Alfa Romeo 159 Lusso

Premium feel and proven mechanicals stand saloon in good stead.

You only have to take one look at the 159 to know where it comes from. The evocative heart-shaped grille, sharply tapered bonnet and classic detailing are pure Alfa Romeo. As a result, the saloon still turns heads, despite being more than three years old.

The retro charm offensive continues on the inside, where the old-fashioned dashboard is angled towards the driver. It features traditional touches, including deep-set analogue dials and circular air vents, while the curved design ahead of the front passenger frees up legroom. In luxurious Lusso trim, the 159 also gets classic ribbed leather upholstery and a handsome three-spoke steering wheel.

As a result, the Alfa creates a sporty and desirable driving environment which the SEAT simply can’t match. While some of the interior plastics feel dated, build quality is largely a match for the Exeo and it’s hard not to be charmed by the stylish layout. Aside from the front seat, which doesn’t adjust low enough, the driving position is good, too.

Passengers in the back don’t fare badly, either. Aided by a slightly longer wheelbase, the Alfa offers similar rear legroom to its rival, although the small doors and narrow side windows mean you do feel a little hemmed in. One area where the 159 does demand compromise is practicality. The boot is 55 litres smaller than the SEAT’s and its opening is more restrictive. Worse still, folding rear seats are not fitted as standard.

On the road, the Italian firm has been more successful, and the saloon doesn’t disappoint. The steering is light but direct, and inputs provoke very positive and accurate responses. Despite being 35kg heavier than its rival, at 1,490kg, the 159 feels more light-footed. And although it offers similar overall grip to the SEAT, the Alfa is sharper and more agile.

Through a series of corners, it’s also more engaging to drive – which makes the Italian saloon’s suspension set-up even more impressive. Over rough surfaces, the Alfa does allow crashes to be felt in the cabin, but it is more comfortable than the firm-riding SEAT.

While the Italian car produces more tyre noise at high cruising speeds, strong insulation means engine noise is muted, and the new 2.0-litre JTDm diesel is very refined. At lower speeds, enthusiasts will enjoy its linear power delivery – there’s a small amount of clatter above 3,500rpm, but it revs quickly and smoothly.

Performance is a close match for its rival. At the track, our two contenders recorded virtually identical times for the sprint from 0-60mph and our in-gear acceleration tests. Smoother power delivery means progress in the 159 is more effortless, though.

Classy styling, an atmospheric cabin and the new 2.0-litre JTDm engine provide the Alfa with all the hallmarks of a great diesel saloon. And while our Lusso trim car is more expensive to buy than the Exeo Sport, this extra outlay is offset by its generous equipment and lower tax bills.

In detail * Price: £23,850 * Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 170bhp * 0-60mph: 8.7 seconds * Economy: 34.6mpg * Annual road tax: £125

Details

WHY: New oil-burning engine injects fresh technology to the beautifully styled and well equipped Alfa package.

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