Russ SmithSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Used tow car buyer’ written by Russ Smith
A lot of good tow cars are utilitarian and lack style, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Take the Alfa Romeo 159 – both the saloon and Sportwagon estate versions are stunning. The 159 has built a small but appreciative fan base which understands what tow car abilities these cars have, especially those with larger engines.
Its predecessor, the 156/7, was similarly striking but flaky. Alfa improved build quality and reliability in an attempt to bite into BMW’s and Audi’s shares of the market. Did the Italian manufacturer succeed?
At its UK launch in 2006, the 159 was offered with two diesel and three petrol engines. The former were the 1.9 JTDM with 150bhp, 236lb ft torque and up to 47mpg, and the 2.4 JTDM with 200bhp, 295lb ft torque and 41mpg. Petrol offerings were the 1.9 JTS (160bhp/140lb ft torque/32mpg), 2.2 JTS (185bhp/170lb ft torque/30mpg), and 3.2 V6 (260bhp/238lb ft torque/23mpg), which was at first only offered with Alfa’s Q4 four-wheel drive. The others were front-wheel drive and all could be ordered with six-speed manual ’boxes. Only the 2.4 JTDM and 3.2 V6 could have an automatic gearbox, also six-speed.
In mid-2007, the 1.9 JTS was replaced by the down-specced 1.8 MPI. It cost £1500 less, came with 140bhp and 129lb ft torque, a five-speed gearbox and the promise of 37mpg. Soon after, the 3.2 V6 was offered with front-wheel drive, and the 2.4 JTDM was uprated to 210bhp, though its torque and mpg stayed the same.
In 2009’s mid-term revisions, the miserable 1.8 MPI lost its place to the turbocharged 1.7 TBi, with 200bhp, 236lb ft torque and 34mpg. In diesel-land, the 1.9 was replaced by a 2.0 JTDM (170bhp/266lb ft torque/53mpg). The new entries lasted until the end of production in October 2011.
The other engines were dropped in June 2010, though it took time for ‘unsolds’ to get through the system. You’ll find those with later registrations.
Trim options began with the Turismo and leather-upholstered Lusso. The sporty TI with lower suspension was added later. The Turismo Sport and Elegante were slotted between the original two spec levels from 2009.
In keeping with a long tradition of Italian cars, we start with rust. It is less common these days, but the front subframes on 159s seem to have been poorly painted and are starting to rust, to the extent that some cars are failing their MoTs on it. Occasionally, floorpan underseal was badly applied and rust can break out. Don’t be too put off, though. Just check carefully to be sure you’re not buying one that already has problems, and thoroughly spray the underside with rustproofer.
The manual diesels are liable to suffer dual-mass flywheel issues; listen for clunking from the transmission when you let the clutch out. The 1.9 JTDMs are showing other problems, too. Water pumps can fail, which flings off the timing belt, so these should be changed when the belt is replaced.
Exhaust gas recirculation valves soot up, as do diesel particulate filters and inlet manifold swirl flaps. The last can break off and be ingested by the engine. Oil pumps may even fail. The 1.9s can be almost trouble-free, even over high mileages, but buying one is still a gamble.
Other diesels are less hassle, but Alfa’s recommended 72,000-mile timing-belt-change interval on 2.4s is a bit optimistic – 60,000 miles is more realistic. It’s a long job, so plan and budget for a big bill. Indeed, Alfa Romeo dealers have been known to quote more than £1200; non-franchised garages may charge half that.
Spare wheels were not standard kit. If you plan on long-distance towing, pick one up from eBay or the like; a wheel well is provided for stowing it.
The 1.9 diesels and rust threat aside, Alfa Romeo took great strides with the 159s. They last better and provide plenty of driving and eyeballing pleasure.
They are now very affordable, too, due to the brand’s reputation. People may offer the wisdom, “Old Alfas are trouble.” But don’t always believe them.
We think the 1.7 TBi is the best in the range if you're looking for a tow car. It is refreshing to recommend a petrol model and it has been fairly free from issues. The 1750 turbo engine has a flat torque band – ideal for towing.
At the other end of the spectrum, it's the 1.9 JTDM. It ought to be the 1.8 MPI, but the 1.9 diesels are very troublesome. Some clock over 200,000 miles, others seemingly spend half their lives being fixed.
What you need to know
How much will a used Alfa Romeo 159 cost? It's a wide price band, but we think it's anywhere between £1750 and £13,750 – let us explain.
Used car prices are often skewed in favour of diesels, but two factors change that here: Alfa enthusiasts love their unleaded, but only around 15% of 159s were sold with petrol engines. So there’s now a premium to be paid and the entry-level 159s are the 1.9 diesels, starting around £1750 privately or £2200 from a dealer.
You’ll need £2750 for a petrol engine. The excellent 2.4 diesel commands prices from £3500; similar cash will get you a 3.2 V6. Stars of the revised 2009 line-up – the petrol 1.75 TBi and diesel 2.0 JTDM – start near £6000. For all versions, add £500-£1000 for the Sportwagon.
Here are some useful figures (for a 2007 Alfa Romeo 159 2.4 JTDM Turismo):
- Kerbweight 1630kg
- 85% match 1386kg
- Towing limit 1500kg
- Towball limit 60kg
How much is a towball? Speaking to PF Jones, a Witter flange towbar will cost you £128.30 and a Westfalia detachable towbar will be £218.38, fitting extra. And what about servicing? Servicing Stop quoted us £130 for an interim service, £200 for a full service.