Alfa Romeo's rear-drive renaissance

Alfa Romeo’s rear-drive renaissance will rely on an all-new platform under development by a team of engineers working in Maserati’s Modena headquarters. But the first Alfa to use the architecture will not be ready for production until sometime in the second half of 2015, a Fiat Group source has toldWheels.

The executive confirmed the platform will be the basis for the Giulia, which will take the place of the out-of-production 159, an unnamed 5 Series/E-Class rival, plus a mid-size SUV. The Italian-designed hardware will also serve as the basis for Chrysler-badged products, the source said, allowing costs to be spread more widely.

Back in 2010, Fiat Group planned to launch both sedan and wagon versions of the Giulia in 2012. But Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne, dissatisfied with its styling, ordered a redesign. Despite the program being well advanced, the decision was subsequently taken to scrap all the work on the front-drive Giulia.

Development of the new rear-drive architecture also spells the end of a scheme to create a flagship Alfa sedan based on Maserati’s Ghibli. While the idea was investigated in detail, the Maserati platform was judged too expensive, according to Italian auto industry media.

The architecture will also be able to accommodate all-wheel-drive drivetrains. It’s obvious the Alfa SUV will need it, but the availability of such a system in the Giulia and the flagship sedan would increase their appeal and sales in the snow states of the USA and Europe’s Alpine nations.

Heading the team developing the new platform in Modena is French-born Phillippe Krieff. The engineer began his career with Michelin, moved to Fiat’s chassis and dynamics department in the late 1990s, and was made Ferrari’s vehicle development chief early in 2012.

Alfa’s global sales are predicted to be below 100,000 this year. The last time the brand sold so few cars was the late 1960s. This isn’t so surprising, as Alfa currently offers a stunted line-up. The brand’s newest car, the 4C, is a low-volume niche model. Alfa’s volume cars are both front-drive; the small Giulietta hatch, now more than three years old, and the smaller, older Mito, which hasn’t been given a redesign scheduled for 2013. The rebody would have turned it from a three-door to a five-door car, the format that’s more popular both inside and outside Europe.

Krieff’s crew need to work both hard and fast if Alfa Romeo’s fortunes are to be reversed.

Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.

Want free access to 5 years of Wheels archive content? Sign up now!