This article has been a long time coming. As a petrolhead and budding Alfist, Alfa Romeo has tested my patience, and the patience of many Alfa Romeo fans, on several occasions. Endless rumours, promises and failed attempts at taking on the Germans, have made us weary.
Like a jealous lover, Alfa Romeo more than tests your patience with its insecurities. We have had Alfas that have failed to live up to their heritage, promises left unfulfilled and endless delays. Back when the 159 was removed off the market, we were promised by Alfa that a replacement, the rather beautifully named Giulia, would be in showrooms by 2012. The world rejoiced! A new car which harks back to a name from the 60s, a car that was legendary in its status!
Sure enough 2012 arrived, but the Giulia didn’t. We were then promised that definitely, by 2014, we would get to see the Giulia, along with a new Spider that will be based on the next generation Mazda MX-5. Once again the world was excited. A Mazda MX-5 with Alfa Romeo engines and design? Sign me up!
So here we are, in 2015, and what exactly have we got? None of the above. The showrooms are awash with Giulietta and MiTo hatchbacks, which lets be honest, are rather long in the tooth, especially now. In the last year or so we did get the rather lovely 4C sportscar, which provided a glimmer of hope for the Duchess of Milan. While it is a beautiful looking car, with promising sportscar credentials, it is not the car the world waiting for. So what happened?
It is no secret that Alfa has been going through a huge crisis. Last year they sold 74,000 cars worldwide. They were planning to sell close to 300,000 by this year. What makes matters worse is, the more time has passed the more Alfa’s rivals have taken the lead, leaving the Milanese brand very much behind.
Plans were revealed in May 2014, which promised a monumental shake up in the entire company structure, taking it back to the glory days of sports saloons and iconic design. Having read the presentation,it is a truly astonishing plan. Fiat want to pump 5 billion Euros into Alfa for the development of new models over the next 5 years. They proposed the concept of a “skunkworks” project, where Alfa will no longer be based on bits from other cars in the Fiat group. The brand will have a secluded area to work on new projects, away from the pressure of the Fiat accountants. They have even got a test track to help with the development of these new cars. This place is so secluded that not even the entire Fiat board of directors know where all this work is happening, just to give the team as little distractions as possible. It only recently transpired that these “skunkworks” are taking place in a factory belonging to Maserati, on the edge of Modena.
The plan itself claims that by 2018, Alfa will have launched two SUVs, a D-Segment car, a variation of that D-Segment vehicle, an E-Segment flagship, a replacement for the Giulietta, a Spider and a front-engined two-seat coupe to take on the F-Type. Most of these new models, as far as we know, will be based on the new rear-drive “Giorgio” platform with the option of all-wheel drive. Engines will be predominantly made up of four and six-cylinder motors, with outputs of between 180 and 500 bhp.
This sounds all fantastic, if it were not for one small thing. At this stage, all this talk of rear wheel drive, skunkworks, powerful, small-capacity engines are all nothing but rumours and an intricate game of marketing. It is the stuff petrolheads want to hear. However, this is not the first time we have heard fantastical rumours coming from Alfa Romeo. About ten years ago, we were promised a 166 GTA Q4. This was meant to be powered by a 4.2 litre V8, kicking out 390 bhp to all four wheels. It was meant to be Alfa’s flagship to take on the M5. It was canned.
Then there was the 159 GTA. Another brute to take on the Germans, this time with a turbocharged V6. This also did not see the light of day. More recently, there was the MiTo GTA, a 237 bhp hot hatch to give the Mini Cooper S a bloody nose. Guess what? We never got that either.
What I am trying to say is that, while Alfa tells us what we want to hear, rarely does it actually deliver. Right now, more than ever, Alfa needs to make their new cars competitive. It is do or die right now. Everything is against them. Their competitors have never been stronger. Not only does it have the German trinity to deal with, its also got Jaguar, Volvo, Lexus and Infiniti dipping their toes into the executive pool. Somehow Alfa must rise above their competition, rise above BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar, Lexus and Infiniti, and make cars to prove to the world that they are not just remarketed Fiats. They must show the world that Alfa has a heritage, a heritage stronger than the rest.
Judgement day is coming. On the 24th of June, Alfa will unveil a new car, the much rumoured Giulia, to the world. Right now, we know little to nothing about it, even its name is an uncertainty. What we do know, is that it carries not only the burden of its forefather’s history, but also the burden of all the promises of its designers.Come June 24th 2015 we will see if Alfa still has a place in this world.