ItalianCar TestDrive - 21 september 2006

Brisbane to Sydney on one tank
The amazing endurance of the Alfa 159 JTD

The omens were not good. I dutifully arrived at the Alfa dealership to pick up the press Alfa 159 JTD – a beautiful bronze specimen of the brand new German car killer from Alfa – in diesel form.

A quick zip through how the car worked and away I drove. I’d driven the diesel 159 before at the press launch (see review here) but this one sounded very rough and rattled a lot at low revs. So much so I really thought something was seriously wrong with the car. Given I was just about to go on a long drive I didn’t want the car packing up on me in the middle of nowhere. I asked my colleague to drive the car – ‘no there’s nothing wrong – it’s just a diesel’. I called the dealership – no, the car had just been checked over nothing wrong with it etc etc and yes, here’s the number if you break down.

So, not particularly reassured, I packed the car and set off on the trip. And guess what? There was absolutely nothing wrong with the car and yes – even with all the new technology stuffed into this modern diesel engine, it still sounds like a truck when it starts. But the rattles and rumbles all go away once you are in a higher rev range and, at speed, the car is in many ways indistinguishable from the petrol version.

In fact we also had a petrol version on test. Internally and externally pretty much indistinguishable from the diesel. And despite being a 2.2 in what is a fairly hefty car, fuel economy isn’t bad either (see below). In fact it was the advanced nature of the engine that ended up giving us the most trouble – the engine is so quiet at low speeds that it is difficult to judge bite point on the clutch – much to our embarrassment at roundabouts and traffic lights. The engine has almost a turbo like ‘woosh’ when it kicks in which makes for a bit of fun even if you don’t get the classic Alfa roar. It’s still there, just a bit more ‘refined’.

The 159 diesel has plenty of power as well, can accelerate pretty hard and is comfortable at high speed for long runs. It may not sound as pretty as a petrol engine – particularly an Alfa petrol engine at high revs. It might be a little unforgiving at low speed (so if you’re in a slightly higher gear than you should be it’ll chug along or even stall). It might be unpleasant filling up and then getting slimy diesel all over your hands and then transferring that to the steering wheel. But what it can do par excellence is run on the smell of an oily rag. Our proof?

The car drove from Brisbane to Sydney on a single tank*
On our test the car averaged 6.83l/100km (in comparison the ItalianCar 2002 model 147 can only manage 9.8l/100km)

“That’s a nice looking car, what’s that cost then, about $100,000?” – comment from a filling station owner en route

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Alfa Romeo have been happily selling diesels for years in Europe - they even outsell their petrol-engined cars. But this is the first diesel from Alfa for the Australia market - what will Australia make of it?



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