I'm perhaps a little late to the party, but we owned a 85,000 mile '94 164LS ZF automatic w 3.0 24v for the past 4 years and can at least speak about the experience..Would you rather have a 94/95 with the 210 horsepower 24v engine, BUT it's an automatic. Or would you rather have an earlier model with the less powerful 180ish HP engine but you get a manual transmission?
This seems to be my dilemma. I can find 164s with a manual transmission, but they are all earlier models with the less powerful engine. And I can find 94/95's with the upgraded engine, but they are all automatics.
For what it's worth, I am not really an enthusiast driver, though I aspire to become one. I've only ever owned cars with an automatic transmission, but everyone says manuals are more fun to drive and it seems like the Alfa Romeo 164 is a special car and would be fun to drive if a manual. Still, these cars seem so hard to come by that I realize it might be pointless to be picky about things besides quality and maintenance history
In our case, an automatic was a 'given' because my wife asked for one. I had no idea whether a manual was rare or not when I went shopping. Found ours on eBay in AZ, and bought it for $3,500. The LS was recommended by my good friend RexCars here, based on his length of experience with both the early and later series. I had the 3.0 upgraded with a Squadra chip and Q-spec intake runners before I even took possession of the lovely thing. Could that have been 240hp?
To me, our 164LS was well suited to its automatic, being a large 'executive' sedan in a sedate Champagne colored metallic. The way I drove it, as an interesting daily driver that my wife could enjoy too, was not diminished by it having an automatic. I did not drive it "for sport", but the ZF automatic's 'Sport' mode was effective, it raised the upshift and downshift points enough to make a difference, and it handled really well for a front wheel drive.
So from a start, the engine has enough torque, and enough revs to accelerate assertively. The exhaust is tuned for a civilized experience, but can still give a decent note at higher rpms. Most definitely a fantastic highway cruiser. An early experience that made an impression was taking my family of 5 on a daytrip to the Adirondacks, getting on the Northway, slowly increasing our speed to 100+mph, and leaving it there for a long time... all the while my family noticed not a thing. Wind noise is very well controlled. Road feel and balance was excellent.
Here is a video I made of our 164LS, sort of an 'intro' to the model. There are some sections where you can see and hear how the automatic behaves.