USA Today’s Chris Woodyard reminds us that Dustin Hoffman was a squeaky-faced kid in “The Graduate” when an Alfa Romeo last took a memorable spin in the consciousness of the Consumer Republic. Fiat, the parent of Chrysler Group, yesterday took the wraps off its return of the brand to the U.S. by introducing the “sexy new Alfa Romeo 4C.” This is “after years of failed promises and delayed introductions,” the Los Angeles Times’ David Undercoffler points out.
"This is the car that will herald the return of the brand to the North American market," Fiat SpA spokesman Richard Gadeselli tells The Detroit News’ Bryce G. Hoffman. "It is a halo car. It will be followed by a complete range of vehicles."
Fiat plans “to launch five additional Alfa Romeos by 2016 in the U.S. as part of its strategy to focus on higher-margin luxury cars and launch Alfa into a global brand, according to an updated product plan presented by Chrysler on Jan. 30,” reports Brent Snavely in the Detroit Free-Press. “That includes an Alfa Romeo SUV, a Giulia sedan and a station wagon,” as well as a large sedan in the U.S. market.
The 4C will be formally presented at the 2013 Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland next month and will be available worldwide at select Fiat dealerships later this year. Its actual sticker price has not been determined but reportedly will be about $60,000 in the U.S. The automaker plans to make about 1,500 models initially, half of which will wind up on these shores.
The two-seat coupe “represents the true essence of a sports car at the heart of Alfa Romeo's DNA: performance, Italian style and technical excellence, offering maximum driving satisfaction in total safety,” according to a company statement.
The brand indeed has a rich heritage in the minds of gearheads. After New York Times “Wheels” blogger Nick Czap wrote a story about importing a vintage Alfa Romeo, he writes that he “got a fair bit of e-mail from readers. A few were looking for mechanical advice, others for help with the ins and outs of importation, but most wanted to share Alfa stories of their own, about a car that had once belonged to their parents, or to a paramour or of a long-ago drive in a 1964 Giulietta Spider.”
Czap then interviews Fabio Bartolomei, an Italian copywriter whose novel, Alfa Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles, has been translated into English.
The new 4C “tries to strike a balance between being fuel efficient and fast, offering dual continuous-variable valve timing, direct gas injection, and a so-called “scavenging control system,” writes SlashGear’s Brittany Hillen. “Unpleasantly named” as that feature may be, SlashGear’s Chris Davies informs us, it will “chop away at turbo lag.”
Davies -- who suggests that “in a world of lumpen hybrids and feckless luxo-barges, the rear-wheel drive coupé is a blast of gorgeousness” –- is not alone in liking what he see in pixels. Hoffman sees it as “curvaceous.” Calling it “sexy and sporty,” Automobile’s Jake Holmes reminds us that the 4C concept was “one of the biggest stars of the 2011 Geneva Motor Show” and says that the “styling barely changed from the concept, and that's a good thing.”
Autoweek’s Graham Kozak last week ran “spy photos” of what is believed to be a 4C test vehicle tooling around Michigan. “In these shots, we see that the 4C sports a digital instrument panel. Yet the rest of the dashboard remains uncluttered and decidedly analog…,” Kozak writes. “Purists may bemoan the lack of a shifter -- four gear selector buttons sit just ahead of the parking brake in its stead -- but its absence is consistent with the dual-clutch transmission the car is slated to receive.”
"Alfa has a market opportunity to go where Audi used to be before it moved into first-tier luxury," 2953 Analytics’Jim Hall tells the Detroit News’ Hoffman. "But Alfas need to be unlike anything else in the segment that they're in. They're going to have to offer the most performance for the money.”
In related news, Bloomberg’s Tommaso Ebhardt, Aaron Kirchfeld and David Welch report that Fiat is “discussing financing options with banks to strengthen its balance sheet in preparation to buy the Chrysler Group stake it doesn’t own,” according to three sources. Fiat would have posted a €1.04-billion loss last year without Chrysler’s earnings in the pot.
The deal, which may take months because of a difference of opinion over the share value, will “help pay for at least some of the 41.5% held by the United Auto Workers medical benefits trust for Chrysler retirees,” they write.
Those retirees, we surmise, are not the target market for the Alfa Romeo 4C.