The crucial new Alfa Romeo Giulia will reach the UK in September of next year, it has been confirmed. The car will spearhead Alfa's rebirth as a maker of lightweight, high-tech and sporty rear-wheel drive driver’s cars, and recently made its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show.
A rival to the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, the Giulia is the first of eight new Alfas planned to launch over the next three years as part of a €5 billion investment in the 105-year-old Alfa brand.
By the end of 2018, Alfa wants to be selling 400,000 cars a year, a six-fold increase on last year’s levels. A full relaunch in North America is part of this Alfa reboot, which Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) boss Sergio Marchionne said was only now possible due to FCA’s investment potential and global distribution network. Such a dramatic reboot, added Marchionne, was: “the only opportunity” for Alfa to prosper.
The Giulia was revealed at a special event at Alfa's refurbished Arese headquarters on the outskirts of Milan in range-topping Quadrifoglio Verde guise. A Ferrari-developed new aluminium biturbo 3.0-litre V6 engine with 503bhp powers this flagship model, something that instantly gives Alfa a full-blooded BMW M3 rival.
Alfa plans to sell the new models on their driving purity, character, charm, emotion and style under a new strapline ‘'la meccanica delle emozioni’, translating as ‘the mechanics of emotion'. Each will be built to meet a five-point criteria: innovative engines, 50/50 weight distribution, advanced technical solutions, best-in-class power-to-weight ratios, and distinctive Italian design.
Alfa boss Harald Wester says none of its rivals are able to make cars as striking, driver-focused and emotional as Alfa intends to due to its history and strength of the brand. Indeed, he went as far as to say at the Arese unveiling that premium cars today were “boring” and lacked soul. He was also recently quoted as saying German premium models, in particular, were “cold and clinical”.
There was also an admission that Alfa’s recent models have not “respected” the brand’s past and what it stood for, so it “all needed to be rebuilt from the ground up”. “This is a complete renaissance for Alfa”, he added.
The new Alfas have been developed in secret over the past two years at a new dedicated facility away from the main FCA group and any internal pressures of conceptual barriers. Wester said the hand-picked 600 or so staff at the facility, which is understood to be based near Ferrari and Maserati in Modena, Italy, were simply told to “respect the brand, innovate and be revolutionary” in making the next-generation of Alfas.
He added: “These are car enthusiasts making cars for car enthusiasts. In the long run, loving cars makes a difference.”
The Giulia, like all the forthcoming Alfas, is built around a rear-wheel drive architecture (all-wheel drive will be optional in most markets) that’s understood to be loosely derived from the Maserati Ghibli and has claimed best-in-class torsional rigidity.
Making the new models rear-wheel drive was the first decision the skunkworks team took, according to the head of the division Philippe Krief. The Giulia project can be traced as far back as 2009 in various guises, however.
There are few hard numbers confirmed by Alfa at present (FCA boss Sergio Marchionne said reeling off too many stats would make the car seem “cold”), although the firm has revealed some of the mechanical make-up of the car.
The suspension system is all-new and constructed from aluminium. The front suspension is a double-wishbone set-up that includes a new ‘semi-virtual steering axis’ designed to improve steering accuracy, keeping the car accurate and stable at high speeds and allowing precise steering feel even under hard cornering or high lateral acceleration. Unlike the 4C sports car, the Giulia will get a power steering system, which Krief claimed would have “the most direct ratio on the market”.
The rear suspension, which was the first component of the Giulia to be designed, is a new multi-link system, which Alfa calls ‘Alfalink’, allowing for independent control of the wheels from the body. Krief described it as “beautiful, simple and functional”. Electronic adaptive dampers feature all round.
The best-in-class power-to-weight ratio is said by Alfa to be around 3kg per horsepower, meaning the Giulia should weigh in at around 1500kg in Quadrifoglio Verde form. For comparison, the BMW M3 weighs 1580kg.
The Giulia makes extensive use of lightweight materials, including aluminum, carbonfibre, and aluminium and plastic composite. Aluminium is used to construct the suspension, doors, wings, sub-frames, and brake calipers. Carbonfibre is used for the bonnet, roof, prop shaft and front seat structures, and the composite for the rear cross-member. Further weight reduction comes from the use of carbon ceramic brakes on the Quadrifoglio Verde model.
The location of the lighter materials has also helped Alfa achieve its 50/50 weight distribution target, with major components located between the axles, and the lightest materials used at either end of the car, such as aluminum for the suspension.
