ALFA NEW CARS, NEW ENGINEERING AND A NEWFOUND CONFIDENCE; SAME GLORIOUS HERITAGE, STYLE AND PERFORMANCE - BRACE YOURSELF FOR ALFA ROMEO'S IRRESISTIBLE RISE
GIULIA QUADRIFOGLIO POWER WITH AN ELECTRIC BOOST - MEET ALFA'S ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE SUPERCAR
DARE TO DREAM. If you could bring any iconic Alfa Romeo back from the dead and update it for the 2020s, which one would it be? Its century-plus of heritage suggests plenty of tempting possibilities, all of them with great names - Disco Volante, Sportiva, Montreal, Tipo 33, Zagato SZ/RZ, GTA...
When they’ve worked, they’ve fused sizzling must-have design, state-of-the-art engineering and awesome perfor mance. Which is exactly what Alfa gave us with the 8C of the last decade and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, the current mid-engined 4C.
While the 4C is a somewhat compromised and underpow ered head-turner positioned in a segment where making money is next to impossible, the limited-edition 8C had all the right ingredients. The coupe announced in 2003 and the Spider introduced five years later sold out within weeks. In total, only 1000 8Cs were built between 2007 and 2010 - not through lack of demand, but because Alfa wanted to keep the 8C as a premium, halo product.
And now, boss Sergio Marchionne has confirmed, the 8C is coming back - maybe as early as 2021. The overall concept is very much the same - a stylish but entirely driver-focused coupe and convertible - but all the details will be different. The engine loses two cylinders, and it will be mid- rather than front-mounted, with some element of electrification.
While the carbonfibre monocoque will need to be devel oped from scratch, the 2891.cc twin-turbo V6 is an evolution of the Quadrifoglio engine conceived with a little help from Ferrari. Good for just over soobhp in the hottest Giulia and Stelvio, the version of the twin-turbo V6 earmarked for the 8C should peak closer to 6oobhp. Add to this a isokW (about 200bhp) electric front-axle module shared with the upcoming Maserati Alfieri, and we’re talking 8oobhp-plus and around 66olb ft of torque.
In addition, this configuration throws in all-wheel drive and torque vectoring for good measure, which should com bine to allow some very rapid and agile cornering.
Although the battery, electric motor and two additional driveshafts will push the kerb weight in the wrong direction, Alfa is claiming a very brisk o-62mph acceleration time of under three seconds - that’s at least a second quicker than the current range-topping (rear-wheel drive) Giulia Quadrifoglio. Like the current 4C, for which a manual transmission isn’t available, the new 8C is tipped to borrow the seven- or eight- speed twin-clutch paddleshift auto from the successor to the Ferrari 488.
The production of the 8C’s carbonfibre shell will almost certainly be farmed out to a specialist supplier like Dallara or Carbotech, while the engines are to be built in Maranello. Final assembly will most likely be at the same Modenese in- house facility that currently puts together the 4C.
What will it cost? While limited-edition Ferraris and Porsches command astonishingly high prices in this small and exclusive enthusiast market (£i.6m LaFerrari Aperta, anyone?) Alfa’s collector-car track record is patchy. Despite the massive power and torque advantage the 8C is bound to have over many other high-end sports cars, don’t expect prices to stretch much beyond £250,000 for an estimated run of 1000 units. That may sound like a lot for an Alfa, but this is going to be rare, exquisitely engineered, extremely rapid and everyday-usable.
As soon as all the coupes are out of the door, the Italians intend to switch production to an 8C Spider which should be even rarer as well as more expensive (the approach Ferrari took with the aforementioned LaFerrari).
What about a more extreme 8C-derived supercar? It’s a possibility. Like Ferrari and Maserati with the Enzo/MCi2 twins, there could be a joint Alfa/Maserati project that could eke even more out of the powertrain and exploit further the potential of the carbonfibre monocoque, our sources say. And let’s hope that’s a car to add to the list of all-time greats -not the list of nice ideas that never quite made production.
