Alfa Romeo is postponing the launch of a successor to the 147 to bring a new small hatchback to the market in 2008. The Junior, a revival of a famous Alfa name from the 60s, will compete in the increasingly crowded premium small car segment at the lower end of the European market.
Due in 2008, the new three-door model is aimed directly at the Mini Cooper and the upcoming Audi A1. It needs to significantly boost Alfa's sales to over 300,000 by the turn of the decade, when Alfa plans to re-enter the North American market as part of its centenary celebrations. No official figures have been released, but sources suggest Alfa Romeo will be seeking volumes of around 80,000 annually over a six-year lifecycle for the Junior, which will us the same basic underpinnings as the Fiat Punto.
To free resources for the Junior, Alfa Romeo has postponed the replacement for the 147, the Fiat Bravo-based 149. Originally due to appear in 2008, it is now unlikely to find its way onto UK roads until 2009. Alfa will also serve up lighter, facelifted versions of the 159, Brera and Spider at the same time.
Despite the Junior name, company officials are quick to point out that the car’s price and market position are more similar to that of the Alfasud Ti. The Ti was Alfa's first mass-market front-wheel-drive model, launched in 1971. In keeping with the Junior’s affordable price tag and Alfa Romeo’s sporting image, it will be produced as a three-door hatchback only. Responsibility for the car’s styling rests with Fiat’s Centro Stile studio headed up by Frank Stephenson, credited with the retro look of the Mini as well as next year’s new Maserati Coupe and the new Fiat 500. Underneath is a lightly reworked version of the Punto’s front-wheel-drive platform and suspension – a combination of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. The Fiat’s electric steering system will also be carried over. Extensive chassis tuning at Alfa Romeo’s Bolloco test track on the outskirts of Milan aims to provide the new car with its own distinct character. Among the benchmarks being used in the development of the new car is the Mini Cooper S.
For more info on Alfa’s new Mini rival, get Autocar magazine on 3 January