Just got my '97 2.016v back from service. It has got 46,000 miles on the clock but I had the cam/balancer shaft belts changed and while I was at it the dreaded variator (just as a precaution). I have noticed immediately that the engine runs quieter and more smoothly. The low down pick up is more responsive and jerkiness in low speed traffic elliminated. In fact it feels a whole lot better right the way through the power band. I mention this since I was not getting anyway near the symptoms that some of you have described. Definately glad it was changed.The part cost £50.00 from an Alfa dealer bye the way.
It was once said that the meek shall inherit the Earth, I have since discovered that the meek don't want it.