! For more on the 159 range, click here.
A full road test of the Alfa Romeo 159 1,9 JTS will appear in the June issue of CAR Magazine.