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I bought this car with some trepidation - Alfa Romeo as a brand has had a lot of negative comment from the motoring press over the years - relating to both reliability and the quality of the dealer network.
Having owned a number of cars over the years and realised in consequence that German cars do not have the bullet-proof reliability that they are reputed to, I researched problems with this model, making particular use of owners' forums; my conclusion was that the car was no more likely to have any problems than any other.
I then made contact with my local dealer, who was very helpful, right through from test driving and providing information to the sale and eventual handover - I have to say I've never had such a thorough handover from any other dealer.
The 159 sportwagon (Alfa-ese for estate) is based on the saloon of the same model.
I was attracted to the car as it offered the practicality I required in a car with a nicely fitted cabin and a beautiful exterior. I also test drove similar models from Volvo, Audi, BMW and Mercedes and found the ride and handling to be the best mix of comfort while still retaining a sporty edge. Unlike the German opposition, the car comes well equipped and doesn't need lots of costly optional extras.
As previously noted, in my opinion this is a great looking car; I bought the "TI" model which has 19" wheels and side mouldings, which make the car stand out even more, particularly in red.
The interior is finished in black leather with the Alfa Romeo stitched into the seats (including the rear seats) in red. The seats are some of the most comforatble I have sat in in a car - providing a good mix of comfort and support. The boot is more spacious than a saloon but the opening is not square and is quite high off the ground so possibly not iddeal for those who need an estate to carry around large heavy loads - it is more aimed at "lifestyle" users who need more space but who don't want to drive a more boxy car.
The cabin is very quiet, my only complaint being that the large tyres do make quite a lot of noise at motorway speeds - the standard stereo is easily up to the job of drowning this out.
I went for the 1750 TBi (a 1742cc petrol engine with a turbo) providing 200 bhp and lots of torque. I'm not a fan of diesel and do not drive enough miles to justify the additional expense.
The car is now run in and the engine is loosening up appreciably, with improving fuel economy (still around 25% below the claimed combined economy figure of 34 mpg) and better throttle response. While this is disappointing, it is an improvement on my previous car and should continue to improve. The engine is very quiet (possibly too quiet!).
A big bonus of the car is that - probably due to the poor press over the years - they are not nearly as common as BMWs, Audis etc - I can drive to work without passing a similar model whereas when driving a 3 series I used to see several every day.
On picking up the car and in its early days, a few faults were noted but these have been quickly sorted by the dealer.
To date, I have no complaints either with the car or the dealer and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
The BMW 320i SE was my second German car, which I drove after having moved on from an Audi A3. I purchased it with 14,000 miles on the clock at 18 months old for a substantial discount from the list price.
This version of the 3 series was before BMWs started looking angular and strange.
The model nomenclature for this car was confusing - rather than having a 2 litre engine, it was actually the smallest in-line six cylinder engine made by BMW at the time with a capacity of 2.2 litres.
The car had parking sensors (beep only, no visual guide) at the rear, a CD autochanger and climate control air conditioning. At the time of building, BMWs needed a lot of expensive boxes ticking on the options list.
Due to budget constraints, I had to go for a car with a manual gearbox and cloth seats. I was to find out on selling the car that the value was severely damaged because of the lack of leather and automatic gearbox - a salutory lesson.
The engine developed around 180 bhp and in my opinion in a saloon car would have not been powerful enough to justify an automatic gearbox, but some buyers expect this in a "luxury" car.
Having such limited power, the rear wheel drive had little effect on the driving dynamics, other than when there was snow or ice on the road and the car was undriveable.
The quality of the car was faultless, and servicing was reasonable (certainly cheaper than the Audi). The only problem I ever had with the car was some warranty work performed on the front suspension bushes.
Having a relatively small engine, the car was fairly economical; tyres and spares were reasonably priced.
Having a six rather than four cylinder engine made this a "proper" BMW to those in the know.
Overall, this was a great car for the three years that I owned it.
I had a Kia Pride 1.1l as my first car, bought for me as with a small engine the insurance would be reasonable.
Being honest, I wouldn't have chosen a Kia myself at the time - while the brand now has some decent cars and an improving reputation backed up by a very good warranty, when I had the Pride they had no reputation other than for being cheap and basic.
The Pride was based on the old Mazda 2 so was a well tested model. Although lacking in power, it was reasonably good fun to drive, thrashing through the gears and throwing it around. I do recall that the suspension was extremely soft and passengers who were unfamiliar with the dynamics would fear that it would tip over when cornering hard. Motorways were hard work due to the lack of power.
The car was very basic but did what was required - and it was one of only two cars with which I had no problems - probably due to the lack of anything that could be called luxurious (or even electric!). I ran the car for five years and 60,000 miles and to be fair it had seen its best days by the time I sold it.
