(July 17, 2006) pages 4 - 6. In this 3 page article (with plenty of good photos) author Greg Kable confirms Alfa Romeo's return to the U.S., provides a discussioin on U.S. prospects and includes a FIRST DRIVE
THE UNITED STATES OF ALFA
UNCORK THE CHIANTI!
ITALIAN AUTOMAKE ALFA ROMEO RETURNING TO THE U.S. IN 2009
ALFA ROMEO'S U.S. PROSPECTS
Alfa Romeo has confirmed it is preparing a high-stakes return to the North American market after more than a decade’s absence. A trio of contemporary new models will lead the charge.
Although not officially due to go on sale here until the end of 2009 (coinciding with the company’s 100th anniversary in 2010), the new Alfa Romeo lineup is well on the way to fruition, having already been launched in Europe in the past 12 months. Engineering work is now under way at home and in the U.S. to make the cars fit for North American sale, a task Alfa Romeo officials say is a mere formality given that all three models were developed with U.S. safety and emission regulations in mind.
Among the new models the Italian carmaker has earmarked for North America are facelifted versions of the one-year-old 159 sedan, as well the recently launched Brera coupe and Spider convertible. Alfa especially likes the Spider’s chances, given its link with the Duetto, which rose to prominence starring alongside Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in the popular 1967 movie The Graduate.
Each model coming stateside is based on Alfa Romeo’s new Premium platform (a modular structure developed with General Motors’ Saab division). The chassis supports front- and four-wheel drive, and is engineered to conform to North American crash regulations.
“We knew when we first drew up plans for the 159, Brera and Spider that they would likely head to North America, so we undertook the necessary engineering to ensure they would meet any existing and future standards from the outset,” says Alfa Romeo spokesman Richard Gadeselli.
Gadeselli confirms fine-tuning is taking place before the cars gain U.S. certification, which is why Alfa Romeo’s return to North America is being timed to coincide with the appearance of facelifted versions of the 159, Brera and Spider in 2009 rather than now. The delay also gives Alfa Romeo time to launch the promised performance-oriented GTA versions of each model, providing it with a potentially larger lineup.
Alfa Romeo isn’t divulging detailed specifications, although Gadeselli hints that both the 2.2-liter four-cylinder front-wheel-drive and 3.2-liter V6 four-wheel-drive versions of each model will be sold here. Depending on how diesel sales progress in coming years, there may also be a 2.4-liter five-cylinder turbodiesel in the 159.
By concentrating its efforts on just three models sharing the same basic platform and driveline architecture, Alfa Romeo is clearly seeking to contain costs. Success in North America could help fund crucial new models, such as a production version of its well-received Kamal concept car wheeled out at the 2003 Geneva motor show as well as a crossover to replace the discontinued 166. A new entry-level model, codenamed Racer and positioned beneath the European market 147, was also recently under consideration but may be abandoned, according to AutoWeek sources.
The decision to return Alfa Romeo to the North American market stems from a strategic plan laid out by parent company Fiat, which aims for a close alignment with Maserati. The plan calls for Alfa Romeo and Maserati to develop new models using common components to lower costs, speed development and improve profitability.
Under an earlier plan, Maserati was aligned with Ferrari, but that was abandoned last year when it became apparent that developing Maserati models to the same standards used at Ferrari proved too expensive for Maserati’s volume ambitions. By grouping Alfa Romeo and Maserati together, Fiat hopes to have finally found a complementary pairing.
To cost-effectively reestablish Alfa Romeo’s sales and service presence, officials have already struck a deal with the Maserati dealer network in North America that will see the 159, Brera and Spider sold alongside the Quattroporte as well as next year’s replacement for the Maserati Coupe and Spyder and a new entry-level Maserati sedan to take on the BMW M5.
The deal calls for an initial 50-strong network concentrated around large cities, although Gadeselli indicates this is likely to grow in both numbers and coverage as awareness of the Alfa Romeo brand increases.
“We’re under no illusion. The North American market is the toughest car market in the world. But it is also the largest in terms of volume. Alfa Romeo can no longer afford not to be represented there,” Gadeselli says. “We’re convinced there is potential for Alfa Romeo and we are determined to succeed.”
FOR FUTURE U.S. SALE
FIRST DRIVE > SPIDER LEADS ALFA ROMEO'S CHARGE INTO THE U.S. MARKET
Alfa Romeo's reentry into the U.S. market will start with three-car push: 159, Brera and Spider. The lineup will remain unchanged until early in the next decade when, according to sources at parent company Fiat, Alfa Romeo may diversty with three more models that already exist as styling proposals at Alfa Romeo's design headquarters in Turin: Kamal, Racer and 169.
