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Alfa 159 3.2 JTS V6 TI

Click to view picture galleryTurismo Internazionale. Even the
  name sounds exciting. Why choose
  a conservative German sports
  saloon when for the same money
  you can enjoy yourself behind the
  wheel of a flamboyant Italian
s car like the 3.2-litre V6 Alfa
  159 TI?

TI. IF YOU'RE AN ALFA AFICIONADO, YOU'LL KNOW exactly what that stands for. If, however, you just love Alfas for themselves without the fervour of the truly converted then you may not know that TI is short for Turismo Internazionale, a model designation historically used to denote motorsport-oriented Alfa Romeos. Well, now it's back this time on the very latest 159 sports saloon.

The 159 TI is a smoulderingly good-looking machine and if you were buying a sports saloon on looks alone the others really wouldn't get a look in. There's something about Alfas. Like Alice, it's best to begin at the beginning. And that means the traditional shield-shaped grille topped by its symbolic serpent-and-red-cross badge. Six small individual circular headlights — three each side of the Alfa grille — stare boldly out from beneath the leading edge of the arrow-shaped bonnet.

Walk back towards the 159's tail — but do it s-l-o-w-l-y, savouring the neat design details: the teardrop indicator repeater on the front wing; polished alloy door mirror; and shapely door handles, also finished in polished alloy. Subtle side-skirts link the striking 19-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels filling the arches. A sharply defined shoulder line flows to the tail, where rich ruby-coloured tail lights thrust deeply into the boot lid like bloodied spear blades. Two large tailpipes — one at each corner — signify that a 3.2 V6 heart beats beneath this particular Alfa's sculpted bonnet.

Step back a few paces for a better view of the elegant Giorgetto Giugiaro design: the standard 159 is already a looker, but in TI guise it radiates a purposeful sporting stance that makes it a real head-turner.

Traditionally, the two-letter 'ti' insignia denotes the sportiest and most luxurious models. Swing open the driver's door of the 159 TI and, before you get behind the wheel, note the classically-ribbed leather sports seats with perforated centre panels emblazoned with unique embroidered Alfa motifs. Directly ahead of you is a circular rev-counter and 160mph speedometer and angled towards you is a brushed aluminium centre stack with secondary dials showing oil temperature, coolant temperature and fuel.

Which reminds me of the only issue I have with the 159 — one that concerns the fuel gauge. When the trip computer warns that you're getting low on petrol and displays a fifty-mile range reminder, that's the last mile-specific warning you'll get. Fill up as soon as you can because from then on all it shows is 'limited cruising range'. So if you haven't logged the trip reading at this point, you could — at around 18mpg — quickly find yourself with a dry tank. Once you're aware of this, you get used to it.

Gripe over. Cabin fit and finish is good; whatever you touch feels well put together and the overriding impression is of quality — especially the leather and real metal trim. The 'ti' badging also stamps its mark on the aluminium kick-plates, while an aluminium sports pedal set brightens up the driver's footwell. A left footrest is provided for those times when you're using cruise control.

There's a lot of black in the cabin, the majority of it leather — in TI spec the roof lining is also darkened; and while the cabin is not dark in a sombre sense, there is a hint of purposeful menace about it that makes you think of Batman: The Dark Knight. So perhaps the word is Dramatic.

The only concession to colour is the red embroidered Alfa logos on all four seats and the inner stitching on the steering wheel rim. Settle back in the classy low-slung seats — they're firm but immediately comfortable and very supportive, with effective but non-intrusive bolstering. In fact, the first unsolicited comment from front seat passengers was most often 'Great seat!' Both front seats have three-stage heating, extending under-thigh support and adjust electrically eight ways. The driver benefits from a 3-setting memory function but it is unlikely that, once behind the wheel, you're going to let anyone else in there!

The driving position is spot on. As is the satisfying-to-hold, leather-wrapped sports steering wheel — perforated leather covers the 'work' areas, there's good height and reach adjustment and multi-function controls are mounted on the horizontal spokes. Clearly anybody who drives such a smart-looking car as the 159 TI is already perfect and has no need to check their appearance, as only the front passenger is provided with a vanity mirror in their sun visor! A thoughtful touch deserving a mention is the extra cleaning sweep from the wipers several seconds after a wash-wipe, to remove any leftover moisture so the screen dries perfectly clear.

Other standard kit includes cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control with a pollen filter and Air Quality System, rear parking sensors, a Bluetooth hands-free system with voice recognition and media player with USB port in the glovebox as well as electric one-touch operation front and rear windows and a temperature-controlled storage compartment in the centre front armrest.