Despite being small, the tyres were expensive - I think they were an odd size.
Overall, this was a good car although as my first car I perhaps remember it more fondly than I might otherwise as it was my passport to freedom. I wouldn't be happy drivingthe car now as safety has moved on a lot since its hey-day.
We found these phones to be of reasonable quality - we purchased them as a triple pack while they were on offer.
The design of the phones (glossy black plastic) means that they fit well with most surroundings. They are quite chunky and therefore easy to hold.
A red light comes on all inactive handsets when one is in use to indicate that that is the case.
While the buttons stand above the face of the phone and are easy to press, we were disappointed that they weren't backlit and therefore if making a call at night we had to turn the light on to do so.
Call quality was good, although we found that the actual range was much less than claimed - we struggled to use the handsets in our (small) garden even when close to the house, which was disappointing.
The phones have a large capacity phonebook and caller display on a decent size screen.
The answering machine had plenty of space - we certainly never had more messages than would fill it; also, we never found a way to increase the number of rings before the answering machine would kick in.
Our biggest disappointment was the battery life - in spite of changing the rechargeable batteries for higher capacity ones, on a full charge the phones would sometimes fail to work and when they did work would last for only five to ten minutes. If it had been one handset or base, I would have put it down to a specific problem but as it affected all three of our handsets, regardless of which base was used to charge them, we came to the conclusion that this was a design problem.
Easy to plug in - main base required power and telephone sockets, bases for additional handsets required power only.
The ID555 phones are partof Philps "Design" range and therefore we did a bit of research to ensure that they wouldn't suffer from the age old problem of form over function. We were tired of old BT handsets which (despite having changed the rechargeable batteries) failed to retain their charge for more than five minutes and sometimes failed to work entirely - so wanted a good quality phone that would last us some time.
Although comparatively expensive (we paid £80 for two handsets including the base which holds one handset as well as acting as an answering machine), we loved the design of the bases and handsets - truly glossy black - as well as the feel in the hand and against the ear and the buttons.
Although the buttons are flat (forming the face of the phone), they are a reasonable size and because they are backlit in blue, they are easy to see. As buttons are pressed, the number dialled appears on the screen (black type against a blue backlit background).
The handsets are relatively light and are comfortable to hold. The batteries hold their charge well - certainly able to make two consecutive huor long calls with capacity to spare.
Various functions can be accessed from the handsets, including the answering machine, changing ring tones etc. A good feature is that the number of rings before the answering machine kicks in can be selected rather than the default 6 rings we've had on previous machines.
Call quality is very good even at a distance from the base, although when moving away from the base there is a momentary lapse in quality as the signal stregnth is increased - in an effort to reduce power consumption, the signal is only as strong as it needs to be.
Very easy to install - the base requires power and phone sockets while the additional handset just needs power.
The answering machine has plenty of capacity for domestic use (we've had up to 7 or 8 messages stored following holidays).
I bought one of these not long after they first came out - it was good looking and Audi's first small car, always having previously built family cars.
It was the first time I had bought a new car and I was looking forward to cast-iron German reliability.
I had the "sport" model, with lowered harder suspension and sports seats - more supportive and with a "sporty" check design on the material.
I found the suspension ok as this kept the body roll under control when cornering hard but my wife found that it was very crashy and it made her feel unwell.
Within a couple of weeks of having the car, the horn would go off on its own as I was driving - attracting a lot of attention from other drivers. this was quickly fixed by my local dealer.
Unfortunately the car had an intermittent problem which caused it to lose power when starting off from a standstill - while it happened infrequently, it was very dangerous pulling out from a junction unless there was nothing coming as you didn't know whether it would go or not. I took the car into the dealer several times but they were unable to fix the problem (the computer always said there was nothing wrong) - this spoilt my enjoyment of this car and I got rid of it as soon as I was able. I have since learnt that this problem is not unknown on this particular engine (common across all VW group cars).
We replaced a (very) old oven with this double oven from Bosch.
We were initially concerned that the measurements suggested that it may not fit the cupboard space but it seems all manufacturers measure slightly differently but they all seem to fit into the standard cupboards.
The oven also has a clock with a timer.
The top section can be used either as a conventional (non fan assisted) oven or as a grill and inludes one shelf as well as the grill pan. While we use the grill regularly, we have only used the oven on occasion when entertaining - the lower section is almost always large enough. When we have used the upper oven as an oven, we have found that it takes an age to reach the required temperature.
The larger lower section is a fan assisted oven. We generally use this with two shelves but sometimes use three when necessary. This oven heats up very quickly.
Both sections are lit, meaning that you can see what's cooking without having to open the door and let the heat out.
