Advantages Lively glorious sounding engine, fun to drive, high specification, Used car market affordable
Disadvantages depreciation, thirsty! rear view visibility limited Poor customer service from dealership
After enjoying 5 trouble free years with my beloved Italian partner - Alfa Romeo 146 ‘Boxer’, I was left gutted when we were separated on Valentine’s Day this year following a minor accident where my car was deemed to be financially more viable to be 'written off' by my insurance company. I received a pay out and then my search for a new partner was on! I searched high and low for suitable partners, I tried Spanish ones - they were fun but just lacked that sense of passion and excitement. I even tried German ones – they were reliable, well built, and muscular with superb performance. I then went on and tried French ones i.e. even the highly acclaimed NEW Renault Laguna 11- it felt safe, secure, luxurious, yet was boring! A certain spark was missing, the thrill of driving and having fun was somewhat dampened …I was still in love with my former Italian partner. Alas, I had to go looking for another Italian beast to fill my heart with the joys and passion of driving again taking me to unknown levels of excitement, yes; you may have guessed it had to be another Alfa Romeo!ALFA ROMEO
The name Alfa Romeo is synonymous with a long rich racing history and heritage. A unique marque that has made motor racing, driving and owning Alfa Romeo fun! Many many years ago Alfa Romeo may have had a poor image in Uk’s cold climate with the cars being prone to rust, but all that has changed now ever since Alfa Romeo re-entered the UK market with new models with fully reinforced galvanised bodies in 1994, backed up with 8 years anti-corrosion warranty. I can personally re-confirm and agree with that statement; as in the 5 and half years I’ve owned one previously it had no signs of any rust what so ever!ALFA ROMEO 146
The Alfa 146 was launched in the UK in early 1995; with the introduction of the flat-four cylinder “Boxer” engined cars, which have the most glorious roar from that sweet purring engine. My first car was a Boxer 8v 146. These were the first batch of 145’s and 146’s with limited engine sizes and power. The fascinating thing about 'Boxer' engines is that they sounded glorious, even when not revved!Later on in 1996/97 Alfa Romeo developed the latest generation of twin spark 16-valve engines in 1.6, 1.8 and a special sports 2.0L version called the “Ti”. The same twin spark engines were first used in the larger Alfa 155’s that some of you might be familiar with. I will call twin-spark (ts) for short. These were vastly improved engines and were more efficient, for example a 1.6 Boxer produced only 103bhp, whereas a 1.6ts produces 120bhp with the same size engine, unbelievable! All you need to know here is “twin spark” basically means they use two spark plugs of different sizes, with 4 valves per cylinder. The twin spark engines have effectively improved performance, fuel consumption and reduced exhaust emissions. The twin spark engined 146’s and Boxer 146 are the same in appearance and look the same it is only the engine technology and performance that is vastly improved.
146 TiWell this is it! The one I went for! It’s the top of the range in its class. Fortunately for me I did not buy a new one, this is a Used one that is just over 3 years old, a late 1997 'R' Reg. It powered by a 2.0Litre 16v twin spark engine, claiming a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds.
With its sporty image, it is hard to imagine that this is spacious being a 5 door family hatchback. Everything is beautifully laid out and within easy reach. The dashboard provides a clear display of panels through the 3 spoke leather steering wheel, with 1 large centre panel comprising the digital speedometer light up in green, and 2 side panels on either side showing the fuel tank and the all important rev meter! The dashboard and controls are clear, easy to read and functional, there are no funky, extra gimmicks added here such as titanium coloured gear stick or matching colour pedals. The seats are very comfortable in the recaro sports style with grey cloth upholstery embroidered with the Alfa Romeo logo. The boot is quite spacious and can be opened by an electronic boot release from inside. There is also a good handy inside the boot to grip to help you hold open the boot, so you are not holding onto the outer boot. I have fitted 2 large suitcases and plenty of extra travelling bags in. I have even helped transport University students with all their stuff, so that may give you an idea of its boot space! On paper its meant to have a boot capacity of 380/1225 (dm3).
