Critical launch for Alfa
Firm’s future could hinge on success of new Giulia | By Andrew Frankel
Alfa Romeo has unveiled its all-new Giulia saloon, a car critical not only to its own survival but that of the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) Group to which it belongs.
If the plan succeeds, it will spearhead a Lazarus-like turnaround for the Milanese marque, with sales predicted to increase sixfold by 2018. If it does not work, it remains to be seen how long the debt-laden FCA will be prepared – or even able – to pump money into a brand that, despite the warm feelings it conjures, has for years failed to deliver on the promise of its badge. And anyone doubting the fact that a marque as old and proud as Alfa Romeo could disappear need only look to the similarly FCA-owned Lancia, which is being wound down into what currently appears to be a terminal condition.
So don’t doubt the importance of this car: it won’t get the job done on its own but, with the seven other cars that will be spun off the same platform, Alfa’s future course is now set.
The good news is that all the right ingredients appear to be in place.
The car is distinctive, striking even, and destined to stand out among Audi A4s, BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-classes.
It remains to be seen whether launching it in its rivals’ back garden, at the vast Frankfurt show in September, is a display of great confidence or gross recklessness, but it will communicate Alfa’s desire to once more be considered as an alternative.
Mechanically the car sits on a platform Alfa insists is entirely new, despite offstage mutterings about it sharing elements with the Maserati Ghibli. It has the longest wheelbase in the class and, crucially for many, is essentially a rear-drive architecture, albeit configurable for four-wheel drive. Alfa promises it has class-leading torsional rigidity and, in the case of the range-topping Quadrifoglio Verde (of which more in a minute), the best power-to-weight ratio in the category.
Suspension comes from double wishbones at the front and a multi-link rear end, with electronic intervention only allowed to enhance the driving experience through such as torque vectoring. To keep weight down, carbon fibre is used for the roof, bonnet, seat frames and propeller shaft, while the suspension, wings and doors are made from aluminium. What is not yet clear is how many of these costly components will feature on all models and how many on the BMW M3, Mercedes C63 and Audi RS4-rivalling Quadrifoglio Verde.
As for engines, Alfa says there will be a full range but gives details only of the range-topping motor headed for the QV. This is a ‘Ferrari-inspired’ twin-turbo 3-litre V6 generating 503bhp. In a car apparently weighing no more than 1500kg, it is good enough for a 0-62mph time of 3.9sec. Name-checking Ferrari in that way suggests this new motor is closely related to the 3.9-litre V8 already seen in the new 488 GTB and lends considerable credence to the recent speculation about just such an engine being used to power a new Dino, as reported on these pages last month.
As for those other Alfas, we know the platform can be scaled up to produce a rival for the 5-series, E-class and A6 and down to replace the Giulietta. A coupé and convertible to recapture the magic of the GTV and Spider seem certainties, while at least the smaller of Alfa’s planned SUVs looks likely to use these underpinnings, too. The larger SUV will likely be a rebodied version of the Maserati Levante that sits on an adapted Jeep Grand Cherokee platform.
So what does this information tell us about the new Alfa Giulia? That Alfa has provided the raw materials necessary to build a world-beating car? I think we can say that. And if only that therefore guaranteed such a car would result…
But we could have said exactly the same about Alfa’s last all-new car, the carbon-fibre 4C, a car we now know left a chunk of its potential unrealised. The ingredients are crucial and it’s great to know Alfa appears to have them at its disposal, but it is what it then does with them that determines whether a car ends up as good, great or simply indifferent. Hopefully Alfa has learned its lesson and will do what is required to fulfil its promise: too much is riding on it for the plan to go wrong now.
Newey linked to Aston
Rumours are rife that Adrian Newey is hard at work creating a new ultra-high performance car with Aston Martin, a machine that’s bound to be seen as his answer to Gordon Murray’s McLaren F1 of more than 20 years ago. No details of the car exist but, like Murray, Newey will doubtless want to create a car of hitherto unimagined abilities for a street-legal machine.
The gossip comes on the back of news that Aston Martin’s name might appear on the airbox of Red Bull’s F1 cars as soon as next year. So the story goes, Red Bull will gain Aston-badged Mercedes engines that will help Mercedes with its plan to defray development costs and provide Aston with hitherto unimagined global visibility. The benefit for the currently Renault-powered Red Bull probably does not need spelling out.
On the other hand, it remains to be seen what view Mercedes has about providing engines to arguably its most formidable foe or, indeed, what Renault would think, given that its contract lasts until the end of 2016.
In the meantime, Aston Martin has revealed the new DB9 GT, the car designed to facilitate an orderly run-out for the venerable DB9 before a new Mercedes-powered DB Grand Tourer, possibly named DB11, is unveiled next year. The main change to the standard specification DB9 is a rise in power for the 5.9-litre V12 from 517 to 547bhp, enough to lop a tenth from the 0-62mph time (now 4.5sec). Top speed remains artificially limited to 183bhp to preserve its old-school six-speed automatic gearbox. Unlike the DB7 GT that performed the same role for its predecessor, there are no changes to the rest of the car’s mechanical make-up, though the latest touch-sensitive ‘infotainment’ system is installed.
The DB9 GT is priced at £140,000, a rise of £6500 over the cost of the standard DB9 coupé. A Volante version is also available.
Bugatti ups the ante
Bugatti has confirmed that it is working on a replacement for its finally defunct Veyron. It is likely to produce in the region of 1500bhp from a petrol-hybrid powertrain and Bugatti is keen to put its performance beyond that of many cars – most notably the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 and Ferrari LaFerrari – that in the real world have eclipsed the performance of the Veyron.
The new car, believed already to be running in prototype form, will likely make its first appearance in lightly disguised ‘concept’ form next year. Bugatti’s aim will be to retain the USP of the existing car, namely retaining the highest top speed in the world, if not the quickest lap time. As the Super Sport version of the Veyron has already been recorded at 268mph, it seems likely that the new car will push on towards the 300mph barrier. With at least 300bhp more than the 1200bhp Super Sport, a more slippery profile, smarter active aerodynamics and a reduced kerb weight, it should certainly have no problem reaching at least 280mph, a speed first reached on earth by Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird some 80 years ago.
Volvo’s sporting arm
Volvo has taken 100 per cent ownership of the Gothenburg-based Polestar tuning company, with a clear view to it performing the same role for the company as M, AMG and Quattro GmbH do for BMW, Mercedes and Audi respectively.
Polestar has already created hot versions of the current S60 and V60 with middling results, but in future will be able to develop its own line of high-performance Volvos from scratch. That said it will be limited in scope by Volvo’s current commitment not to build engines of greater than 2-litre capacity, or with more than four cylinders, so those hoping for the more imposing soundtrack of its German rivals might be disappointed.
Then again, with hybrid assistance Volvo already has a 395bhp version of the engine so, in power terms at least, there seems to be no reason why a Polestar Volvo can’t compete on a level with its established opposition.
* Morgan has unveiled its first electric vehicle, a battery-powered 3 Wheeler. It’s due to go on sale before the end of the year, priced at about £35,000. Power comes from a 101bhp electric motor providing a claimed range of 150 miles and a recharge time of just four hours. Overall weight is said to rise by just 25kg while performance is expected to be similar to that of the extant vee-twin petrol-powered 3 Wheeler.