The doors do not get hot on the outside, and the oven doesn't radiate too much heat, so it's no trouble to be stood next to it in the kitchen.
One slightly strange thing is that the oven makes quite a bit of noise once it's switched off - there must be a small fan somewhere blowing the hot air out.
We always buy Bosch products as they seem to be the best balance of quality at an affordable price - we got ours online from Boots, so got points too.
The Concept 2 is a great piece of kit and virtually indestructible and requires very little ongoing maintenance - there's a good reason that they're used in pretty much any gym you visit as well as by athletes of all standards.
I am no athlete, but do appreciate the benefits of the rowing machine as a fitness machine - working all of the major muscle groups in one exercise makes it ideal for home use - while I can squeeze the rower into my utility room I don't have room for any other equipment. The exercise is mainly aerobic - no-one's going to do anything other than tone up, but it's good for losing a bit of weight or keeping it off.
It can be boring sitting on the rower going backwards and forwards for half an hour or more (music is a must for me), but Concept 2 have a useful website that lets you keep a log of your training - you can effectively compete against yourself by always trying to improve performance, or against others in online rankings. There is also a useful forum for tips and advice. Many indoor rowers join teams - again for motivation and there are regular competitions.
A key issue of using the rower is technique and there are a number of online videos demonstrating proper use - compare these to how people tend to row in the gym and it's completely different!
It is not a cheap bit of kit at over £1,000 but I purchased mine shortly after giving up a very poorly used gym membership for which I was paying £50 per month.
I figured that if I bought the rowing machine I might be more inclined to use it (having spent so much on it, plus as it's in the house, I haven't got to get ready for the gym and spend quarter of an hour each way travelling). I also considered the worst case, that if I didn't use it I could sell it on for £700+ as the second hand market for these machines is very buoyant.
As it turns out, the machine has more than paid for itself (based on the £50 I was paying every month to not go to the gym ), it is used regularly and it's still there to sell if at any time in the future I want to (not that I envisage this).
I would recommend the machine to anyone who has the funds and the space available to buy one, or to gym users who perhaps have never used one.
You would think it would be difficult to get excited about a hob; you could think that this was a crazy amount to pay for a hob - if so, you've obviously never used an induction hob. Ceramic hobs have been around for many years, but have previously used radiant heat (using a heated element beneath the surface) meaning the surface gets very hot, heating the saucepan in turn. Induction uses magnetism to vibrate the base of the saucepan (we had to buy new pans with magnetic bases, which was an unforeseen expense and meant we were unable to use the hob for a few days). The advantage of this is that the surface of the hob only ever gets as hot as the saucepan which in turn means that any spillages don't get burnt on as the hob is only ever at boiling point rather than burning! The system is much quicker to boil water in a pan even than gas and the controls offer enough variation to allow you to choose how high you want the water boiling up the side of the pan if you want! A disadvantage with the controls is that they use touch - if hands are wet, a wet fingerprint can go on acting turning the controls up or down! Similarly, when the hob is cleaned, if the cloth hasn't been sufficiently wrung out, water residue can confuse the controls and inadvertently set the child lock. Once you are aware of these issues, they are easily avoided, leaving you free to enjoy the benefits of induction cooking.
An emergency purchase when our old 28" Philips television - one of the earliest widescreen CRT televisions - blew up after eight years faithful service. My wife is not interested in electronics, other than appearance and did not want an enormous new television. Given the size of our sitting room, we decided that a 37" screen would be sufficient as neither of us wanted the television to dominate the room. I decided on a plasma screen rather than LCD as I prefer the colours and refresh rates. Having read a number of reviews, the Panasonic Viera seemed to offer good quality without paying super-premium prices - and we have been very happy with our purchase. It sits smartly on the table top stand on our gloss walnut unit - the silver panel at the bottom provides a break between the dark brown of the unit and the black of the screen stopping any clash in appearance. The picture has impressed us and visitors have also commented favourably - always pleasing. The television also has a relatively good sound setup with stereo sounds being clear - no need to run sound through a separate amp and speaker system most of the time (I tend to save this for blockbuster films).
When my wife wanted a Sebo vacuum cleaner I wasn't impressed - it's not much to look at - if I was going to spend that much on a vacuum cleaner, I'd want a Dyson - and the cost is immense. Fortunately we were getting married so it was put on the wedding gift list with John Lewis, so I assumed that we would be happily continuing to use my Hoover for years to come. Amazingly, someone bought it for us. On return from honeymoon we received our delivery and I de-boxed the cleaner and put it together - a very straightforward process. The Sebo is simple to operate - like most cleaners - and has the usual attachments. I can't see that the Sebo is any more effective than my old Hoover (now relegated to the garage for car cleaning duties) and as that had lasted me ten years or more I am doubtful that the Sebo will be any longer lived. In its favour, the brushes go up and down automatically depending on the surface and there is an indicator for when the bag is full - although it was a shocker when I had to buy some bags and filters - the cleaner was expensive and the bags equally so. I believe that it is a good cleaner and is good for people with allergies etc but for most people (us included) it is an expensinve indulgence.
