Fortissimo

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The cloverleaf version of Alfa Romeo’s stylish 164 saloon has now gone on sale in Britain, and is likely to become a much sought after model. The heart of any Alfa is the engine, and the Cloverleaf version offers a full 200 bhp from the 3-litre V6, delivered with a glorious opera of Italian sound. This is one of the sharpest, most responsive engines to be found in the saloon market with catalyst equipment installed, and is going to put the German marques under further pressure.

The price has been pitched competitively, at £25,965, and that includes just about every item of luxury equipment that’s optional on a Mercedes including air conditioning, leather upholstery, a CD player sound system, alloy wheels, ABS, electric windows, roof and seats, and electrically controlled Boge shock absorbers with a Sport setting.

Here is a highly impressive saloon capable of close on 150 mph, and an acceleration to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. There must be the proviso, though, that the Alfa Romeo 164’s major weakness is its front-wheel drive system, despite a worthwhile development now in production. The V6 engine has been lowered in the chassis by a substantial 3 cms, bringing the driveshafts into alignment, and the car’s ride height has been lowered by 2 cms. The MacPherson strut front suspension has new geometry to suit, and the power-assisted steering rack has been modified with return springs to improve self-centering.

These welcome improvements apply to the other V6 versions as well, and the fighting torque steer trait has been virtually eliminated. Clearly, though, 200 bhp is about as much as the front wheels can cope with in this chassis, excellent as it is. Full acceleration spins the Pirelli P4000 tyres merrily on dry roads, and almost uncontrollably on wet surfaces, exaggerated further on uphill inclines.

The owner will, of course, take care and drive accordingly, but the 164 would be a better car with anti-slip control, and with four-wheel drive would vie for attention as the world’s finest sporting saloon car.

Both developments are in hand, and so is the coupé version freely mentioned at the world launch in 1987. A keen driver can only fall in love with the Cloverleaf for its looks, its comfort and its dynamic performance. An introductory drive on the Yorkshire Moors brought out the best from the 164, and in places we were able to sample the extra 500 rpm offered, in stereo, by the Cloverleaf’s V6. So flat is the cornering, and so sporting the general handling, that the 164 seemed to shrink almost to the size of a Mini on difficult roads.

The brakes are excellent, though the pedal feels rather dead, and with a change of mood the 164 proves to be a splendid motorway cruiser, and an elegant carriage for the West End.

Alfa Romeo (Great Britain) Limited reverts to Fiat’s control in the UK in January, and it’s expected that the sales graph will continue on the upward path maintained in the latter part of 1990. The Cloverleaf deserves recognition as the flagship of Alfa Romeo’s range.

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