We’ve got all the details on Turin’s forthcoming Mini rival
7 November 2007

Alfa Romeo, one of the biggest underachievers of recent years among Europe’s burgeoning premium car ranks, is aiming to place itself well and truly on the comeback trail in 2008, with a compact entry-level hatchback inspired by one of its most successful models ever – the cherished 105-series 1300 Junior.The new three-door will play a pivotal role in the Italian car-maker’s plan to bolster its yearly sales to over 300,000 units by 2010. That year Alfa celebrates its centenary and is set to return to the North American car market with a host of new and improved models, and the new ‘Junior’, revealed in detail in our artists’ impression, will be chief among them.

Junior not by name but by nature

Based on modified Fiat Punto underpinnings, the new ‘Junior’ has been conceived to provide competition for the hugely successful Mini Cooper and the forthcoming Audi A1. We’ll refer to it as the ‘Junior’ now for brevity’s sake, but the finished car won’t be called that; Alfa Romeo is currently running a global internet vote to decide the new car’s name, and you can cast your vote by clicking here.At not much more than 4000mm long and offering a snug two-plus-two interior, the new model will slot into the Alfa Romeo line-up underneath the 149. That car, the replacement for today’s 147, was originally slated for 2008 but has been pushed back to 2009 to free-up engineering and marketing resources for the Junior. Central to the revived Junior’s appeal are the traditional Alfa Romeo attributes of style and performance. Although relying on the Punto for much of its mechanical package, the Junior will have a totally unique appearance. Previewed in sketches shown at an investor’s conference in June, it uses cues from the dramatic 8C Competizione with a mix of flagrantly retro and modern day details Alfa Romeo hopes will attract a much younger audience than its existing models.

Under the skin

Among the modifications made to the Punto floorpan are a series of strengthening measures to improve static rigidity. They include the use of tailored blanks in areas like the front and rear bulkheads, to achieve a figure, we are told, that comes close to matching the Mini Cooper’s class-leading 26,000Nm/degree.The basic suspension layout is conventional, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear, but the tuning is said to be sophisticated. Components have been borrowed from the recently introduced Abarth Punto Esseesse, specifically with the aim of sharpening the steering for better response and feedback.An active roll control system is also said to be being engineered, although likely to be reserved for top-spec models only, including the range-topping GTA.Despite their commonality under the skin, the Junior and the range-topping Punto Abarth will be pitched at different buyers. Alfa’s small hatch is described in internal documents as “small/sophisticated”, while the Abarth is dubbed “small/raw”.“There is a clear delineation between the two,” says Alfa Romeo market director Sergio Cravero. “The Alfa Romeo is more mature, while the Fiat is all about performance.”Power will be from a range of 1.4-litre four-cylinder ‘T-Jet’ petrol and 1.9-litre JTD common rail diesel engines, all mated to a standard six-speed manual gearbox and transferring drive to the road through the front wheels. Power outputs are likely to range from around 100bhp up to 130bhp for the petrol engines, the latter a soft-turbo version of the 1.4 T-Jet also tipped to see service in the Fiat 500 Abarth.

’Junior’ GTA: 180bhp, four-wheel drive

Also planned, though not likely to arrive until 2009, is a GTA version to go up against the Mini Cooper S and Audi S1. It will use a more heavily boosted version of the 1.4 expected to make 180bhp.With the Junior positioned as a sophisticated small hatchback, Alfa will employ its new MultiAir variable valve control system to ensure as flat a torque curve as possible for good driveability, a feature that will ensure the Junior doesn’t encroach on the more ‘raw’ Punto Abarth.Also helping to ensure a quality driving experience will be the Junior GTA’s four-wheel drive system, an extremely unusual feature on a small hatch. By equalising drive between the front- and rear-axles, the four-wheel drive will ensure the high output engine won’t corrupt the GTA’s steering.Another intriguing possibility is that the Junior/Punto Abarth could end up as the basis for new, affordable two-seat sports car. In Alfa’s case this model is being seen as the successor to the classic 1960s Duetto roadster, if its boss, Antonio Baravelle, has his way.

Greg Kable, with additional reporting by Julian Rendell

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