Take the latest version of the rare 166 saloon. It is arguably the most elegant vehicle in the executive car sector following its mid-term facelift earlier this year. It is absolutely stunning with pure lines and a dynamism that puts it in danger of setting off speed cameras even when it’s parked.
It is low in an era when cars are becoming taller to improve access and interior space, and behind the wheel you feel the top of the windscreen is unusually close to your head.
The interior design is beginning to date a little, but bear in mind that the car was launched at the end of 1998 and a facelift is not the best time for major upgrades to the interior.
However, although the sweeping curves of the dashboard and the leather-trimmed interior of our 3.2-litre V6 test car were distinctive and in keeping with the rest of the car, the interior shut line between the door and the dashboard seemed to at least double in width from top to bottom.
I imagine if an Audi A6 rolled off the production line in that condition it would be sent to the crusher and a few line workers would probably be fired. Having said that, the same might happen to someone on the Toyota Corolla production line in Derbyshire.
But the interior is well appointed and reasonably roomy and there is plenty of kit for the money. Leather, cruise control, a six-speed manual transmission, climate control, electric rear windows and an auto-dimming rear view mirror are standard. Our test car had optional satellite navigation fitted, as well as a button that read STR – sport throttle response. Activating this provides greater responsiveness for the amount of throttle requested, making the car feel livelier.
Despite some very good diesels joining the Alfa Romeo range over the last few years, and both a 1.9 JTD and a 2.4 JTD available in the 166 in mainland Europe, they are not offered in right-hand drive markets.
The executive car sector in the UK has seen huge growth in the availability of and the demand for diesel over the past few years, but Alfa Romeo believes the extra cost of engineering diesels for right-hand drive is not justified by the demand.
Surely demand would increase if the vehicles were available.
The 3.2-litre engine in our test car is a version of the engine found in the GTA versions of the 147 and 156 – not quite as powerful, but not far off with 240bhp at 6,200rpm and 213lb-ft at 4,800rpm.
However, the GTAs, despite being front-wheel drive cars, have heavily modified suspension compared with the standard 147s and 156s to reduce the effects of torque steer – when a powerful front-wheel drive car struggles to balance traction with steering input and the torque appears to grab at the steering wheel.
The 166 3.2 V6 suffers quite heavily in this respect, with occasionally nasty kickback when pressing on.
But the V6 engine is a work of art with shiny plumbing and an operatic tenor voice to rival Pavarotti. And despite the torque steer, the 166 has sharp steering, grip to spare and has limited body roll.
Despite its appeal, only die-hard Alfa fans will choose one over a Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A6, BMW 5-series or Jaguar S-type. And those more pragmatic who might look outside the four main premium brands would probably look to a Lexus GS300, a Saab 9-5 Aero or an alternative executive car that offers a high-performance diesel.
Alfa Romeo 166 3.2 V6 Lusso
Engine (cc): 3,179
Max power (bhp/rpm): 240/6,200
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 213/4,800
Max speed (mph): 152
0-62mph (sec): 7.4
Fuel consumption (mpg): 22.6
CO2 emissions (g/km): 297
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 69/15.2
Transmission: 6-sp man
Service interval (miles): 12,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £29,900