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.