Friday 28 April 2017

Alfa 'returns' after years in the doldrums as new Giulia targets Audi, BMW, Merc and Jag owners

In Focus - Enniskerry, Co Wicklow: Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo 4C and 4C Spider
Alfa Romeo 4C and 4C Spider
Alfa Romeo Guilia
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

The past few years have been horrendous for Alfa. Sales last year came to 42. You're not misreading: 42.

Which is why this isn't about introducing a new model; this is about re-introducing a 'new' marque. It is apposite it coincides with the arrival of the new flagship Giulia.

Where have they been? In the doldrums. Where are they going? That's what I went along to try to find out. One thing became immediately clear. This is going to be no miracle turnaround. This is a slow haul - even if some of the cars are quick off the mark.

Breaking 200 sales over the next year would be celebrated. Yes, that's how bad things have been and how realistic they are being. With six dealer outlets what else do you expect?

Now while it is great to see them back in the game, there is a lot of bull spoken about Alfas. They are not all great cars. They might have looked and sounded great but some gave buckets of trouble. I know; I get the mail here still. You truly had to love some of them and be a bit of a masochist as well. The sales figures suggest there are fewer masochists now than might have been presumed in better times.

So let's be realistic. The 'new' Alfa Romeo and its first major car of the era, the Giulia saloon, have to excel. To say the Giulia is a massively important car for the brand is an understatement.

It's a more muscular motor to look at than it seems in the pictures. I took the 2.2 diesel, 2-litre turbo petrol and gobsmacking 2.9 Quadrifoglio for a breeze around Enniskerry on Monday. It came as no surprise to be told afterwards that they are targeting the Germans (Audi A4, BMW -3-series, Mercedes C-Class) as well as the Lexus IS, I presume, and the much-in-focus Jaguar XE, itself a relatively new arrival, for buyers.

There is/will be, Alfa reckon, a nice bit of demand from executive fleet customers. We'll see. Getting people out of any of those other cars is a big ask. But to get into triple-digit sales they're going to have to up their conquests by more than 80pc. Initial signs are encouraging, we're told.

The new Giulia is the first to plunge into battle and prices seem to be quite competitive. Will that be enough? No. But there is more to it than that.

It's quite a substantial car (4.6m long, 1.9m wide, 1.4m tall, 2.8m wheelbase). The 8spd auto gearbox is standard across the range. It means the entry price is a little higher when compared with some that have manuals to start with.

The petrol 2-litre (200bhp, €280 road tax,138g/km, 4.2l/100km) shifted well on a brief spin and accounts for half the orders so far but diesels will be the ultimate bigger sellers.

And the 2.2-litre diesel (150bhp/180bhp, 109g, €180 for both) felt better to my way of driving anyway.

Meantime the Quadrifoglio with its 2.9 V6 BiTurbo 510bhp engine (189g/km, €750 tax, 8.2/100km; 0-100 in 3.9 secs, 307kmh top speed) was stunning but will be a treat-buy, considering it costs €99,945.

Entry-level prices start at €39,995 for the 150bhp diesel (don't forget all have 8spd auto boxes). The petrol starts at €40,395.

Add €2,000 to get to Super trim with either, while the 180bhp diesel kicks off from €43,795.

Then they have Super Sport and Spurt Lux trims. Both are priced the same - they only add €171 to the price of Super - as part of a limited-period promotion.

So Super Sport gets full leather, 18ins alloys, aluminium pedals xenon lights, painted brake callipers, paddle shift gear-changers (ugly looking yokes that get in the way of the indicators), privacy glass etc.

Or you can go for Super Lux - full leather, 18ins alloys, xenons, front parking sensors, rear view camera, adaptive cruise control.

On entry-level cars, spec includes 17ins alloys, dual-zone air con, cruise control, keyless go, LED, fogs. Super adds half-leather upholstery, chrome exterior details and the sat-nav system on a larger screen.

The boot, by the way, is just about okay with 480 litres but I did notice how powerful the brakes were. They claim they stop the Giulia five metres shorter than rivals (from 136kmh).

I'll be reporting in greater depth on the Giulia soon, please God, but my initial reaction was a little mixed - it would be unfair to expand on such limited driving. I'll see how things pan out over a week. It is a car that needs a bit of time to explore and I'm really looking forward to it.

While they went to great pains to underline Alfa's sporting history and the 'emotional' side to ownership at Monday's re-introduction, they have clinically done the maths too. They claim - and I expect them to be contradicted - that from entry-level they are undercutting the Jaguar XE by €1,000 and the others (A4, C-Class, 3-series) by more.

The Super (they say) at €41,995 is more than €1,000 lower than rivals while the Super Sport at €42,166 is way under the Jag (€46,595) on the spec spread.

And so the battle has begun. Alfa is back with us. People will talk about the cars again. That in itself is a good start.

l SHAME on me (and others) for allowing the Alfa 4C to escape my clutches for so long. This 1,750cc, 240bhp is one of the most fun drives I've had for a long time. It was a short stint, sadly, but what an enormously loveable little motor it is. It's mostly carbon fibre, so it's real light. And there's just about enough room for two.

The 4cyl turbo petrol is all aluminium; you get most of the 350Nm torque at 1,700 rpm; top speed is 240kmh+ and it zips to 100kmh in 4.5 seconds.

The chassis (just 65kg) is a single carbon fibre body while the crankcase, front and rear frame are aluminium. No wonder it goes like hell.

The Coupe starts from €84,895; the Spider from €98,195.

Indo Motoring

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