Now for the fun part:,
The instant I put that RED key into the ignition and heard that familiar purring sound of that Alfa engine I knew we were ready for some sweet action. Time to put the Alfa through its paces. It was a sunny hot day (though I wouldn’t have minded I it was pouring with rain, as I know Alfa’s handle well in the wet, providing you have a decent set of threads! (tyres). City driving was smooth, quiet and responsive, I could hear that beautiful twin spark engine humming away quietly, as I approached the national speed limit out of the city it was time to burn some serious rubber, and woah! The sound of that glorious roar of that ts engine as I accelerated working up through the gears was rhythmically beautiful. It responded to my every need and desire, reaching its peak torque at 4000 revs and I easily touched just over 90 speed with a claimed 0-60 time of approx 8.5 secs. You know this car has plenty in reserve should you need to make a quick sprint! It may not be in the league of the big V6/V8 engined cars but it sure has a lot of oomph and is a hell of a lot of fun to drive! Its maximum power is 150bhp, which is reached at 6200rpm, which I haven’t tested out!…. yet!
Back through the winding and twisting country lanes of the North, a gentle dab on those large self-ventilated disc pads (284mm). Road handling on all roads is superb, it really grips the road well and I feel in total control!
The newer model of 146 Ti (1998) claims to produce an extra 5bhp to 155bhp, but personally I don’t think its worth going for such new ones as they are still steep in price and there are no further enhancements. The sound of that ts engine is amazing and you really do have to hear the glorious alfa engine to appreciate the drive!
The alfa 146 Ti is “fully loaded” as they would say in the trade. Bearing in mind the model is about 5 years old it is miles ahead of its competition and includes abs, driver’s airbag, electric windows, electric mirrors all as standard. There is also remote central locking, alarm, immobilisor, and a door check panel. More importantly if you have children there are child safety locks too! The "ti" also has a 6 stack CD autochanger in the Boot fitted as standard, with a 6 speaker sound system, although in the car which was an ex-company car, it appears to have been removed, but there is a single CD player in front which will do. This is hardly a priority for this car and me anyway! I have the sweet engine to listen too! I did manage to get an extra on "ti" model which is “air conditioning” which I have happily been using every day this Summer.Cost of Ownership and Warranty
All new Alfa Romeo’s come with 3 year paintwork and 8 year anti-corrosion warranty.
Service intervals are every 12,000 miles or 12 months with the first ALFA service comprising of the standard oil filter change that should cost no more than £99. The next major service is at 24,000 miles which will require the spark plugs replacing etc, again from my 5 years of owning my previous alfa 146 (boxer) this costs about £200 upwards. The biggest standard service you are likely to spend the most on is the 5 year or 72, 000 mile service which requires the cam belts to be changed. Now a cambelt only costs about £20, but the labour time estimated at authorised dealers is in excess of 4 hours! So official authorised alfa service on the 72k service could be up to £500! Bear in mind though this is no more than any other big service cam belt change service at main authorised dealers eg BMW, Audi, VW,Saab etc. That’s probably why most owners try to sell their cars before the 5 year or 72K mark.
And price of buying this car. If you bought this car NEW it would have cost you almost £17,000 when it first came out, later Alfa romeo reduced its price to £16,000 and it is currently at £12,499 NEW. Now here’s the “good bit” for Users wanting to buy a Used one, as this model is now obsolete they stopped making it in 1999- it has been superseded and replaced by the NEW 147 (car of the Year 2000), this means that Used car prices have plummeted and you can actually pick one of these up for as little as £3500. What a massive saving, for a fully loaded, stunning car! Prices range from £3500- £10,000 (and even a brand new one, if you can find any left now only costs £12,499).UPDATE: February - May 2002
I've had over a year to play with this car and not a single problem so far. It flies! The only thing I will mention, as this 'ti' is a Sports car the suspension is lower than on the other 146's, so you will feel the bumps. There is also a slight amount of over steer, but this is probably felt due to the power steering on the 'ti' being far more responsive than on my previous 146 (Boxer). I am coming up to 70,000 miles and am shortly due for new cambelts (ouch! this is the BIG service). The only other thing I should mention is being a "Ti" it has a spoiler at the rear, this greatly reduces visibility whilst parking, that maybe a problem for some people. But overall, so far absolutely no regrets, I didn’t expect any as I was very happy with my previous Alfa 146 that I had no problems with over 5 years. Here's to many more happy motoring miles. I had previously given this car a 5 star product rating, but I think on reflection (as I am biased with italian cars!) this is more realistically a 4 star rating! It is a sad fact that once you get this alfa bug you wont find much that comes in between an alfa driver/owner and his/her car.
