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Future small Alfas revealed

Junior: Alfa's born-again micro is just 12 months away.

Alfa Romeo is readying a Mini rival and the replacement for its ageing 147

24 Sep 2007

FOLLOWING a year of high activity that included the launch of the 159, Brera, Spider and 147 turbo-diesel ranges, Alfa Romeo will be fairly quiet on the new-model front until its long-awaited Junior comes on stream in late 2008.

Described as Alfa’s answer to BMW’s New Mini, the Junior will be based on the front-wheel drive Fiat Punto platform. So expect a reworked version of that car’s MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension systems.

However, the top-line version may include an active suspension system, to give it a dynamic edge against the British-built BMW baby. We understand that this might be reserved for the Junior GTA.

To keep development costs at bay, the Junior – like the New Mini – will be a three-door hatchback that places style and pizzazz ahead of practicality. It will be under four metres in length.

The person responsible for the styling is reportedly Frank Stephenson, who designed the previous New Mini, and whose spectacular credits this year includes the Maserati GranTurismo and Fiat 500.

Press speculation has called the Junior Alfa’s modern-day Alfasud – the company’s first front-wheel drive family car built in the south of Italy during the 1970s and 1980s.

And while Alfa acknowledges that its role in the marketplace will be similar to the sporty (and now legendary) Alfasud Ti model – a sort of proto hot-hatch/GTi concept – the company is also keen to not put too fine a point on the comparison.

“I hesitate to use the term Alfasud,” says Australian importer Ateco spokesman Edward Rowe.

“The market has changed since the Alfasud appeared (in 1971).

26 center imageLeft: Alfa Junior (rear) and 149 (others).

“It was a car that was aimed at the mass market against things like the first Volkswagen Golf.

“Alfa Romeo’s position in the market has obviously changed since then, and that sector of the market has changed, and this car will be a premium small car.

“When the Alfasud appeared the idea of a premium small car did not exist.”“So while it is tempting to liken it to the Alfasud, it really is a car aimed at a totally different customer,” Mr Rowe added.

As the Alfasud was not without its problems, with rampant rust being chief among these, it is easy to conclude that this is another reason why Alfa may not publicly draw parallels between the two small cars.

With an eye on the New Mini’s astounding global success – with sales exceeding 250,000 annually against 2001 predictions of less than 100,000 units – Alfa has reportedly put the replacement for the 147 small car back by at least a year to bring the Junior to market.

Like today’s 2000-vintage 147, another front-wheel drive Alfa which, like the superseded 156 – was based on the bones of the 1988 Fiat Tipo platform, the 149 will share much of its mechanical underpinnings with an existing Fiat small car.

This time it is the upcoming Ritmo, Alfa’s striking new Golf challenger that’s known as the Bravo abroad.

However, rumours have surfaced that Alfa will add a dedicated multi-link rear suspension system so that the 149 will be better stacked against its small-car rivals that already use such a set-up.

These include the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Volvo C30 and Ford Focus ST/XR5 Turbo. More competition for the Alfa will arrive in the guise of the upcoming Saab 9-1 and Mercedes-Benz A-class and B-class replacements.

Expect the styling to be an evolution of the 147, but with a prominent bug-eyed headlight treatment reminiscent of the recently released Alfa 8C sports car.

Like its 159 brother, the 149 is expected to gain six-speeds for the manual, Selespeed and Aisin-supplied fully automatic transmission options.

Speculation is pointing to another high-performance GTA version of the next Alfa premium small car, but this time – unlike the wild 147 GTA – the 149 version may gain all-wheel drive.

To avoid stepping on the Junior’s toes in the market, Alfa will concentrate on both the three and five-door hatchback versions of the 149.

Europe will see the 149 in early 2009, with Australian sales slated for later on in that year.

Small cars coming from Alfa:
Junior Late 2008
149 Late 2009
149 GTA 2010

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