Road Impressions - Alfa Romeo Arna SL

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Bill Boddy

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This smallest of the current Alfa Romeo models, the Arna, was a panic measure to get sales rejuvenated after the cessation of the popular Alfasud. Very roughly, it can be said that the front half is mostly Alfa, the rear half Nissan. Like the ‘Sud the Arna has a flat-four engine, of 80 x 67.2 mm (1,351 cc) in the SL model tested, driving the front wheels. The floor-pan, with engine mounted north / south, is Alfa, as are the Alfa 33 front suspension and disc brakes. Rear suspension, drum brakes, and much of the trim is Nissan, and the Cherry body panels are sent to Naples for assembly. It all goes together well, the doors shutting with an expensive sound and Alfa badges on the screen and all side windows reminding us of the Alfa content. Yet, remembering the fun ‘Suds gave, I think it will be better to forget the supposed connection and regard the newcomer as a Nissan-Romeo, or a Japanese-Alfa Romeo. . . .

There is no particular shame in this these days, as the biggest corporations do it, except that Alfa Romeo is a sporting name, that should go unsullied. In fact, the Arna is quite an acceptable little car in the context of a practical five-door hatchback, without pretending to any character. The bigger engine (a 1.2-litre is also offered) gives 71 bhp at 5,800 rpm, as a plate on the car’s boot rather needlessly proclaims. It needs rowing along to get reasonably brisk performance (like 0-60 mph in 13 sec) but as the 5-speed gearbox works well, this is no great hardship. Fifth gear is less of a “town-ratio” than is usual today and produces the rather sorry maximum for an Alfa of just less than 100 mph, which in fact can be fractionally exceeded in fourth speed.

Controls and instruments are well contrived (no tachometer) arid the brakes are good, but the test-car had about the vaguest steering around the straight-ahead position I had experienced for a long time, spoiling road-holding precision, the ride was on the lively side, the back suspension (beam axle, coil springs) seeming too hard, and the driver’s seat offered not a lot of support and on long runs the cushion felt hard. There are compensations, however. Minor detail work is well carried out, you get the driver’s lever for opening the Hatchback, and Japanese diagrammtic heater symbols, plenty of stowage space after folding the back seat (but more oddments stowages would be appreciated, no door-pockets, for instance) and the steering, with a small sporting wheel (3.6 turns, lock-to-lock), is light, once on the move. The fuel economy is a strong point, too. I got 37 mpg on the home rim, in heavy traffic on that ghastly A40/M40 route out of London, then cruising fast on the Motorway’, and over country roads, and the overall 4-star figure was 34.9 mpg.

The test car was on 13 in Firestone S-211 tyres, and while handling had none of the supple-sprung road-clinging of a ‘Sud (but we should try to forget that connection) it was adequate, except for the vagueness of the steering, which I have an idea may have been peculiar to this car. I liked the appearance, the finish (in dark brown) looked of high quality, and clearly the Ti version of the Arna will offer more urge. The engine is satisfactorily quiet at normal revs, the usual water temperature is 195 deg F, and internally-adjustable external dual mirrors, adjustable steering column, and Philips radio (no stereo) were fitted. Even in hot weather the manual choke, hidden under the steering column, is needed. The quartz clock packed up.

Alfa Romeo obviously hopes that if the price is right, as it is, at £4,620 basic, the Arna will sell — delivered, as tested, it comes to £5,000. It could be an appropriate second car for an Alfa Romeo-keen family. – W.B.

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