If there were ever an automotive cougar then the Alfa Romeo 159 would surely be it. Because in this terrible age of built-in obsolescence – an era of automotive production where a new model is announced every other month – the seven long years tacked behind this car’s belt make it something of a desperate, middle-aged lady.
A fading beauty star that no longer has what it takes to compete with the young and fabulous. And so, just like her human brethren, the Alfa 159 has decided to squander it all on a quick nip/tuck and return for one last blowout before she fades into obscurity forever.
Good move. Very good move. Because unlike all those saggy-skinned floozies you see dolled up at The Baron on Saturday night – wearers of hair-dye and spray-tan and too much designer perfume – this makeover has really made one heck of a difference.
Yep, as gross as liposuction may be, Miss 159 bit the bullet and has returned to the game some 45 kilograms lighter: a feat achieved by substituting a fair percentage of steel body panels for aluminium ones. It’s a simple upgrade and one that makes the 1750TBi version you see here feel noticeably more nimble when firing through the bends. In fact complemented with a pair of new shoes – handsome 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 225/50 rubber – I’d have to say that it handled with as much verve as its younger sister, the Giulietta. Oh yeah, the sibling rivalry is a-brewing as I type.
This athleticism is made even more enjoyable thanks to an excellent driving position and a seat design that keeps your frame in check no matter how harsh the cornering forces get. Heck, even those aluminium pedals are perfectly placed for heel and toe.
But the big news, the one thing that’ll attract the most attention, is what’s lying beneath the bonnet. Like a fresh pair of implants under a bright satin top, the addition of a new 1750TBi engine perks the basic 159 right up. A bubbly little four-pot force-fed by direct fuel injection and a turbocharger, it provides an impressive amount of off-the-line acceleration.
Alfa quotes a zero-to-one-hundred sprint time of 7.7-seconds, which out in the real world feels just about bang on the money. Basically matching the 3.2 V6 in the torque stakes also means that the blown 159 acts with similar urge through the gears. A lot of turbocharged cars require a fair bit cog-swapping in overtaking scenarios but the 1750TBi, thanks to something that Alfa calls scavenging technology, reacts almost immediately to those urgent prods from your right foot.
Gripes? Yeah, there are a few. Firstly the ride is a little too nervous – the car coming across all skittish and unsettled when travelling down anything but the smoothest tarmac. Not exactly what I was expecting after sampling the smooth road manners of the 3.2 V6.
That six-speed manual gearbox also felt a bit too old school for my liking. Oh yes, the ratios were nicely stacked, but its long-throw action reminded me of being behind the wheel of my old Porsche 944. Finally, in entry-level Progression specification, there was no USB port in which to plug my iPod or flash drive full of music. Really disappointing considering that cheaper vehicles feature one as standard.
Other than that, however, I seriously enjoyed my week with the Alfa Romeo 159 1750TBi Progression. It looks fantastic, drives sweetly and feels every bit as capable as some of its younger rivals. Hell, it’s even well priced too: undercutting and out powering direct competitors from both Audi and BMW. Yeah, normally I steer clear from cougars but this one can pick me up and take me for a ride anytime she likes.
Alfa 159 1750TBi Progression at a Glance:
Engine: 1742cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 147kW at 5000rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1400rpm
Top Speed: 235km/h
Fuel Consumption: 7.8l/100km (claimed combined)
Price: R346 000
Turbocharged engine is quick
No USB port