A few weeks ago I drove it for an evening and was left unimpressed – I found the clutch pedal awkward and the car's looks disjointed.
But, having subsequently spent a couple of weeks behind the wheel, I am now smitten with it. Even those slightly bizarre looks with the elongated front end have grown on me – I really have fallen in love with the car. I think my experience emphasises the importance of having a test vehicle on long term loan – you have to live with the 166 for a while to appreciate it fully.
Powered by the 2.0-litre 150bhp engine, our Alfa is a great car to drive. It's responsive, (although a 3.0-litre V6 would have been a dream but a nightmare on fuel consumption), with an impressive growl when the revs near the red line. Handling is superb, providing a positive and exciting drive.
Like most of my colleagues who have driven the 166, I have had to keep an eye on the engine oil which does need frequent top-ups – this is a car that needs a bit of care and attention from the driver.
Inside, the cabin reflects the sweeping lines of the exterior with a stunning sculpted dash, particularly on the passenger's side. And the cream leather electric heated seats have to be the most handsome I've seen, beautifully finished off with the Alfa Romeo badge subtly embroidered on to the front seats. There's enough space for four adults and a child's seat and there are plenty of storage cubbies.
There have been no problems with 'bits' dropping off the 166 as reported by Trevor Gelken in a previous test. Everything seems sturdy to me.
I agree with my colleague Simon Harris who said that you only truly appreciate the curves and delicate lines of the 166 when you wash it by hand – I enjoy washing most cars but the 166 is a delight.
The Nuvola Blue £1,500 paint option does turn heads but I think the inclusion of a CD player would have been a wiser and more prudent choice.
There are some foibles with the Alfa that I can't fathom – there doesn't appear to be a way of opening the boot when you are inside the vehicle other than using the 'plip' on the key, which can be awkward if it's in the ignition; and the air conditioning unit will not function without having the audio system on, although it can be muted.
These foibles aside the Alfa Romeo 166 is the perfect company car for someone who wants something a little different to stand out from the crowd.
Company car tax bill 2002 (40% taxpayer): £210.75 per month