Alfa is in no hurry to go fully electric. If anyone in the FCA family is about to embrace battery-electric power for some - not all - of its range, that's likely to be the double whammy of Maserati and Fiat. Under the Maserati Blue label there could be electric versions of the next Quattroporte and Levante, and the new Alfieri coupe and convertible (the cars replacing the GranTurismo and GranCabrio). Fiat, meanwhile, is believed to be working on new 500 and Panda line-ups that will include battery versions.
Alfa, however, will not be going full electric in the mid-term because the R&D team would rather wait for the smaller, lighter solid-state batteries they expect to be available by 2025, enabling them to avoid compromising the dynamics of the cars they're currently working on. The Giorgio platform that forms the basis of the new GTV was designed to be versatile enough to handle various petrol, diesel and hybrid set-ups, but not pure electric. And what of ' connectivity and autonomous capability? Alfa is happy to be a'fast follower'-not innovating, but ready to leap when the demand is there
THE BOSS IS THINKING BIG
THE GRAND VISION, AND WHY ALFA WILL LEAD THE OFFENSIVE
SERGIO MARCHIONNE has always been quick to set out his ambitions, but the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles boss typi cally takes his time about achieving them - if, indeed, he ever gets there. Remember his vision of building several hundred thousand Alfas per year by 2016, of quadrupling Maserati sales in the same timeframe, and bringing the ailing Fiat brand back on track for good? It didn't happen.
Each glorious rose-coloured scenario was backed by im pressive forecasts and enticing silhouettes of future hardware hidden beneath red covers. The investors must have liked the spiel, because FCA is now debt-free. Punters, dealers and brand aficionados were first confused and then disappointed by the many product-related no-shows, all the great-sounding cars that quietly slipped off the grid.
But this time is different. Marchionne’s vision is very clear and sharply focused. Ambitious, too - at least for his four cur rently favoured FCA brands: Alfa, Ram, Maserati and Jeep. They’re the global success stories, between them accounting for 80 per cent of earnings.
For Alfa, Marchionne is not interested in anything that’s not a sports car or an SUV (or indeed both). The Giulietta hatchback is due to undergo a major facelift in 2020 before the end of its life cycle in 2022. If there is a replacement it will use the Giorgio rear-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive platform used in the Giulia saloon and Stelvio SUV. While the current Giuli etta is a low-volume, Europe-only effort, a replacement would be a world car with stretched versions for China and a couple of QV derivatives for the Alfisti, and maybe a softop too.
Massive growth defines the outlook for 2022. Alfa wants to push its volume to 400,000 cars a year, up from an estimated 170,000 sales in 2018. At the same time, Marchionne is look ing for a 10 percent profit margin, which would be way ahead of the current industry average. Whether these predictions come true depends on the impact of the new SUVs and on the halo effect the new sports cars have on both brands, on the rising demand foreseen for premium products, and on reducing costs by sharing more with Dodge and Jeep.
ALFA'S RETURN HELPS SECURE THE FUTURE OF FERRARI IN F1, GIVING THE SCUDERIA AN EXTRA VOICE
DON'T GET TOO carried away with Alfa’s return to Formula 1. It’s nothing mpre than a branding exercise; a bit of cash for the Saubej: coffers in exchange for advertising space on the C37’s engine cover. There’s no tech transfer - no flat-ns or fan cars - but F1has long since given up on noise and innovation. But worry not. There are still a couple of reasons to celebrate Alfa’s return to the top echelon. First, it helps to ensure the future of Ferrari in F1. Sauber’s vote on the F1Commission will now echo that of Ferrari, providing the Scuderia with an extra voice as the sport’s future gets discussed in the corridors of power.
Second, the deal has led to the debut of Charles Leclerc. A product of the Ferrari Driver Academy, the 20-year-old Mon- egasque is one of the most exciting drivers to arrive in F1for a decade. Probably since Lewis Hamilton. ‘It’s really great to see a talented kid come through,’ says Hamilton. ‘Charles has really earned his way and he has the talent to do great things.’