Remember I said the 5 year or 72, 000 mile service can be expensive as it involves timing belts change…well just as I was due for the 72K service the car’s cambelt broke…yes! As a consequence of the cambelt failing I was told that the engine may have got damaged even though it happened at almost stationary speed at a set of lights and the cylinder head needs replacing. Fitting of cylinder heads is very expensive. At first, a few Alfa Romeo dealers said this would cost a £1000! (Gheez, I was almost in tears thinking I’d have to write off a 2nd alfa!! See Opinion on first Alfa Romeo - Boxer for details). Fortunately as the car had FULL ALFA ROMEO SERVICE history at the recommended intervals I got a new head cylinder fitted free of charge, under warranty, even though the car is over 3 years old. I did have to pay for the 72K service though (the timing belt change) its expensive cost £491 (ouch!).Result – The car was flying even better than before. A new head cylinder made all the difference! I do have some minor problems with a little excessive oil consumption that’s developed after putting another 2000 miles on the clock, but I’m working on this!
Still seems to be using a lot of oil and getting poor fuel economy -but then I drive hard!May 2003- had to replace front two tyres they were worn badly! Running GoodYear Eagle Ventura's -excellent in the wet! The car takes 195/55/ 15 inche approx. costs of each tyre £60.
Consumer Buying Advice:Try and buy used alfa’s long before the 72K cambelt service is due or after it’s been done!
So, the motto of the story/update, PLEASE, PLEASE try and keep a full ALFA Romeo service History (unless you are a mechanic yourself) as no matter how much we hate dealers it pays to keep the history as far as servicing goes up to date, other maintenance parts like brakes, discs, exhausts etc any garage can be used.Other small niggles:-
Its often been noted on some alfa's that the seat belt pretensioners get stuck; this happens on my driver's side sometimes and a few tugs, re-releases it from ceiling to use. Another problem to watch for is the windscreen wiper blades can get stuck.
Overall, this is a fast fun to drive fully loaded car with a stunning specification, every driving enthusiasts dream with a performance to match! With it's sporty looks, handling, and practicality of 4 doors (well 5 as it's a 5d hatchback) it combines pleasure with the spaciousness and convenience of a family 5d hatchback. I would recommend any of the 146 twin-spark's be it 1.6L, 1.8L or this lively "ti" 2.0 Litre one. It certainly offers superb value for money with the cost of Used cars so low.... It is a Buyers market. So if you want to try something a little different you’ve got nothing to lose buying a Used one! Remember to “haggle”, its your call. There are plenty of sporty yet practical family cars out there waiting for good homes, be different, go for it..you know you can…FINAL V. IMPORTANT UPDATE 2004
Sadly, this car is dying. It is the result of both incompetence from the Alfa Romeo dealership concerned (Reg Vardy) in addressing and diagnosing problems early and the car's longer term reliability issues with higher mileage cars.CAR PROBLEMS:
To sum up then in the 2.5 years I've owned this car which is now 6 years old its had :
a new cambelt
new cylinder head
new head gasket fitted (due to oil leak)
oil leaks (still!)
accelerator cable break
hydraulic problems -leaking brake fluid -probably the slave cylinder
overheated beyond scale at 120 -lost coolant in a day and almost died today.
So, even with the glorious engine when its sweetly revving at 4500rpm my affair with alfa romeo is definitely over....
Its sad for me to say this particularly as I love the marque, the engine, the racing heritage and have owned 2 alfa romeo's over 9 years, but sadly it has come to this...
I will be writing in depth guide to buying used alfa's later on at some stage. If you have any comments or questions in regards to buying please ask.Used prices for these are now as little as £500-£6000 for a car that was originally £17,000 new 5 years ago.
Connoisseur_haggler uk ciao ©2001, updated 2002, 2003, 2004,2005
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