Continuing the traditions of the much-loved Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint, Giulia and GT Junior models is a new variation on the Alfasud theme, the Sprint, an attractive coupe which will not be available in this country until early next year, although it went on sale in Europe last month.
Apart from the styling changes the major feature of the new model for UK customers is that it is powered by the 1,300 c.c. flat-four Alfa Romeo engine. Previously all Alfasuds for the British market only had the 1,200 c.c. engine, a unit which produces a respectable 68 b.h.p. DIN in Ti form but has not exactly gained a good reputation for its flexibility.
The 1,298-c.c. engine—the increase is achieved by lengthening the stroke to 64 mm. from 59 mm. whilst bore remains unchanged at 80 mm.—as one might expect has a slight increase in horsepower, from 68 b.h.p. DIN (Ti) to 76 b.h.p. DIN, but torque is the more significant improvement. The 1,300 c.c. Alfasud engine has 75 lb. ft. at 3,500 r.p.m. (DIN) compared with 67 lb. ft. at 3,200 r.p.m. for the 1200 Ti, again not a vast improvement but one which is quite evident when behind the wheel, the Sprint requiring not so much gear changing as its saloon cousins. But one must add that the acceleration is not impressive unless you are prepared to use the fivespeed gearbox to its full.
The gearbox and final drive ratio are exactly the same as in the Ti, the Sprint sharing much the same technical specification with four disc dual braking system, MacPherson strut front suspension and a rigid (dead) rear axle featuring Watts linkage, Panhard rod, coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers. Obviously all the work has gone into the new shape, the outcome being somewhat similar to a cross between a scaled-down Alfetta GT and a Volkswagen Scirocco, a combination which isn’t all that displeasing. But as is often said: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
Compared with the dumpy Alfasud saloons, the Sprint is four inches longer and five inches lower, being easily recognisable as an Alfa Romeo with its familiar grille insignia and the famed four-leaf clover badge on the rear three quarter panels, each leaf doubling-up as an extractor vent for the heating system. The only blemish is a front spoiler which looks to be very much an afterthought, the plastic device roughly bolted onto the bodywork. In common with most GT-style cars, the Sprint does lose on rear seat accommodation, but it should be added that the amount of head and leg room is better than most, although Alfa Romeo’s claim that the new Sud is a full fiveseater is somewhat wide of the mark. A nice touch for rear passengers is wind-down rear windows, unusual indeed on a 2+ 2.
But despite its shape, the Sprint does not lack in boot capacity, storage space being extremely generous and the contents hidden by a neat folding cover complete with Velcro strips to hold it in position. Access to the luggage compartment is via a wide-opening rear door held in place by compression struts. The high body line does however mean that suitcases have to be lifted well off the ground. The boot is, of course, fully carpeted, as is the passenger compartment, and the general appearance is sumptuous, although personally we did not like the rather garish tartan cloth centre sections to the seats. The front bucket seats are themselves quite comfortable, and thanks to wide-opening doors access to the rear is good.
As one would expect from Alfa Romeo the instrumentation on the new Sprint is adequate, large matching speedometer and tachometer dominating the driving cockpit. It is however disappointing to see that the array of instruments featured on the Ti model had been replaced by a variety of idiot lights. Visibility is good from the driver’s seat thanks to a large glass area and thin door pillars, but in common with other GT-style cars the Sprint does have a blind spot at the rear three-quarter. A standard door-mounted exterior mirror does help to overcome this somewhat.
Driving the Sprint one is immediately impressed by the very low wind and road noise level, ample support to Alfa Romeo’s claim that they have used 34 kilogrammes of sound-deading materials in the bodywork. But that familiar Alfasud gearbox buzz is still evident (but the engine remains smooth under most conditions from motorway to mountain use) and also when reaching maximum revs (6,500) the engine intrudes. It is in fact very easy to find oneself running out of revolutions even in 5th gear, the 1,300 c.c. engine is a very willing worker, and one has little doubt that the claimed 103 m.p.h. top speed is not far off the mark. The fivespeed gearbox ratios are well matched to the power curve—although as mentioned previously one has to make full use of the gears in order to get the best out of the engine but on our brief acquaintance it did seem that second was a little too low.
With a track and wheelbase the same as the saloon and near-perfect weight distribution (53% front, 47% rear) the front-wheel-drive Sprint has safe, sure handling. There is very little bodyroll when driving hard, and the handling is neutral in most circumstances with understeer coming in when attacking bends with fervour. It did seem that the steering was too low-geared for fast driving on winding roads, and on a winding Italian mountain pass we did find ourselves inadvertently on the wrong lock once or twice. Standard equipment on the Alfasud Sprint are 5 in. steel wheels, complete with 165/70 SRI3 Michelin ZX tyres in our case, and rather attractive alloy sports wheels are optional.
Our brief test drive did not really give us the opportunity to extend the four-wheel disc brake system to its full, but the retardation was quite adequate, a slight trace of pad fade is evident when abusing the system unmercifully.
The Alfasud range was first unveiled in 1972 and since then the four models (basic, Lux, Ti and Estate) have reached sales of more than 330,000 in the world market. With the introduction of the Sprint, Alfa Romeo are taking something of a calculated gamble that the buying public has overcome the traumas of the fuel crisis and is ready again for a small capacity elegant sporting coupe. By all accounts the Sprint is as miserly with fuel as the Ti, so its appeal will be much more than pure good looks. It’s a calculated risk which should pay dividends and further enhance the reputation of the Alfasud range.—M.R.G.