Guy Baker takes a look at some of the most popular performance diesels, and how best to modify them…..
LAUNCH AND EVOLUTION
Launched in February 2006, the 150bhp Alfa 159 1.9 JTDM has proved to be the best seller in the 159 range, as the larger, thirstier five-cylinder 2.4-litre diesels are much less appealing to buyers. Striking looks, a charismatic interior, plenty of standard kit and a great driving experience made it a surefire hit. All models have 18,000-mile service intervals, front and rear electric windows, dual-zone climate control, electric heated and folding door mirrors, an electronic key with a starter button, CD player, cruise control and either 16, 17 or 19-inch alloy wheels. Lusso models add leather trim, rain and light sensors and rear parking sensors, while the TI models (short for Turismo Internazionale) launched in June 2007 come with a body kit, lowered sports suspension, 19-inch alloys, red Brembo brake callipers and lashings of chrome detailing. Later specs include Turismo, Turismo Sport and Elegante. QTRONIC automatic versions arrived in November 2006.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Compared to the raft of dull rivals, the 159’s cockpit is gorgeous, with its deeply recessed triple dials and a dashboard that’s angled inwards, plus upmarket materials including aluminium and suede. The steering wheel and column stalks are laden with easy to use functions, and a sporty but comfortable driving position is easily to obtain. Even in standard tune, performance is strong, with little sign of turbo lag at all. And modified examples can be real fliers. Gearchanges are tight but smooth, and handling is excellent for a mid-sized, front-wheel drive saloon – there’s plenty of grip available, little body roll and well weighted steering. Long distance ride comfort doesn’t suffer though, and noise levels are low. Factory brakes are easily good enough for fast road use.
Performance-wise a K&N air filter and a decent sports exhaust from the likes of Milltek and MIJ Performance will improve throttle response and liberate a few extra horses, but you’ll need an engine chip or remap to see big gains. Expect around 185 to 195bhp and 300lb ft of torque, which makes the 159 a very quick car. Popular tuners are Chiptuning Direct, Superchips, Red Dot Racing, Tunit, Evolutionchips and Superchips. The OE brake set-up is pretty good, so most owners will only change the pads for uprated items. Bigger discs – like those from Autodelta – are in the region of £500 with pads, and are really only needed for serious track-day use. As the standard suspension already provides a good handling/ride balance, we don’t recommend fitting lowering springs on their own. Instead consider a pricier adjustable coilover suspension kit if you really need to change the set-up. And leave the body as standard as possible, otherwise you’ll seriously dent your 159’s resale value.