Alfa Romeo will finally enter the lucrative SUV market late next year with a model that will be crucial to the future success of the brand under Fiat ownership.

Codenamed C-SUV and previewed here in Autocar’s artist’s rendering, the new SUV will take on the likes of the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5.

Its arrival can’t come soon enough for Alfa Romeo, which Fiat has conceded to investors needs “significant additional work” if it is to be repositioned as a volume manufacturer to rival Audi and BMW in Europe and, in time, North America.

See Autocar's sketch of the new Alfa SUV

With the niche GT, Brera and Spider models now discontinued, Alfa sells just four models in Europe: the Mito and Giulietta, plus the ageing 159 saloon and estate.

The two 159 models will be replaced by the new Giulia range in the first quarter of 2013, and a new five-door Mito will follow in the same year, as will the flagship 4C sports car. A year later the Giulietta will get a facelift before the new range is completed with a large Jeep Grand Cherokee-based SUV.

Fiat first revealed its plans for Alfa Romeo after its merger with Chrysler last year. By 2014 Fiat expects Alfa Romeo to be selling 500,000 units per year, a drastic increase from the 112,000 it sold in 2010. By comparison, Audi sold 125,700 units in March 2011 alone.

Read more on the production of the Alfa & Jeep SUVs

The C-SUV will be the first new Alfa Romeo since last year’s Giulietta. It is currently scheduled to go into production at Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin in late 2012 alongside its sister car, a new Jeep that will replace both the Compass and Patriot compact SUVs.

Annual production of the two cars at Mirafiori will be 280,000 units. Alfa will take a minimum of 100,000 — half for Europe and half for the US.

As our sketch reveals, the design of the Alfa SUV will blend both Mito and Giulietta cues, particularly at the front end, with its exaggerated grille. This theme, first seen on the 156, will carry over into all of Alfa’s imminent new models, including the 4C and Giulia.

Read Autocar's scoop on the new Alfa Giulia

Underpinning Alfa’s first-ever off-roader will be Fiat’s Compact Plus Global Modular Architecture, an extended version of the Giulietta’s platform that supports four-wheel drive.

Fiat hopes the C-SUV’s underpinnings will allow it to be the most dynamic on the road in its class. Senior Fiat engineers have said that despite the platform’s modularity, it can still be tuned for Alfa’s sporty driving dynamics.

High-strength steels are used for 90 per cent of the platform, and lightweight crash structures feature front and rear. The MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension set-up features extensive use of aluminium to save weight. Off-road performance will be at the Nissan Qashqai end of the class rather than the Land Rover Freelander’s.

This will allow for greater differentiation between the Alfa and Jeep sister cars, with the latter marketed at those who will occasionally take their cars off road.

Read the full story on the new Alfa 4C

Both front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions of the SUV will be offered. As with the Giulia, the SUV’s petrol engines will make use of Fiat’s Multiair 2 technology to offer low CO2 emissions and improved fuel economy and performance.

The diesels will benefit from Fiat’s Multijet 2 technology, which works with Multiair in induction and combustion to significantly reduce NOx pollution.

Entry-level engines are likely to include a new 1750 TC GDI petrol unit with around 200bhp and a 140bhp 2.0-litre JTDm diesel. The range-topper could be powered by Alfa’s forthcoming 273bhp 3.3-litre version of the new Chrysler Pentastar V6, which would be mated to a new torque-vectoring all-wheel drive transmission. Expect the C-SUV range to be completed by 220bhp and 250bhp versions of a new 3.0-litre V6 diesel.

The C-SUV has been earmarked as a key car for Alfa’s US relaunch in 2013. But Fiat is waiting until the 4C is in production, in 2013, before taking Alfa back to the US for the first time since 1995 because it knows success there is vital for Alfa’s longevity. The 4C, which could be built in the US, would be a fine flagship in a country still captivated by the Alfa Spider from the 1960s film The Graduate.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is targeting 85,000 Alfa sales per year in the US from 2014. Such is Marchionne’s desire to get Alfa’s relaunch in the US right that he recently admitted to investors that he didn’t like the Giulia’s initial design, forcing a delay that will push the car’s launch back to spring 2013.

Mark Tisshaw

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