Sporty small executive saloons dominate the company car sector, but the Alfa 159 has never enjoyed the sales success of the class leaders. Not that it’s wanting for style – with its arrow-like nose, offset number plate and gently contoured lines, the Giugiaro-penned four-door is compact and well proportioned.
New multispoke wheels for Lusso trim look the part, while the cabin has a smart black colour scheme and driver-oriented dash, with the deeply cowled dials all angled towards the hot seat. An attractive multifunction three- spoke steering wheel rounds off the charming Alfa interior.
These touches don’t disguise the 159’s dated underpinnings, however. Space is cramped and the firm, narrow seats are too high, while visibility is affected by the proximity of the B-pillars and high bootlid.
The low rear bench lacks support and legroom in the back is tight, too. Things don’t get any better in the 405-litre boot, which trails the Honda for space, has a high sill and is restricted by intrusion from the suspension. At least kit levels are generous, and Lusso trim includes rear parking sensors and leather upholstery as standard.
The 2.0-litre engine is the most significant change, and should provide some good news. It’s a less powerful version of the firm’s 170bhp diesel, and uses a variable geometry turbo to generate reassuring pulling power. Torque output of 350Nm is a match for the more powerful Honda.
Off the line, the Alfa trails the Accord, but the differences were less obvious at speed. While the Italian saloon completed the sprint from 0-60mph in 11.4 seconds – 1.4 seconds behind its rival – it was within a few tenths of the Honda during most of our in-gear acceleration runs.
The 159 feels sporty from the moment you turn a wheel. The weighty steering is matched by a similarly meaty gearshift, and the stubby lever delivers decent changes. Another Alfa trademark is the speed of the steering, which means small inputs have a big effect. The set-up arrows the 159 into bends with real purpose. However, at higher speeds it requires a lighter touch, and
loses some of its accuracy and confidence-inspiring feel.
Firm suspension delivers tidy handling, with strong grip from the tyres. High-speed composure is also good, and the Alfa copes with potholes more effectively than the Accord. However, the Honda is a more refined cruiser.
You expect an Alfa to drive with aplomb, but a poor reputation for customer service and reliability has been the brand’s undoing.
To counter this, the unlimited-mileage three-year warranty comes with breakdown cover for the duration, like the Honda.
Business users will also appreciate the Alfa’s lower CO2 emissions, but whether this will be enough in the face of the high-quality Honda is what will decide this test.
Chart position: 2WHY: The Alfa has been around for a while now, but it hasn’t lost its looks. Beautiful styling comes allied to a punchy and smooth diesel engine.