Alfa Romeo 166

I used to love the Alfa Romeo 164 very much. Beautiful, vastly improved quality, and marvellous engines were once its strong points. Torque steer aside, it was a great car. As the market became dominated by the German prestige brands - Mercedes E-class, BMW 5-series and Audi A6, the 164 has to retire earlier than planned. Today, the market is even more overcrowded, not only the aforementioned cars, we have Saab 9-5, Volvo S80 and Lexus GS300. Soon we'll also see Jaguar S-Type and its twin sister Lincoln LS entering the battle field. Could the new Alfa 166 succeed to find 55,000 buyers every year ? I doubt it....  

Based on the Lancia Kappa's floorpan, Alfa 166 remains the front-wheel-drive configuration. It is said that Fiat Group's CEO Paolo Cantarella once test drove the development car, felt its handling unsatisfactory and order the engineers to drop Kappa's all strut suspensions. (Isn't this familiar ? We heard the same thing for the GTV.) As a result, the front is replaced with 156's double wishbones and the rear gained GTV's multi-link. This delayed the production for almost a year.  

In dimensions, Alfa 166 gains 50mm in length, 55 in width, 26 in height and 40 in wheelbase over its predecessor, making it more competitive in its class although the 2700mm wheelbase is still modest. On the other hand, the overhangs are excessive by today's standard. Overall chassis torsional rigidity has been  increased by 40%. Aerodynamic drag remains relatively high at 0.31.  

The styling is done by in-house studio. In fact, it was penned earlier than the 156, so you won't see the beautiful treatment over the nose section as its little sister. What you see is a dull nose / grille adjacent to a pair of oddly-shape headlamps. The front end is too angular, hardly match the remaining smooth body. I strongly feel Alfa should have employed Pininfarina, which styled the 164 and GTV.  

The decision to upgrade the suspension indicates the company is serious to make it a great driver's car. It is. Although the solid chassis deliver a quiet, refined feel that makes it more mature than the 156, the 166 handles as beautiful. Sitting in the excellent driving position, surrounded by the supportive seat and driver-focused gauges, the driver is going to enjoy BMW level of handling. Fire the 226 hp 3-litre V6, you hear the familiar Alfa music urging you to raise your pulse. The close-ratio 6-speed manual mated the high-revving engine to deliver great driving pleasure.  

Enter the corner, first you'll notice the 2.2-turns lock-to-lock steering is direct and mighty accurate. It is not as sharp as the 156, mostly because of the car's extra size, but it is near neutral. Again, Alfa created a FWD car with steering to match the RWD BMW. Meanwhile, you'll notice the absence of torque steer, thanks to the double wishbones front suspension.  

The engine sings up to 7,000 rpm redline. You feel the car runs stable although the ride might be firmer than you'd expected for this class of cars. Obviously, this is the most driver-biased one in the segment.  

The cabin is beautifully trimmed with leather but not  wood, which is never suitable to sports sedan. Instead of wood, a silver-coloured panel covers the central console and surrounds the eye-catching, 5 inches colour screen which does the job of navigation, sound control, climate control and mobile phone's touch screen. This must be a strong selling point.  

Space in front is generous, not so in the rear seats because the tilted rear window limits head room. Alfa tried to tilt the backrest to compensate, but still cannot deny this is the biggest flaw of the car. Cabin space is always very important to this class.  

3 petrol and 1 diesel engines can be chosen. Apart from the 3-litre V6 mentioned above, it has the familiar 2.5 V6 (190hp) and 2.0 twinspark (155hp), and the 2.4-litre turbo diesel with common rail direct injection technology. The 2.5 V6 is quite peaky, max. torque does not occur until 5,000 rpm, while the Variable length induction manifold-installed 2.0 is even more tractable, whose 138 lbft appears at just 2,800 rpm.  

4 gearboxes are offered : 5-speed manual for the 2.0 and 2.5, 6-speed manual for the 3.0, 4-speed automatic for the 3.0 and the Tiptronic-styled 4-speed "Sportronic" for the 2.5. 

The above report was last updated in 27 Dec 99. All Rights Reserved.


166 2.0TS
166  3.0V6
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
L / H / WB : 4720 / 1820 / 1420 / 2700 mm
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, 
VVT, twin-spark
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl.
1970 c.c.
2959 c.c.
155 hp
226 hp
138 lbft
203 lbft
F: Double wishbones; R: Multi-link
205 / 55 R16
205 / 55 R16
1495 kg
Top speed
131 mph*
144 mph*
9.3 sec*
7.4 sec*
26.9 sec*
18.4 sec*
* Tested by Autocar

Alfa 166: Related Models

Alfa 166 was developed based on the Lancia Kappa platform. Both share the same 2700mm wheelbase. However, the Lancia rides on older suspensions - front MacPherson strut and rear strut plus trailing arm. The performance-biased Alfa has higher-spec double wishbones at front (which shares with Alfa 156) and multi-link setup at the rear (which came from GTV). 

Because dimensions are similar, many internal components could be shared, such as the 3-litre V6, the 2.4 jtd common-rail diesel engine and the 4-speed Q-system semi-automatic.

The above report was last updated on 27 Dec 99. All Rights Reserved.

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