2023 Alfa’s fightback

2023 Alfa’s fightback

A rebooted Duetto Spider is set to star in an electric line-up to reignite the passion


EXCLUSIVE: ALFA SPIDER! TONALE SUV! THE MEN AND MACHINES MAKING ALFA GREAT AGAIN

The next fiveyears ALFA ROMEO


Alfa Romeo will reboot the beloved Duetto Spider, at the culmination of a five-year mission to take the brand electric, unleash new SUVs and shake the industry with some major surprises.

The Stellantis group has ‘locked and funded’ a new model programme, in a bid to transform Alfa Romeo from everyone’s theoretical dream car into a fast-growing stable of irresistible premium products. The design team is flat out on six projects, and engineers are striving to embed Alfa’s high-performance, driver-centric ethos in the group’s platforms.


2023 Alfa’s fightback

A highlight of the new range will undoubtedly be the new Spider. It’s more than a decade since the last open-topped Alfa Romeo Spider ceased production, and that front-wheel-drive lump was a pale shadow of the ’60s original, made famous by Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.


DUETTO SPIDER: THE COMEBACK

‘At some point we will have to do a Spider, and a coupe,’ says Alfa Romeo head of design Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos. ‘This is an attainable dream, though [first] we have a lot of things to do.

‘The Spider fits Alfa Romeo’s image. It’s visceral and you get the Italian joy of life. Who doesn’t dream about going with a Duetto along the Lago di Garda? The freedom, the sun – it’s a dream that we try to inspire.’

While the original mounted four-cylinder engines in the nose, the new Spider will be a pure electric car. It’ll likely be spun off the STLA (pronounced Stella) Medium platform, due to come on stream in 2023. That offers up to 104kWh of battery capacity, and electric motors punching out up to 241bhp. But how many e-motors would the Spider deploy, and where would they be mounted?


2023 Alfa’s fightback

The original Duetto was rear-wheel drive, and the backbone of Alfa’s 2016 relaunch was the Giulia and base Stelvio’s rear-wheel-drive Giorgio architecture, because then Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne insisted it was the only layout that could match BMW. Will New Alfa’s flagship cars be rear-drive?

‘The question of rear-drive or all-wheel drive is on the table at the moment,’ Alfa CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato tells CAR. ‘Why not rear-wheel drive – if I have the performance! Obviously I love rear-wheel drive, but if I lose Alfa power or torque because I’m only rear-wheel drive then I prefer to be all-wheel drive.’

The STLA platforms are modular, so the electric drive modules can be mounted at the front or rear, or combined for all-wheel drive. Expect the base Spider to have rear-wheel drive – assuming STLA Medium is sufficiently lightweight to ensure it’s not underpowered – with performance versions powering both axles and gunning for 500bhp.

‘Don’t expect retro cars. Our cars are going to be full Alfa Romeo, they’re going to be daring’ ALEJANDRO ME SONE RO-ROMANOS

Given the space-efficiency of electric platforms, the new Spider is likely to have room for at least two occasional rear seats. But head of design Mesonero-Romanos will insist on strong proportions, including a long bonnet emulating history’s great combustion-engined GTs. The wheelbase will be stretched, overhangs pared back and the wheels big, but with an aerodynamic design to reduce drag. Expect a pronounced rear spoiler and diffuser to similarly finesse aerodynamics and boost range.

And the look? ‘Don’t expect retro cars. Our cars are going to be full Alfa Romeo, they’re going to be daring,’ he grins. His approach will be to try to capture the Duetto’s spirit, using minimal styling lines and trying to make a battery-powered car look light and nimble. Nonetheless occupants may sit a little higher because the powerpack will be mounted under the floor.

The Spider may be a new-wave convertible but one thing’s for sure: Alfa’s iconic Scudetto grille will be present. ‘We need it! One of the myths is that electric cars don’t need air intakes: we need to get the air through to cool the batteries,’ says Mesonero-Romanos.

But first there’s a business case to make. And given the industry has axed many convertibles and coupes as sales have plummeted, it won’t be easy. ‘Today, there’s not a single electric cabrio: it is hard,’ admits the head of design. ‘But we need to make people fall in love with cars again.’

And the Spaniard believes that as electrification eliminates tail-pipe emissions, public opinion might again favour cars that some currently consider unforgivably indulgent.


