Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon performance options were originally limited, but expanded as time went on. There were originally are three petrol engines available starting with the 140bhp 1.8-litre MPI. A 1.9-litre engine was offered at launch but was soon replaced by the 1.8, which was itself dropped from the line-up in mid-2009. The 2.2-litre JTS boosts power to 185bhp and pulls strongly from low revs while the range-topping model is powered by a 3.2-litre V6 with a hefty 260bhp.

It's the diesels which are really the strong point of the 159 line-up however with both the 1.9-litre and 2.4-litre JTDM units superb performers. With 150bhp the smaller engine offers a great blend of punchy performance and economy while the larger five-cylinder 2.4-litre unit initially came with 200bhp, with an uprated 210bhp version launched in September 2007.

In August 2009 an ECO model was introduced that uses the 1.9 JTDM engine but with power lowered to 120bhp. As a result economy improves from 49mpg to 53mpg. In the same month two more engines were added including the superb 1750 TBi turbocharged petrol with 200bhp. It's not the most characterful sounding engine around, but it's incredibly smooth and strong, with effortless in-gear acceleration, making it great for overtaking.

Thanks to the turbo it has plenty of low down pulling power, although there can a slight lag when driving quickly and fast gearchanges under hard acceleration can result in a brief pause as you wait for the turbo to kick in. But this is only a minor criticism and in everyday driving it's enjoyable to drive with a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds while economy is an acceptable 35mpg.

The other engine is the 2.0 JTDM diesel with 170bhp that covers the 0-62mph sprint in 9.0 seconds - less than a second slower than the more powerful 2.4 JTDM, yet economy is an impressive 51mpg. With the exception of the five-speed 1.8-litre model, all models have a smooth six-speed gearbox. A six-speed auto (known as QTRONIC and not to be confused with Q4, the four-wheel drive system) is available on the V6 and the diesel engines.

The 159 Sportwagon is better to drive than the 156 Sportwagon it replaces thanks to a stiffer body resulting in improved ride and handling. The more powerful front-wheel drive models are prone to scrabbling for grip on poor and bumpy road surfaces as the front tyres try to deploy power and steer at the same time, but overall the 159 Sportwagon is neat, safe and fun.

The steering doesn't feel quite as quick as on previous Alfas, but it is still more direct than its immediate rivals and offers excellent feedback. The ride is fairly forgiving on most models, but the sporty TI versions have large 19-inch wheels and lowered sports suspension, but while they look good, the ride is very firm and not pleasant over rough or bumpy roads