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Alfa 159 Sportwagon 1.9 JTDm Lusso

Date: 07 June 2006

Category: Estate Price: £21,095-£29,350
Per month £477 Key rival: Audi A4 Avant

Last year there was not a single Alfa in the fleet top 100 sellers. The windowed Renault Kangoo sold more than Alfa's 2000 UK fleet total. But 2006 could be the start of the brand's turnaround. The 159 Sportwagon is the second of four key UK launches for the brand this year (159 saloon and Brera have launched already) and the Spider (a sawn-off Brera) is due later this year. That's a lot of cars - but the most practical of the lot will be the Sportwagon.

The old 156 Sportwagon genuinely broke ground as the first of a new breed of sporty estate with a more coherent design than most previous wagons - which so often looked like saloons with boxes grafted on.

Trouble was, the old wagon had less boot space with the rear seats up than the 156 saloon. The still sleek, but now beefier 159 Sportwagon's luggage space is up by 24% on the 156 SW and 10% better than the 159 saloon. The 445 litre minimum expands to 850 litres to the window line and 1235 to the roof. This compares well to A4 (442/1182), X-type (455/1415) and 9-3 (419/1273) if not some of the bigger but less sporty estates - like the Passat (603/1731) and Accord (626/1707).


The space itself is fairly useable although the hatch opens to reveal a hole which is rounded rather than square and there is quite a big lip before you hit the load floor. Big chunky objects might require a sleek Italian-designed shoehorn.

Still, the rear seats easily fold almost flat and there are four cubbyholes - two behind the wheel arches and two just below the belt line on each side. A luggage net is a £150 option (with carpet mats).

Rear headroom is fine for tall folk if not outstanding. Upfront, in top spec Lusso the cabin has a really sporty, masculine look with great leather seats and a centre dash heavily angled toward the driver. It could only be an Alfa. Unlike before, fit and finish all feel solid with the leather grain effect black dash looking almost melted over the top of the console and door panels. The aircon controls are still counter-intuitive though - the up/down arrows don't adjust the heat - the 'unmarked' dial behind it does.

Of the two diesel/three petrol line-up the best for fleet is the 150PS 1.9 diesel proven in the 159 saloon, 9-3 and Vectra. It has the best mix of power, mpg and CO2 (22% BIK tax) and drives well in all conditions.

This really is a fine individualist's car ticking all the boxes for most lifestyles. However, for business, the two crucial boxes it is predicted not to tick are whole-life costs and used values. How well this car will be remembered rests on how well it will all hold together after three years.

The RV guides are not impressed. Service, maintenance and repair (SMR) is a hefty £2364 (A4 and 9-3 are both under £1800), but depreciation is the killer. Topcalc predicts a hit of £16,489 or a 28.3% RV. I can't believe the cars I drove deserve that figure, but for now, the only sensible option for fleets is to lease the car as the rate is financially supported by Alfa to a highly competitive £477.

Meantime, maybe Alfa's UK team need to go back to the drawing board with the RV guides.