AIfa Romeo’s new 164 is a significant newcomer and we make no apologies for returning to the subject. After a day at the wheels of three variants on public roads, we feel it worth further comment, for our original announcement (MOTOR SPORT, August 1987) naturally allowed only limited driving experience, and it will be September 1988 before the 164 arrives for RHD sale.
First impressions, reinforced through Italian mileage in the 3.0 V6, 2-litre Twin Spark and 2-litre Turbo, are of sharply enhanced body strength and build quality. Alfa Romeo has not equalled the West Germans with this all front-drive range’s interior trim, but it has abandoned quirky U-shaped handbrakes, controls in the ceiling and the sundry rattles exhibited by the current 75 saloons.
There were those, myself amongst them, who thought Fiat-owned Alfa had perhaps civilised the essentials of Alfa character too much in the newcomers. Perhaps we are as quirky as previous Alfas, because we objected to the four-cylinder Twin Spark’s noise levels, composed of resonances and transmitted harshness.
Owing much to their low-drag bodies, all the Alfa 164 range, including a 2.5-litre turbo diesel, have maximum speed claims beyond 124 mph. The Pininfarina lines are more attractive from the back than front, where corporate identity has flared its nostrils in complete contrast to the even contours throughout the rest of the panelwork. We did not feel the widely quoted confusion with Peugeot’s 405, because the Alfa is physically a much larger vehicle.
Quickest of the Milan-Arese manufactured 164s is the 3.0 V6 at 143 mph, but the fastest accelerating machine, the Thema/Croma 2-litre turbo-powered 164 (0-62 mph in less than 7.5 seconds) will not be coming to Britain.
The 164’s Garrett AiResearch T3/50 installation was a latecomer to the development programme at Fiat’s top managerial insistence. It certainly is fast, but as with many powerful front drive turbos (it has a believable claim of 175 bhp, on a par with Saab’s 16V turbo) the full boost action of the turbo destroys front-wheel drive traction and upsets the steering. Driving decorum is an answer, but one wonders how long it will be before the inevitable 4WD layout is offered publicly?
As driven in Italy, the 164 earns premium points for its chassis composure over a wide range of speed and surface changes: only at low speed over subnormally bad tarmac was the ride quality below that of the sporting Citroen BX GTi, which is quite a compliment for a conventionally strut-suspended motor car.
The five-speed manual gearboxes were a delight to use at any pace, and it has been a long time since we were able to say that of a current Alfa Romeo! Also worthy of record as plus points were the sheer space and improved logic of the interior, powerful braking which avoided the Italian preoccupation with over-assistance and accurate, albeit impersonal, steering.
Alfa has obviously taken Audi’s 100/200-series ventilation trials to heart with the fitment of eleven air outlet grilles within the cabin, but you are naturally better off with the automatically-controlled air-conditioning that is optional on LHD models.
TKM-owned Alfa Romeo (Great Britain) Ltd expects two versions of the accommodating 164 in 1988. Initial sales will revolve around the 3.0 V6. That 60° alloy masterpiece now yields 192 bhp in place of the 75 saloon’s 188 horsepower, but making less of its glorious exhaust note with extra silencers beneath the front-drive floorpan.
A priority in this class is the enormous spread of torque with 85% of the maximum 180 lb ft reporting at little over tickover, 1000 rpm for the V6. Peak torque is at 3000 revs, so that, stepping from a Twin Spark to a 3-litre, one is always conscious that the bigger vee unit demands less gearchanging and is the more civilised long-distance companion.
The modest power increase is a result of induction and exhaust changes in the switch to transverse installation, plus the latest Bosch ML 4.1 electronic injection and ignition management.
The V6 is expected to cost over £18,000 in Britain, where it will be equipped with many of the items that are on the option list in LHD. Included amongst those options are Bosch ABS four-sensor braking (Alfa’s first use of the system), a four-speed automatic gearbox and 205/55 VR 15 tyres. We tried the cars only on standard 195/60 VR 14 MXV Michelins Which proved satisfactory around a dry route.
The Twin Spark is to be sold in Britain, “a couple of months” after the 3.0-litre’s RHD debut and provisional price thoughts start “around £16,000”. Again a higher level of trim than LHD equivalents is expected. Since all models have rack-and-pinion power steering, ventilated four wheel disc brakes, central locking, front electric window operation and mirror adjustment, one need feel little compassion for deprived continentals. JW