- Tech & Gadgets
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Published 18 January 2012 14:24, Updated 19 January 2012 10:43
The Alfisti are pining. Their beloved Alfa Romeo is adrift on a stormy sea surrounded by German sharks.
The fans of the marque have been watching as the raft on which it is floating has been settling lower in the water and the Germans have been steadily chewing off large chunks of its market share.
The new releases from the 100-year-old Italian car maker have been few of late and have broken little new ground.
In the past, Alfa was the one leading the pack in terms of innovation and development and in the process it was winning Formula One world championships, European touring car championships and world sports car championships.
Mention these to the Alfisti and they either start crying or yelling (with a flurry of hand gestures) about how unjust the world is that such magnificence can have been allowed to flounder.
The company is building up again under the Fiat reign but its renaissance will take time. At present, it has only two new hatchbacks – the little MiTo and its slightly bigger brother, the Giulietta – and its mid-size four-door 159 has been given a new engine.
The revamp of the classic Giulia, the replacement for the 159, has been delayed until 2014 because of styling issues. (In 2010, the 1970s Giulia GTAm was voted in a worldwide poll the Alfisti’s favourite of the more than 70 models the company has produced.)
That’s blood in the water for BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, which have been pouring out new models at a rate of knots.
In fact, Silvio Berlusconi made his ignominious exit from office not in an Italian Alfa but in a German Audi.
The chief executive of Fiat and Chrysler Group, Sergio Marchionne, has rejected advances by Volkswagen to buy the company and says Alfa Romeo will return to the United States in late 2012, with the aim of North America accounting for 85,000 of Alfa’s projected 500,000 sales by 2014.
He plans a new subcompact, a sports car called the 4C, the Giulietta, the Giulia, a compact crossover, a mid-size SUV and a large sedan.
Alfa has also revealed a new all-aluminium four-cylinder 224kW engine that it promises will set new benchmarks for power to weight, fuel efficiency and performance.
For the Alfisti, that’s a start. But for the time being in Australia, we just have the basics.
I recently drove the 159 with its updated 1750 TBi powerplant and after a week I could understand the passion the badge invokes.
The four-cylinder 1.7 litre engine is lighter, smaller and more compact and puts out more power – 147kW compared with 136kW – and torque than the 2.2 litre JTS donk it replaces. It also gets better fuel economy, with a combined cycle figure of 8.1l/100km and a lower CO2 output figure of 189g/km.
It gets from 0-100km/h in 7.7 seconds but the maximum torque of 320Nm is reached at just 1400rpm, which means it has excellent low-down pulling power so you don’t have to grab the gear knob constantly.
The result is a car with power and passion. The grunt comes in smoothly and evenly through the six-speed manual gearbox and it’s a heap of fun to drive in twisty stuff, though I had expected a bit more of the enthusiasm that has characterised previous models.
The standard equipment package includes a leather interior that also covers the steering wheel and gear knob, seven air bags, cruise control, fog lights, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake assist and hydraulic brake assist, vehicle dynamic control with hill holder and sensors for the automatic wipers and lights. Add to that rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and the Blue&Me infotainment system and its voice-activated Bluetooth system.
Its undeniable good looks add to the package and while there are things in the cabin that are infuriating, such as the Bluetooth that suits itself when it wants to connect, the clunky and hard-to-use stereo USB option and the fact you have to remember to turn the parking sensors on, the handling and overall joy of driving the 159 compensates royally.
This is a driver’s car, though there’s plenty of room in the cabin and it has 405 litres of space in the boot. It also comes in under the luxury car tax threshold at $49,990 plus on-roads.
Come on Alfa, bring us more.