Alfa 166: The Last Flagship

I've had the pleasure of visiting the historic Mirafiori works in Turin around 2005. Alfa 166 production was transferred there in 2002, following the Rivalta plant's closure. That day, nobody worked on those partly completed 166, as the model's output was down to a trickle.



The 166 would be axed a couple of years later, in 2007, bringing to an end a story that started many, many years earlier...

Work on the 164's replacement started back in 1991, on the brand-new "E" platform shared with the future Lancia Kappa, with the design approved in 1994. But the ever-changing priorities of Fiat Group's management at the time delayed the new car's launch time and time again.

That's why the 166, when it finally launched in 1998, ended up looking a bit like yesterday's news

Meanwhile, the Alfa Romeo Centro Stile's creative references, headed by Walter De Silva, kept evolving and culminated with the Nuvola concept car's presentation in 1996. The Nuvola was sadly destined to remain just a declaration of intent, but its design language went into the stunning 156, which, after its presentation in 1997, went on becoming wildly successful, at least by Alfa Romeo standards.

That's why the 166, when it finally launched in 1998, ended up looking a bit like yesterday's news, with its somewhat frumpy nose earning quite a lot of criticism from the press and public alike.

The 166 finally received the front end it should have always had in 2003

Thankfully, the 166's engineering was bang up to date, thanks to the sophisticated double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension, attached to a much stiffer bodyshell (143.000 kgm/rad) than the outgoing 164.

There were no surprises under the new car's bonnet. All engines had all been previously available on either the 156 or the 164. No bad thing, given all were much loved, class-leading powerplants.

The 166 finally received the front end it should have always had in 2003, with the revised range launched in November, but Italian enthusiasts were left mourning the loss of the 2.0 liters turbo V6.

The 166 died on a whimper and, to this day, hasn't been replaced.

The naturally aspirated 3.2 liters joined the range alongside the 3.0 liters, which by then would only be available with the Sportronic transmission.

As the inline-five diesel engine had been the biggest seller by far, it received the most comprehensive update: a new 20valve cylinder head and Multijet fuel injection.

By 2006 the engine choices would be restricted to the Multijet five cylinders and the 3.2 V6, as the company didn't bother with making the other engines Euro-IV compliant.

The 166 died on a whimper and, to this day, hasn't been replaced.

But at least part of it got to fight another day on the Chinese market.

The local automaker GAC bought the tooling from Italy and used the 166's platform and suspensions as a base for its Trumpchi GA5 saloon, in production between 2010 and 2018.

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