HERE IS WHAT'S IN STORE
159-Facelifted version of current model arrives in U.S. in late 2009. All new: 2012
Brera-Facelifted version of current model arrives in the United States in late 2009. All new: 2013
Spider-Facelifted version of all-new model (see the article's sidebar) arrives in the United States in late 2009. All new: 2013
Kamal-Compact SUV inpsired by the Kamal concept goes up againt the BMW X3 in 2011.
Sprint-Future uncertain for entry-level coupe seen as a spiritual successor to the Alfa Sud Sprint, developed under the internal codename Racer. Earliest arrival: 2011
169-Crossover replacement for recently discontinued 166 due in 2012
147-Entry-level model currently not planned for sale in North America
It’s safe to say that when Alfa Romeo returns to the North American market in 2009, much of the attention will be focused on one car—the all-new Spider. No other model in the Italian carmaker’s 94-year history has made such an impact stateside as Alfa Romeo’s classic open top, affectionately known as the Duetto owing to its traditional two-seat layout.
The latest Spider, unveiled at the Geneva motor show in February and heading into European showrooms now, forms part of an impressive three-model revival strategy Alfa Romeo is banking on to re-establish its operations in North America.
On the strength of its svelte appearance alone, the new two-door is sure to win over buyers seeking something out of the ordinary. The look is thoroughly modern but unmistakably Alfa Romeo. Sharing its wedgy front-end with the Giugiaro-designed Brera, including a distinctive heart-shaped grille and a sextet of small round headlamps peering out from beneath the leading edge of the hood, it is one seriously sexy car, with a design lineage harking back to the Giulietta Spider of the ’50s. As with that car, the new Spider’s rear end, with its kicked up haunches and gently sloping trunk line, was penned by Pininfarina, which also developed its stylish cloth roof. Pininfarina even assembles Alfa Romeo’s latest model on the same line as the Brera coupe at its plant in northern Italy. Spider and Brera share the same mechanical package and are built on a shortened version of the 159 chassis.
Quality is one hurdle Alfa Romeo shouldn’t have to worry about with the new Spider. The car offers an impressive level of fit and finish, the paint has a rich luster, the panel gaps are even, the doors shut with a satisfying sound, the interior imparts a solid feel and the multi-layer roof motors into place at the push of a button with all the precision of considerably pricier open-top offerings.
It’s not perfect, though. With the roof up, rearward visibility is poor, although large side mirrors sprouting from the top of the doors help compensate for this shortcoming. Trunk capacity is limited, but two lockable bins located behind the seats help make up for the dearth of luggage capacity.
In modifying the Brera to create the Spider, Alfa Romeo added a series of steel reinforcements that add about 130 pounds to the car, most of it concentrated in the rear bulkhead and door sills.
It’s not a huge burden for the range-topping 3.2-liter V6, which delivers a solid 260 hp and 237 lb-ft of torque, but the 2.2-liter, 185-hp, 170-lb-ft four-cylinder is always working hard to carry the extra load. Alfa Romeo claims 0-62 mph in 8.8 seconds and a 135-mph top speed for the four-cylinder—not exactly the sort of performance that’s going to worry the competition.
In typical Alfa Romeo fashion, however, the four-cylinder is a true entertainer, combining crisp response, linear delivery and a lovely exhaust note when worked hard. Still, the lack of torque means constant gear changes are necessary to keep running with any real enthusiasm.
While it lacks for outright pace, the base Spider handles with typical Alfa Romeo aplomb. The suspension (double wishbone front and multi-link rear) is agile and the steering is highly responsive. The ride is reasonable by open-top standards, but even with a 25 percent improvement in rigidity over its predecessor, the new Spider is prone to flexing on anything but smooth roads.
The V6 punches the Spider out of corners with greater gusto and helps it achieve 0-62 mph in 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 146 mph. It also sounds terrific, with a deep baritone exhaust note under full throttle. But handling is clearly affected by the heavier engine sitting up front. The steering remains direct but comes with an off-center numbness not evident in the entry-level model.
The flagship V6 Spider feels more at home as a cruiser—a car that’s far better loping along at a brisk rate on the highway than being whipped into a frenzy over challenging back roads. That may be what many U.S. buyers will be seeking when the Italian drop-top goes on sale here in little more than three years.
A few images: 147, 159, 166 and the Kamal Concept