“UNDER-promise and over-deliver” is a phrase that apparently has no Italian translation.
Alfa Romeo has launched not just a new car – the BMW M3-challenging Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde – but its entire brand, complete with a reimagined nameplate, and has promised no less than a whole new concept of motoring, a work of art that is “an extension of one’s heart, soul, brain, arms and legs”.
After an unveiling in Milan that featured Andrea Bocelli singing Nessun Dorma on stage as the new Giulia was rolled out and Alfa staff whooped, wept and kissed each other, the world’s media were left with the impression that they’d just witnessed the birth of the Greatest Car of All Time.
Furthermore, this Giulia – the first rear-wheel drive Alfa Romeo sedan since 1992's Alfa 75, promising Ferrari-spec engineering and a 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds – is just the start of a “momentous rebirth of Alfa Romeo”, as FCA boss Sergio Marchionne put it.
He’s promised almost €5 billion of investment in seven new models over the next three years, resulting in a six-fold leap in sales from last year’s total of 68,000 to a whopping 400,000 by 2018. You don’t need to be great at maths to work out that this is an astronomical projection, but Marchionne says if Jeep can do it, so can Alfa Romeo.
“For any other brand, such a growth target would be impossible to contemplate or justify… like Jeep, Alfa has the ability and the ambition to be number one,” Marchionne told us, on a night when all the words on all his exec’s speeches seemed to be written in bold.
Alfa Romeo has promised new dawns before and, in the case of the Alfa Romeo Brera coupe for example, delivered only empty blackness, but the Alfa Romeo Giulia, which is the result of two years of top-secret work by more than 1000 “skunks” – supposedly the best brains from Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa and the rest of the Fiat group – working in secret locations, looks and sounds the goods.
No new car is launched without some critics calling it derivative, and there are certainly touches of BMW 3 Series in the design, but the Giulia QV, with its striking rear diffuser, carbonfibre chin and bootlid spoilers, and Quadrifoglio Verde badges, is strikingly Alfa Romeo.
It’s not as pretty as an Alfa Romeo 4C, or an Alfa Romeo Brera for that matter, and the use of cheap-ish plastic in the classic trefoil grille is a bit of a letdown, but for a car of its size (the longest wheelbase in its class, with a compact body on top) it’s a looker. The Alfisti will love it to bits.
Designer Lorenzo Ramaciotti got typically carried away, describing his Alfa Romeo Giulia as “representing quasi-organic tension … much more than just a car, more than a machine, it has the profile of a cat that’s ready to leap”.
“Style must be as simple, as effortless as the profile of a cloud, which doesn’t reveal the potential it hides,” he added, before heading off for a good lie down in a dark room.
The interior is said to reflect a stylish, Italian tailor-made suit with carbonfibre-backed seats, an all-new and simplified infotainment system, a revised DNA switch, now featuring a "race" setting (like the Alfa Romeo 4C) and an energy-saving mode, and, joyfully, a manual shifter in the models we were shown.
Auto-obsessed markets like Australia need not worry, though, as there will also be an entirely new, seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, fettled by Ferrari.
It’s a tie-up you’ll be hearing plenty about, with the fierce new twin-turbo V6 engine clearly based on the 3.0-litre powerplant from the Maserati Ghibli, which is built by Ferrari at Maranello.
It will make even more power in the top-spec Giulia, however, with a hefty 380kW thrusting it to 100km/h faster than both a BMW M3 and the new Mercedes-AMG C63.
Despite the bold sales targets, the official Alfa line is that it won’t be undercutting its German competitors in search of volume, with pricing described as “competitive with other premium brands”. An entry-level four-cylinder Alfa Romeo Giulia should thus start in the $50,000 region, with the QV costing another $100,000 on top of that.
There’s no word yet on whether features like carbon-ceramic brakes will become optional by the time the Alfa Romeo Giulia arrives in Australia, which should be in the second half of 2016.
Beating the Germans on paper is one thing, of course, but besting them in dynamics is something Alfa Romeo has singularly failed to do in the past.
Wheels asked a spokesperson how things would be different this time.
“Our advantage will be things like the use of ultra-lightweight materials, carbonfibre and aluminium-plastic composites, [and] our technical systems, which are unique and distinct, while others are proprietary like our patented front suspension layout," was their answer. "Then there’s the design, which combines sportiness and elegance.”
Yes, there was plenty of Kool Aid being imbibed, but at the same time there’s something infectious about the kind of excitement that surrounded this gigantic, vital relaunch of the Alfa Romeo brand. Truly, only the Italians could get this excited about the unveiling of a car (they cheered like they were at a football match), one which they see as selling the very idea of Italian-ness to the world.
“Like all great works of art, the rebirth of Alfa represents something completely new, grand and audacious,” Marchionne concluded.
The only problem they’ll have is that, when we finally get to drive it, the Giulia will have to be absolutely stupendous to live up to the hype.
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