Leclerc ripped through the junior formulas en route to F1. He dominated GP3 and then became the youngest-ever Formula 2 champion last season. Since graduating to F1he’s stacked up well against Sauber team-mate Marcus Ericsson, out-qualifying him by an average of o.ssec per race. What does the future hold? Almost certainly Leclerc will end up at Ferrari; the only question is when. Many people within the Scuderia want to see him replace Kimi Raikkonen in 2019, while others suggest he won’t be ready to shoulder the pressure of a nation. In truth the bulk of that pressure will be on Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari should hire Leclerc as soon as possible. Meanwhile, he gets to impress in a car wearing a badge even older than Ferrari’s.
THERE'S A NEW GTV, ALFA'S M4
BRACE YOURSELF. This could get confusing. But trust us, all will become clear, and puzzled frowns will be replaced by relieved smiles at the news that Alfa is bringing back the GTV, a name last used on the front-engined, front-wheel- drive coupe of the mid ’90s/mid 2000s. That wedge-shaped ancestor was a striking looking but ultimately cultish oddity. But this time around the badge is being applied to the elegant rear end of a coupe that has the BMW M4 and ranks of other saloon-derived German coupes in its sights.
The product strategy is confusing on two fronts. One is the potential overlap with the new 8C. Sure, we’re talking front- rather than mid-engined, and perhaps 600 rather than 8oobhp. Nonetheless it’s a powerful, desirable Alfa coupe, and like the 8C it will have a convertible sibling.
The second potential puzzle is the GTV’s likely proximity to the next wave of Maseratis. Why bring Alfa so close to another storied Italian brand, when FCA knows full well the importance of keeping its different divisions distinct? Here’s what we know about FCA’s thinking. The overlap with the new 8C is largely superficial and, in any case, tempo rary. The carbonfibre 8C is a limited-edition premium model, whereas the GTV is going to be a mass-produced mainstream performance car built on an update of the Giorgio platform al ready put to good effect in the Giulia and Stelvio. The 8C and GTV will have only minimal time sharing showroom space, and when the 8C goes away, the GTV will be glamorous and powerful enough to naturally assume the role of flagship.
The new coupe (which, like the 8C, could be with us in 2021) is front-engined, either rear- or all-wheel drive, and should seat four in style. The Spider version is likely to follow within 18 months of the coupe. Expect both coupe and con vertible to be offered with a variety of power outputs, ready to compete with a wide range of German coupes beyond just the M4. The whole 4-series and 8-series BMW range will be in Alfa’s sights, along with the C- and E-Class two-doors from Mercedes and the Audi A5/S5/RS5 and A7.
The most powerful GTV is expected to be a plug-in hybrid. Its version of the now familiar 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 will make around 46obhp, but it will work in unison with an elec tric motor sited between the engine and transmission, which takes the total output to around 53obhp, with the potential for short bursts of 6oobhp output.
Our souces tell us that the GTV’s front wheels will be driv en mechanically, using the Q4 system, rather than directly by the electric motor. The aim is an electric-only driving range of 30 miles.
Versions of the GTV with less than 300bhp will most likely be rear-wheel-drive only. Expect higher-end versions to be available with modish chassis specification including rear- wheel steering, active anti-roll bars, an electronic differential and air suspension.
What about the scope for Alfa and Maserati blurring into one? That’s going to be a trickier challenge for FCA to manage, because under the skin there will need to be a good amount of shared componentry - that’s how these cars will be profitable. So the onus is on the interior and exterior designers to ensure the products look and feel significantly different, way beyond simply having different badges on their iconicsnouts.
The Maserati line-up of the 2020s is expected to feature refreshed versions of the Levante SUV and the Ghibli and Quattroporte saloons, plus coupe and cabrio replacements for the GranTurismo and GranCabrio, both styled along the lines of the much-admired Alfieri concept. The production Alfieri will use the same Giorgio platform as the GTV, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same size; it’s a flexible set of underpinnings. Maserati is also expected to put major emphasis on battery and hybrid versions, whereas that’s not central to new-era Alfa’s DNA.