Fiat Chrysler’s billion-dollar gamble on Alfa Romeo

In Arese, Italy, on June 24, to the voice of famed tenor Andrea Bocelli, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles introduced the future of Alfa Romeo, the 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan.

Drawing on a heritage of five decades of sports sedans dating back to the 1955 introduction of the landmark Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Giulia represents an investment of more than $1 billion for the company. This all-new platform is expected to be the basis for not only a larger Alfa Romeo sedan and crossover SUV but the next generation Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, and Dodge Challenger.

Indeed, the future of FCA — the world’s seventh largest auto maker — may ride on that undercarriage, in addition to more than a few seats and steering wheels.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a complete departure from the two existing Alfa Romeo sedans.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a complete departure from the two existing Alfa Romeo sedans, the subcompact MiTo and the compact Giulietta (whose U.S. cousin is the current Dodge Dart). Eschewing the less sporting front-wheel drive layout of the two current sedans (the last RWD Alfa was the 75/Milano, discontinued in 1992), the Giulia is a contemporary rear-wheel/all-wheel-drive four-door sedan, designed to compete against the triumvirate that includes the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, and the Mercedes-Benz C Class. (While additional models were not announced at the launch, it is expected that a four-door station wagon and possibly a two-door coupe will be added to the lineup by 2017 for markets outside North America.)

The Giulia was developed in almost total secrecy by a small group of Alfa Romeo engineers at a skunkworks-like facility near the Maserati factory in Modena.

“The Giulia would not have been possible without the merger with Chrysler,” CEO Sergio Marchionne said during the Giulia’s reveal. “It provided the necessary financial resources, the technical capability and a global distribution network.” Insiders have reported that Marchionne personally vetoed an earlier design in late 2012, thus the crash two-year redesign that sent the small team of engineers back to the drawing boards for a totally different approach, delaying the car’s launch until late June.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne discussing the Skunkworks-like development of the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan
FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne discussing the Skunkworks-like development of the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan Richard Truesdell/Digital Trends

With Bocelli in the background, the company revealed the top-spec, BMW M3-fighting version of the vehicle, the Quadrifoglio (Cloverleaf). This model will feature an all-new, twin-turbo V6 developed in conjunction with Ferrari, producing an incredible 510hp. This will propel the Quadrifoglio from 0 to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. The engine block is forged from aluminum, part of an overall program providing a class-leading power-to-weight ratio. This contributes to a 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution. Yet the engine is highly efficient, featuring cylinder deactivation to shut down three of the engine’s six cylinders while cruising an interstate (they’re “on call” when required for instantaneous acceleration). Speed combined with efficiency was the goal of the Giulia’s design team.

While no other engine specifics were announced at the reveal, the more mainstream Giulia models are expected to feature up to seven additional engines worldwide. These include a 2-liter, 4-cylinder petrol engine producing 178, 247, and 326hp. The 4- and 6-cylinder diesels are not expected in the U.S., at least not at launch.

Handling promises to be outstanding due in part to perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution.

Handling promises to be outstanding due in part to perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution coming from the extensive use of lightweight materials – aluminum and carbon fiber – and an innovative suspension system. The suspension system, which was developed off of the highly regarded Maserati Ghibli chassis, features a new double wishbone suspension up front with a multilink setup in the rear. This is combined with what Alfa Romeo calls Torque Vectoring, a double clutch setup that will allow the rear differential to control torque delivery to each rear wheel independently.

The new Alfa Romeo Giulia also features an updated version of Alfa Romeo’s acclaimed DNA vehicle dynamics system. This is a driver-selected function that offers different modes that range from most efficient to highly sporting. The Advanced Efficient mode provides maximum fuel mileage combined with comfortable ride qualities. Natural comes next, which sacrifices some efficiency for greater response. Dynamic takes things to the next level, shortening the shift points for the car’s eight-speed automated dual clutch gearbox while increasing the stiffness of the suspension for greater response. (Rumors indicate that a six-speed manual transmission will be available for those who prefer a stick shift gearbox, as shown in the interior photo.)

There will be a Racing setting on high performance models that is geared to owners who will want to take their Giulia out on the track. All the main controls are incorporated in the steering wheel as on a Formula 1 car, while the human-machine interface consists of two simple, user-friendly knobs for adjusting the Alfa DNA selector and the infotainment system.

The interior is driver-centric, with great attention paid to materials that promise to be premium but with a sense of Italian style. All throughout the presentation and in the materials that accompanied the launch, Alfa Romeo’s Harold Wester promised an alternative to the soullessness of its Teutonic competitors.

There’s no mistaking that from the front, this is an Alfa Romeo.

That remains to be seen, however: The company released exactly no photos of the Giulia’s interior at the reveal. But an “official-looking” photo of the instrument panel not released by FCA –some sort of leak, perhaps? – gives a good indication of the interior’s overall luxury and detailing. Interesting to note from this photo is the absence of a large touchscreen, either built into the center of the instrument panel or rising up from the top of the dash.

While some critics call its styling derivative, there is only so much that designers can do to distinguish one design – in this case a traditional three-box sedan – from its competitors. So while in side profile, the Giulia might look similar to its competitors, there’s no mistaking that from the front, this is an Alfa Romeo. The inverted Treofoil triangle of the front grille sports a revised version of the historic Alfa Romeo badge that has evolved over the past 105 years of the marque.

When the first cars reach the U.S. next spring, expect them to be priced competitively to their German counterparts, with the base four-cylinder models starting at just under $35,000. For the full-spec Quadrifoglio version shown in the photos, expect prices to be comparable to a BMW M3, somewhere near $60,000.

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