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Alfa Romeo’s X3-fighting crossover is on track for a 2016 launch

Alfa Romeo isn’t known for its punctuality, but Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has confirmed the storied Italian automaker remains on track to launch its first-ever crossover next year.

The soft-roader is known as Project 949 internally, and rumor indicate that it could be dubbed Matta, a name last used on a Jeep Willys-like off-roader that Alfa built in limited numbers for the Italian army during the 1950s. Regardless of what it’s called, Project 949 will ride on the same rear-wheel drive Giorgio platform as the recently unveiled Giulia sedan.

The 949 will be given the Herculean task of fighting in the same arena as the BMW X3 and the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class. What it will look like is anyone’s guess at this point, but preparation work has been completed so we’ll likely see the first preproduction test mules out and about in the next few months.

Power is expected to come from four- and six-cylinder gasoline- and diesel-burning engines borrowed from the Fiat-Chrysler parts bin. From launch, the crossover will be available with a Ferrari-built turbocharged V6 massaged to send 503 horsepower to all four wheels via either a six-speed manual transmission or a dual-clutch automatic.

Production will kick off in Italy next summer, and the first Alfa-badged crossover is tentatively scheduled to make its public debut in a little over a year at the Paris Motor Show. It will go on sale across the nation shortly after as a 2017 model.

What’s next?

The Giorgio platform will also spawn a coupe and a convertible, though when we can expect to see the two enthusiast-focused models is up in the air. Further down the road, Alfa will launch a flagship sedan that will be aimed right at the BMW 5 Series, and a bigger crossover designed to take on the Munich-based company’s X5. Clearly, Fiat is trying to position Alfa Romeo as an Italy’s answer to BMW.

Related: Topless Alfa Romeo 4C Spider unveiled in Detroit

Marchionne predicts the long-overdue influx of new models will allow Alfa to sell 400,000 cars annually by the year 2018. That target is ambitious, especially considering the Italian marque reportedly built less than 70,000 units last year, but executives are confident that Alfa has what it takes to pull it off.