Long Term Test -- Alfa Romeo 164 Lusso

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Nothing for Granted

“You must be mad,” “You need your head examined,” “It’s a long way to go for illicit sex” were just some of the remarks made as I left on a 600-mile round trip to Stockton-onTees to visit Mike Smailes and learn about Jowett Jupiters (see page 238 et seq).

“Why don’t you take the train?” pleaded my wife, concerned that the ominous snow and storm warnings were going to make my journey too hazardous. But I would not be deterred.

The reason, you see, was that two days before I had taken delivery of an Alfa Romeo 164 Lusso, our new long term test car. If the weather was going to be inclement, then it was an ideal opportunity to see how the car behaved.

I set off on the Wednesday afternoon, bright, sunny but cold, and headed for the M1. The car was comfortable and acceptably nippy in urban traffic conditions, making short work of the journey through north London to the beginning of the motorway. I had already punched in my preferred temperature on the digital display (in celsius or fahrenheit, the flip of a small switch determining the display), adjusted the 3-way, electronically controlled seat and adjusted the electric wing mirrors, before setting off.

After a brief stop in Watford, the skies began to darken and the road surface shine as rain, and then snow, settled on the surface. It was as if I was cocooned, though, the cosy environment I was ensconced in only disturbed when I stopped for petrol in Yorkshire, cold wind taking my breath away as I filled up. Actually I didn’t fill up because the pump I had selected was so sensitive that unless I let the fuel trickle in, the automatic cut-out would operate and stop the pump from spilling its contents. What I was worried about was whether it was caused by the small lid at the neck of the fuel pipe or else it was an oversensitive pump. If it was the former, then I was in for a lengthy filling session each time I called at a petrol station, but subsequent fill-ups have laid that worry to rest.

Once at my destination, it was interesting to note reactions. Mike Smailes is an Alfa man, having had a number in the past, but he rather disliked the 164’s shape, dismissing Pininfarina’s design as too big and shapeless. While this has been the view of some, the car’s look is generally well received, but more so, surprisingly, the build quality. Alfas have suffered in the past for their poor quality, but with the 164, they are obviously trying very hard. The four doors close with a reassuring click, the interior trim is well fitted and even after 2000 miles, all the electrics are in order.

The return journey from the North the following day was slow and dangerous, the motorways clogged up with ice and the blizzard-like conditions demanding a top speed of 40 mph. This speed in fifth gear in some cars would have been too painful, but such is the torque of the 3-litre V6 engine that it coped in this gear all 270 miles back to London. The only distraction of the entire journey was the light on the dashboard which lit up warning that the windscreen washer bottle was getting low in liquid.

The Alfa has now covered a total of 2000 miles and we have yet to discover any faults. But it is still very young, and as the past owner of a number of Alfa Romeos over the years, I am not taking things for granted. — WPK