So even before you thumb the start button below the electronic key slot on the centre stack to the side of the steering wheel, you feel you're sitting in something somewhat special — a proper, close-to-the-tarmac driver's car. Rear passengers sit in the same style of classy-looking seats as those travelling up front; they also get their own A/C vents and a centre armrest with a built-in storage compartment. A load-through hatch adds ski-carrying versatility.

One consequence of the 159's low roofline is that anyone over six-foot tall will be better off travelling next to the driver. Other than that, travelling in the back is fine and comfortable. The good news is that the 60:40 split rear seats fold almost completely flat across the full cabin width, so you're not restricted to the standard 405 litres of boot space. The three rear headrests, incidentally, drop down over the rear seatback when not in use.

Having verified the luxury part of the TI spec, it's time to check out the other associated TI trait — sportiness. And with the 3.2 V6, we're already off to a good start. This engine embodies Alfa-ness: when it revs, it sings. Its song is a gloriously tuneful howl; and the more of its 260bhp you liberate, and the closer the needle of the rev-counter gets to peak power at 6,200rpm, the more charismatic is the V6's song. Maximum torque is 238lb ft at 4,500rpm and with four cams, 24 valves, continuously variable valve timing and direct injection the mechanically smooth and punchy V6 provides plenty of deep-chested mid-range grunt.

The TI spec enhances the 159 saloon's dynamics with lowered (by 20mm) sports suspension, special 19-inch alloy wheels and red-painted aluminium Brembo brake callipers front and rear carrying 'Alfa Romeo' branding.

For the record, drivers can choose any one of three engines — two petrol (2.2 and 3.2 V6) and a 2.4 diesel — for their TI 159. Both manual and Q-Tronic auto 'boxes are available, as is the option of Alfa's Q4 4WD system. Tested here is the 3.2 V6 with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Time to play: drop the clutch and grab the gears as you graze the redline — the six-speeder's change action is light and precise with an easy gate. Right away the TI feels stiff, low and eager to please. The steering is well weighted and direct and, despite 260bhp hitting the road at a gallop through the front wheels, straight line performance is uncorrupted and spirited. The V6 gets the 159 off the line and to the benchmark 62mph in 7.1 seconds; top speed is 155mph.

Winding secondary roads are equally pleasurable as the firmly sprung sports chassis plays at home here too. Guided by accurate steering that's not too highly strung — a set-up that adds reassurance when you're swooping through S-bends — the 159 TI is eager to thrust its nose into challenging corners. It helps, too, that the 159 is easy to place and that's another benefit of the good driving position. It's also of a good road-wieldy size which works to its advantage when hustling.

Body roll is well controlled and the 159 feels agile and composed, inviting you to make good use of the V6's pace. The ride is sportingly pliant but never harsh or hostile, although poor surfaces can be unsettling. The Brembo brakes are all you'd expect: the middle pedal serves up progressive and meaty braking — and at all speeds. Driving the 3.2 V6 TI 159 is not short on fun.

While you're busy enjoying yourself behind the wheel, it's reassuring to know that you're well-protected — not only from other drivers' but also from your own mistakes — by a comprehensive array of safety kit. The 159 is equipped with two full-size driver and passenger front airbags, two full-size window airbags (front and rear protection), two front side airbags and a driver's knee airbag. A passenger's knee airbag is available as an option.

Also fitted as standard is a fire prevention system, ABS with ABD and HBA, VDC electronic stability programme, ASR anti-skidding system and Hill Holder to make it easier to pull away on slopes along with key deactivation of the front passenger airbag and Isofix attachments on the rear seats.

Overall the 159 is a well-rounded and capable sports saloon. Not only can it be driven with verve by keen drivers, but it's also a refined and secure real-world car in which you can cover ground rapidly in decent comfort and with magnificent, sporting Italian flair. Cabin insulation helps: surprisingly, given the large alloys, you're not aware of any road roar from the 235/40 Pirelli P Zeros and wind noise is notable for its absence.

Okay, so in V6 form the 159 can be a bit of a heavy social drinker — our test average worked out to 18.3mpg (our road-testers do suffer from heavy right feet!) although the official fuel consumption figures are 17.2, 25.7 and 35.8mpg respectively for urban, combined and extra-urban.

What's not in doubt is that the 159 TI makes a flamboyant and exciting alternative to the prestigious but conservative German sports saloons. Especially finished in bright Alfa Red. — MotorBar

Alfa 159 3.2 JTS V6 TI
| 27,306
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 7.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 18.3mpg | Power: 260bhp | Torque: 238lb ft
CO2 260g/km | Insurance group 16E