The Quadrifoglio Verde’s twin-turbo 3.0-lite V6 engine is also a lightweight unit. It features cylinder deactivation and can, said Alfa, be "surprisingly fuel efficient" while still offering "fun and identity". Krief added that the Ferrari-developed unit offered "fantastic torque all through the rev range and no turbo lag in any gear". A 0-62mph time of 3.9sec has been quoted for this model, which is hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard.
The Ferrari link to the engine could prove to be significant again in the future as the rumoured base powerplant in the new Ferrari Dino model that is understood to be in development for a 2018 launch.
Alfa has yet to confirm any other launch engines for the Giulia. However, the new V6 will be one of two engines built at a new €500 million facility Termoli facility in Italy with an annual capacity of 200,000 units. The other is set to be an "advanced, high-output, four-cylinder engine developed for Alfa Romeo", which expected to be the next-generation replacement for the highly regarded 1750 TBi engine currently used in the Alfa 4C. It could produce as much as 300bhp in its highest state of tune.
Previous indications from Alfa have pointed towards an engine range that will also include four- and six-cylinder diesel engines.
Krief said the Giulia would do without “invasive” electronic systems that inhibited the rear-wheel drive driving character of the car. There will also be no autonomous driving features, Wester revealed previously, because it would not be in tune with the brand’s character.
It will, however, feature a Torque Vectoring System in the rear differential to split torque independently between the rear wheels, and a new Integrated Brake System that combines stability control with the servo brake from what Alfa claims is improved feel, responses and reduced braking distances.
An Active Aero Splitter at the front helps aid the Giulia’s aerodynamic design, and the system, like the other electronics, is controlled by Chassis Domain Control electronic ‘brain’, tasked with ensuring driving pleasure and performance for the driver.
On the Giulia's styling, Alfa design boss Lorenzo Ramacotti said the car was "not over-styled, which is very easy to do today. It can be defined with just three strokes.
"Form and function doesn't mean it's cold. It's an Alfa, an object of desire that you experience, not an ornament to look at."
The new Alfa has a wheelbase that’s claimed to be the longest in its class, but with a body that’s one of the shortest. Rear cabin space is said to be impressive, although there’s no word on boot capacity.
The Giulia’s cabin is built around the driver, and features materials including leather, wood, fabric and carbonfibre. There are only two main control interfaces inside, both rotary knobs rather than buttons or touchscreens. One is for a new infotainment suite, and the other is a DNA driving mode select system, revised for the Giulia to include a new race mode.
Eight new Alfas
The Giulia will be the first of eight new Alfas to launch over the next three years, most of which will be derived from the same rear-wheel-drive platform and all built in Italy. The company has not yet confirmed the other models, although a slide during the Milan presentation showed in which segments they would sit.
The saloon will be joined by another Giulia bodystyle, most likely a coupe, and in time a larger rear-drive saloon to do battle with the BMW 5 Series.
Two SUVs are also planned in the new Alfa line-up, one potentially a version of the Maserati Levante that is due to be launched in 2016, and another smaller model derived from the Levante.
The next-generation Giulietta range will also include hatchback and saloon versions, the latter aimed chiefly at North America. The Giulietta will switch to rear-drive for its second generation on shortened Giulia underpinnings. Speaking at the Geneva motor show earlier this year, Sergio Marchionne hinted at this, saying: "Whether the Giulietta stays as front wheel drive is a question to be seen. It may not."
On the Mito, Marchionne said in March it would not be rear-wheel drive in the future. “The brand needs a point of entry for younger buyers. I like the Mito. And BMW is now front-wheel drive. We have to look at where we cross the line between B/C segments [between front and rear wheel drive] but front and rear wheel drive can co-exist.”
Alfa learns lessons from its past
Speaking earlier this year, Harald Wester admitted that Alfa had "over promised and under-delivered" in the past.
He said that Alfas must once again "put the driver at the centre, provide an exceptional driving experience while being inclusive and egalitarian, and display authentic heritage”.
Wester said: “These are not cars to be driven, but to drive. We want owners to feel that they’re an integral and indispensable part of the machine. The dynamic element is an important portion of what we do.”
Wester is under no illusions about the challenge. “We’re living in a world of fierce competition,” he said. “What is absolutely clear is that every car must be significantly better than the target competitors.”
These are “the three German brands, plus Lexus in the US. But the worst strategy is to position against another product. It’s about finding out what the customers want".
Alfa acknowledged that striking past models such as Brera, 159 and Spider had “missed the historical DNA of the brand”. This, it admitted, had enabled “our German competitors to build up a phenomenal lead over us over a number of years”.
The company says the Alfa Romeo 4C marks the start of a return to this process and is “the perfect embodiment of the brand’s DNA”.
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