This car has HUGE merits, but on the same token- it's certainly not without its flaws. Alfas/Fiats do not hide the test of time well and are certainly nowhere near as hardwearing as any BMW/Audi from a generation earlier. Firstly, in accordance with the cars mileage; the interior trim consists of the type of plastics that is susceptible to blemishes and knocks on items such as the door trims and centre console that show up easily. Despite this the interior is relatively well put together and tight fitting, however the materials used are not the best.
The seats, on the other hand, especially on "ti" models are top-notch. They are of the Momo type and, as well as being hugely supportive, comfortable, made of decent fabric and nice looking- do not show any signs of wear.
People have always been dubious over Alfa's reliability. And rightly so. I always get the impression that something will "go bang" and a huge expense is looming in order to keep the car on the road. It's the little niggling faults that instil worry into every 146/14 driver, things like dash warning lights flickering/ staying on longer than they should, you ask yourself "What the hell does that mean?". Most commonly it's minor electrical gremlins that let the car down. In general, the less-important things just appear to be temperamental. Items like the interior light delay, interior boot-release, headlamp washers, console backlighting, windscreen wipers, electric windows and "doors open" display seem to be a bit "iffy". The heater, however; is marvellous.
The above gremlins are purely characteristics of the car, and cannot be overcome. However any other reliability issues are usually down to neglect. Alfas are expensive to maintain and people in general are not willing to service/replace wearable items and prefer to "make do" until the car eventually grinds to a halt. It's at this point they "knew this would happen" and question why they ever bought an untrustworthy Alfa knowing they have a dodgy record for reliability. This can easily be avoided if people would keep up servicing on a regular basis, they would soon realise how spending a little money regularly on maintenance is far more economical than spending huge amounts when the time comes when things snap after a few years' of maintenance-free ownership. The big issue that all Alfa owners are aware of is the all-important cambelt change. But again, there is a misconception that as long as this 400-pound job has been done previously that everything will be A-OK and it will never need a major service again.
In truth, I think any Alfa of old (a non-current model) should only be owned by enthusiasts who know about keeping up servicing, rather than your average punter who buys the car simply because the car is in the same price bracket as an 8 year old Ford Mondeo, but is that little bit more special. The car will soon cost these people dearly!
On a more positive note, ("note" being the operative word when discussing the Alfa's raspy engine performance) all things considered the Twin Spark engine will run like a dream when everything under the bonnet is how it should be. It'll need to be tweaked and adjusted to appreciate the optimum performance at all times, but it's well worth it.
This car is unquestionably rapid and hugely torquey, mostly due to its amazing gearing set up. Although fuel consuming, you can pootle around in second at speeds where third gear is usually required, prod the throttle and you will fly. Unfortunately there is a little lag when taking off from the lights, but with good clutch control you can always make a speedy get away leaving the boring-brigade for dust. Get past 3k rpm and it really starts to fly. Boy Racers always seem to attempt to challenge me in the 146, and they simply cannot compete. What I love about the car is its subtlety. The badging on the slab-sided fat arse of the 146 ti model simply says just that... "146 ti". You won't find "2.0", "T.Sprark", "16 Valve" or "My car is considerably faster than yours" plastered on the back, leaving most people a little clueless as to what this rare beast can do. The engine note is fabulous, leave the stereo switched off, crank the windows down and listen to the throaty lump at the front harmonise with the raspy exhaust note at the rear. It's a real cheap thrill and a nice insight into the pleasures of Ferrari ownership. The day will come!
The 2.0 demands to be pushed, and loves the revs. A word of warning though- at high speeds the brakes can be a little vague and misleading! Whereas they seem powerful at a quick prod they will soon fade under harsh braking. Upgrades are a costly, but worthwhile option.
The conclusion is rather mixed. Alfa ownership, whether you're spending £50 on a 33, £1000 on a 155 or £30,000 on a GTA offers something different, a unique spirit that no manufacturer can compete with. For similar money there are more refined cars that ride better, are better made and are more reliable, but those aspects miss the point of what owning an Alfa, and the rewards yet get from it are all about.
In terms on the 146 2.0, I think it captures a little of everything that Alfa stands for, including all the worst and all the very best. £2500 buys you a decent mid to late 1990s example these days, but you have to be cautious when buying one. There are some rough examples worth avoiding. If one appears stupidly cheap... ask yourself why? Auto trader seems to list a lot of examples going cheap at the 70k miles mark, whereas examples with 80k + are more expensive. Dealers get part exchanges where the cambelt change is due @ 70k, they'll happily sell you a nice-looking 146 with 3 months warranty... and then 6 months down the line the camblet snaps and you're looking at an engine replacement. It's worth fishing out the miley examples that have had the money spent on them, rather than buy younger low mileage examples with the expense all to come. Be warned!