Spotted | Alfa Romeo 164L Lusso Sedan

Jackson Wheeler
7 Min Read


By 1990 fans of Alfa Romeo had two choices when they strolled into an Alfa showroom. The Spider had been updated yet again, still seemingly carrying the bulk of sales, and Alfa had also brought the smallish 75 sedan stateside as the Milano, giving those who wanted a more practical, everyday car something to consider.

One of those cars was still relatively fresh and was positioned as a daily driver, even if an offbeat choice, while the other was clearly showing its age but took advantage of the fact that British roadsters that once ruled this category had largely packed up and left.

However, in 1990 Alfa Romeo also faced the problem of being a two-car brand stateside, with Alfa declining to bring other European models like the 33 hatchback to the states. And GTV sales, which had greatly helped the automaker in the US in the 1980s, had also just ended.

Some enthusiasts had hoped the automaker would bring the compact 155 sedan to the states, to replace the Milano once production would wrap up in 1991, but the small sedan never arrived.

Instead, Alfa brought the big 164 sedan to the US.

a car parked on a road

Pininfarina’s sharp but boxy styling was a popular look for the early 1990s.

Autoweek

This was the first time in a long time that Americans would be able to buy the largest sedan that Alfa Romeo had on its menu, as prior offerings were never quite this extravagant inside. It certainly helped that large, plush sedans were still popular in America, and that Alfa Romeo was still considered an upscale marque.

But Alfa Romeo was also not known for offering large (by European standards) sedans, and faced a bit of an uphill battle when it came to convincing Americans that it was good at this sort of thing.

The first model year for the 164 was 1991, and it concealed well the fact that its development had been shared with the Saab 9000, which would ultimately record far more sales in the US and overseas.

The 164 could be a serene cruiser with a 183-hp 3.0-liter V6.

Penned by Pininfarina, the boxy 164 offered plenty of intricate design details as well as a very sporty stance, while the leather interiors looked exceedingly comfortable.

In all, there were three versions: the base 164, the luxury-flavored 164L or Lusso seen here, or the sporty 164S. Out of the surviving examples, we tend to see a slightly heavier mix of 164S versions of the sedan, but relatively few base cars.

Depending on which version you chose, the 164 could be a serene cruiser with a 183-hp 3.0-liter V6 paired with a choice of a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, or it could be something sportier with 200 hp on tap in the 164S.

With 30-plus years of hindsight it’s tempting to chalk up Alfa Romeo’s demise stateside on the rise of Japanese sedans of the time, or the economic downturn of the early 1990s. But in reality, the automaker had been on a downslope in the US for a while by that point, well before the arrival of the 164 that may have bought the brand a few more years of sales, but did not deliver a massive comeback.

Quite a few Alfa Romeo dealers of the time also tended to sell other brands under the same roof, as the overall volume of sales did not really warrant single-marque Alfa dealerships.

And in practice, we suspect the 164 did not really compete with any Japanese sedan head-on.

Comparison tests of the time pitted the handsome 164 against the Mercedes-Benz 190E and the E34 BMW 5-Series, as well as a handful of others including its Saab 9000 sibling, the Volvo 940, the Acura Legend, and the Audi 90 Quattro.

Even among these choices the 164 was the obvious oddball, and the S model tended to gather more compliments due to being much quicker off the line with its five-speed manual: 6.9 seconds in the 164S versus 9.8 seconds in the 164 Lusso in Car and Driver’s testing of the time.

Due to Alfa Romeo’s dwindling dealer network, the 164 was never really common outside of a few remaining strongholds in the mid-Atlantic and the northeast. Even by the late 1990s it seemed to take some effort to spot one of these outside some place like the DC area, which had quite a few Alfa Romeo dealers.

So unless you lived next door to someone who had kept one for a long time, spotting one on the street was already something of a rarity if not a classic by the early 2000s, when the cars were barely a decade old.

But for the most part, the short tenure of the stylish 164 highlighted one important distinction about the brand and the popularity of sedans: American consumers certainly liked plush sedans and bought them in large volumes at the time, but marque enthusiasts were probably looking for other body styles when it came to buying an Alfa.

Those other body styles were the 916 Spider and GTV that arrived by the middle of the decade, just as Alfa Romeo pulled the plug on US sales.

Did you know anyone who had an Alfa Romeo 164 in the 1990s? Let us know in the comments below.

Headshot of Jay Ramey

Jay Ramey grew up around very strange European cars, and instead of seeking out something reliable and comfortable for his own personal use he has been drawn to the more adventurous side of the dependability spectrum. Despite being followed around by French cars for the past decade, he has somehow been able to avoid Citroën ownership, judging them too commonplace, and is currently looking at cars from the former Czechoslovakia. Jay has been with Autoweek since 2013. 

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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