I recently bought an Alfa Romeo 159 which I took into the dealer today to get a few issues sorted out; I was provided with a Brera as a loan car. The Brera is one of the best looking cars on the road so I was thrilled when it was pointed out - in dark grey with the dark alloys it looked the business. Then I started it up - unfortunately it was a diesel and initially the rattle (even on a warmish day with the windows closed) was very intrusive. After a few minutes, once the engine had warmed up, the rattle subsided but the engine remained boomy towards the higher end of the revs, although this was also accompanied by a good shove from what is obviously a good engine. The car I was provided with had a panoramic glass roof, which did not open - fortunately there was an electric cover which I used. While I have always admired the Brera from the outside, I found the driving position felt too high - possibly because the side glass is deeper than on my 159, and there was not much headroom - this may be due to the glass roof and I am 6'4" so there aren't many cars in which this isn't an issue. As noted by the previous reviewer, there were no parking sensors - not sure whether these are an option or not. In summary, personally the Brera would be too cramped for me (even if I was able to live with a 2 door car) but would suit anyone under 6'. I wouldn't choose a diesel - although the engine was powerful the noise would put me off - although I appreciate for some people who do higher mileages the economy is worth paying more for (although I do wonder how many people pay a premium for diesel and this enhanced economy who drive so few miles that they don't take advantage of the benefit).
I've had my Samsung NC10 for just over a year now, having treated myself to a present as my wife had ruled out a laptop for the main household PC (as she claims she can't type on a laptop keyboard). Guess who now uses it more than half the time? Around the house and even in the garden it's great to be able to have a small and very portable PC that boots up very quickly - I have managed to avoid putting on too much processor hungry software - to look at items on the internet and check email. It's also so portable that it can be easily taken away on holiday and we've done this - for those of us who run our own businesses and can't afford to be out of contact these days when customers expect an immediate response and may go elsewhere if they don't get it - it's a godsend - so much easier to check and respond to emails rather than relying on an iPhone or Blackberry. I went for the white NC10 as it was to my eye more pleasing - still happy with the choice - it's not got dirty or yellowed.
I picked up a pair of these floor standing speakers a while ago from Richer Sounds - always a good bet for top value hi-fi kit - and they're now "run in". I was under pressure from my wife to find something that wasn't a plain black box and the fairly slim cherry casing was deemed suitable. The speaker casings are tall and slim but surprisingly deep - pictures don't do the depth justice. There are two woofers and one tweeter. Although the woofers aren't very large, the case obviously does a good job in producing sufficient bass; on the plus side, the relatively small size allows for good sound reproduction. The speakers can be bi-wired - if your amplifier allows - which improves the audio performance by splitting the signal for low and higher range, although wiring them up is a performance and the speaker cable doesn't come cheap, starting at £3 a metre. When setting up, the manual recommends wiring out of phase and run for 36 hours facing each other - this was a step too far for me but it does seem to have taken a while for the drivers to loosen up, so someone with more time and patience may find this technique useful. The sound is great - I previously had a pair of huge black Jamo speakers on wheels which were great for pumping out bass at parties but which murdered the sound quality; these are still capable of a respectable amount of bass (no sub required in my opinion) but I hear sounds I never did previously. One negative, which will be common to most floor standers - the speakers stand on points which dig into the carpet - fine until someone who doesn't know tries to move them and drags them across the carpet.
We have just replaced our first 207 with another one - a supreme vote of confidence - and we will be upgrading from the basic sepcification (S) to Sport. The first car had the old 1.4 16v engine with 90 bhp. I don't drive this car very often, but my initial fear that it was going to feel like a small car was quickly banished. Although I am 6'4", I had no trouble getting comfortable and had a good view of the road ahead - although on journeys of more than 30 minutes I would use my own car in preference. Because of the slope on the windscreen, which stretches out in front of you at a shallow angle, it doesn't feel small - even though I am used to a larger car for day to day use. One negative is the large pillar at the side of the windscreen that intrudes on vision. I found the old 1.4 engine very slow and the gear change was imprecise. What a difference the new engine (I believe sourced from BMW) makes - it is a lot more eager than the old engine even though it is only marginally more powerful - the gear change is also much improved. The interior is much the same, save that the centre console looks a lot tidier (possibly because it has less blanks than the old car). The old car was very economical - we got 32mpg using it only in town - hoping we might see a slight improvement in the new model.