SMALL AND BIG SUVs

We might have to wait as late as 2027 for the new Duetto Spider. But there’ll be a wave of new Alfa Romeos before then; 2022 is the year of Tonale, and expect 2023 to be the year of a smaller crossover/SUV. The priority is to target booming market segments, in this case B-SUVs, to deliver the funding for future products.

CEO Imparato confirms that Alfa will use four Stellantis architectures, and directly namechecks the electric STLA Medium and Large. Preparation is also underway for Alfa to use STLA Small, but that won’t be in service until 2026. The fourth architecture is surely the Tonale’s platform, itself a seriously overhauled version of Jeep Compass/Renegade mechanicals, with the baby Jeep showing the potential to shrink the chassis to sire a baby Alfa.

While Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos arrived too late to influence the Tonale’s design, he is able to shape its little brother as it goes from design freeze to production. ‘It’s not a typical tall SUV; it’s very sporty in the proportions. It’s really cool, I like it very much. It’s definitely going to be an Alfa Romeo.’

Using the Jeep and Alfa platform will boost scale, including for the Tonale’s new 1.5-litre mild hybrids, and boost industrialisation options in Italy. The other option would be to use updated versions of Peugeot’s CMP or EMP2 platforms – the latter offers hybrid and full EV – but they lack Alfa DNA.

Alfa Romeo’s B-segment crossover, a rival for the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q2, is unlikely to be the only new Alfa SUV. CEO Imparato reveals that at the back end of 2021 Stellantis approved a new car aimed directly at the North American and Chinese markets. That suggests a large SUV in the space above the Stelvio: something around 4.9 metres long with five and seven-seat capability would rival the BMW X5. The alternative is a big saloon or 8-series Gran Coupe rival.

‘I’ve heard some [commentators say]: “Ah Jean-Philippe, stop SUVs!” Sorry, my friend. The problem is that the world is SUVs. And as I say, even an Alfista has a family!’ chuckles the boss.


THE FUTURE OF GIULIA

And what happens to the Giulia saloon and Stelvio SUV? Imparato says the two cars are growing their share of the D-segment combustion segment, and it’s possible Alfa Romeo will keep them in service with extensive makeovers, to bridge the gap until they can switch to STLA.

‘The successor of the Giulia will not come in 2024,’ states Imparato. ‘But as I’m in love with the shape of my Giulia, I can tell you that the Giulia will have a successor. You will see one day, it’s super, really gorgeous. And the Quadrifoglio version of the cars we will launch will have a very high level of performance.’

Imparato is tight-lipped on the model that will come in 2024, saying only it will be ‘hybrid and full BEV’. And the following year, Alfa Romeo’s step change begins. ‘In 2025, I will be disruptive and we launch a full EV super-performing car. And from then, the cars I launch are only electric.’ And what about halo cars to draw the world’s eyes to Alfa Romeo?

‘I absolutely have two dreams: 33 Stradale and Duetto,’ vows Jean-Philippe Imparato. ‘One day, [when] I’m able to say we are secure.’

Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos instantly namechecks the 33 Stradale too. In 1967, Alfa Romeo took the Tipo 33 racing car and invited ex-Bertone designer Franco Scaglione to reskin it. He clothed the mid-engined V8 in a curvaceous body with butterfly doors, creating one of the most beautiful supercars in history.

Could Alfa be planning a 21st century electric successor? The STLA platform can’t mirror the Stradale’s precise layout, as it doesn’t support stacking the batteries amidships as Lotus is doing with its electric sports cars. But with car nuts like Jean-Philippe Imparato and Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos in charge, and Alfa’s rich history of working with Italian coachbuilders, you’d back them to find a way.

‘Hopefully we get this dream or other dreams on board,’ says the head of design. ‘At some point, we might surprise you.’

What a prospect.

We’ve all been burned by Alfa Romeo comebacks before. But this time, backed by talent, dreams and an unshakeable determination to deliver, maybe – just maybe – the Alfa Romeo renaissance finally starts here.

‘I’m in love with the shape of my Giulia. I can tell you that the Giulia will have a successor’ JEAN-PHILIPP EIMPARATO

33 Stradale could inspire a performance Alfa EV. How an all-electric Giulia replacement could look. Electric cabrios currently a class of none. Alfa aims to change that.

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