I like least the 156 facelift, it worked least well, but I still think it lifted the range, and created a stronger brand image, along with the others.
I think the first 166 looks depressed from the front, with a mopey face. All other angles are great, so the facelift is perfect for me. I will admit the front is very Marmite, but to me too frumpy, and lacking aggression. I would love to like it, as I could buy a pre 2001 car, and not pay so much road tax!
For us converted, who would probably buy an alfa, just 'cos of the badge (I bet some of us more silly Alfisti have considered buying an Arna, just for the crack of it. A 16V conversion in mind of course...). However, the non converted generally don't even think Alfa as an option. When I bought my first Alfa (F Plate 33 s2 1.5Ti) I didn't even know of Alfa, let alone consider them as an option. I was resigned to the fact of an escort or similar
The more striking front end had two real aims:
1) to catch the eye of non alfa owners, and make them enquire what the hell it was that was in the rear view mirror, and is now somewhere on the horizon.
2) Create a corporate shape for the range, cheaply.
If you think how all BMWs or Audis are all carved with the same corporate overmind, and how well they sell, you can see why. Further more, Alfa piched an ex BMW brain for there corporate table, to get them out of the dire straights there are in.
You can also consider the whole Jag X and S type things harking bark to their heritage, and deliberately designed a corporate image that used there "historicness". It worked short term, until they realised that people bought jags because they were always edgey. Think E-type in its day, or pretty much any other jag. The new jag will/is succeding as it is fresh and has some typical Jag style edge to it.
Alfa has succeeded in the past as creating the mould, not fitting it, in terms of both mechanics and looks. The 156 and 147 were both starting to fail to be new, and they hadn't got the money or Fiat authority to bring out the 159 early. The facelifts were cheap ways to stop Alfa heamorraging cash.
I think Alfa's progressive facelift, to tie in with the launch of the Brera, spider, and even with the 8C, has done what Jag should of done, i.e. doth its cap to its heritage, front grill seems genetically of the family, but equally make the brand stand out, with some differentness from the crowd, whilst still being acceptable to the masses.
If the fiat/indian Jag link up leads to a 169, with rear wheel drive, edgey looks, and alfa engines (i have issues with the GM lump), job done, and Alfa may even sell some cars!! Think how different the GT or 159 are to the mould of normal cars, how well they have sold at a critical time for Alfa, and even how well they are holding there price!
If the Mito can compete for looks, reliability and fun with the mini, it will sell, as will the 149, 159 and 169 in there spots.
Lets be honest, the reason the 166 didn't work in this country was no diesel option. The 2.4 JTDm is a stonking engine. I know the v6 is amazing, but to a company buyer, it is too thirsty, and hence too taxable. Not only does Alfa need some pazaz in its design, to capture the hearts of the masses, it needs some better thinking brains at Alfa UK, and perhaps even at Alfa Head Office.
After some mechanically great, but electrically and corrosion poor, 80's and 90's alfas, modern Alfas are much better, but have lost some of there design edge, in the same way Jaguar did. All that is holding Alfa back now is there, perhaps unfair, reputation of there dealers....
If we are honest, most of us converted on here will always own an Alfa. If we stray from the path, we tend to come back, even if it is with a special dry sunny day classic in the garage, and a mondeo out on the drive to commute with. Once people buy an Alfa, the likelihood they will purchase a second is high, as long as the dealers don't balls it up, and as long as Alfa keep true to there roots of creating drivers cars, with astonishing looks.