The perpetual promise of Alfa Romeo’s return to North America has gone on for so long, it’s become the car guy equivalent of a religious belief that one day, we will be redeemed by Christ/Mashiach/The 12th Imam. Every year, we hear that Alfa is coming, only for it to be pushed back again and again. Now I’m wondering, why bother?
A look at Alfa Romeo’s lineup is a pretty depressing sight. Just two models, the MiTo and the Giulietta, are left. They’re not particularly attractive or technologically advanced. Those two elements have always made Alfa the stuff of legend; nothing in the current lineup can hold a candle to the Spiders, Juniors, Milanos, Q4s or GTVs of the past. There isn’t even a range of quirky but gorgeous sedans like the 159 or 166 either. Aside from a couple expensive one-offs like the 8C and 4C, the brand is basically an exercise in badge engineering.
Personally, I think that the end of Mazda’s nagare era has finally allowed it to step into the shoes that Alfa Romeo once filled. The 3, 6, MX-5 and even the CX-5 can fill the void left by the better Alfa products of yesteryear. Though the SKYACTIV engines will never ever fill the shoes of Alfa’s glorious 4-cylinder and V6 motors, they do make decent power, and what they lack in character, they make up in fuel economy (alas, that’s just as important today as power, sound and response was in decades past). On the other hand, their transmissions are some of the best in the business; I’d take the 6-speed SKYACTIV automatic over a number of manuals. It’s that good. The current crop of Mazdas arguably have more panache and better handling dynamics than the competition, and unlike Alfa Romeo cars, they actually start up when you want them to.
Some of you will undoubtedly object. No Japanese brand can ever eclipse the romantic notion of Alfa Romeo and an Italian car. They will always be commodity vehicles, mass transportation lacking in passion and soul. But I disagree. Not only has Mazda consistently improved their cars to the point where they are the driver’s choice in any given segment, but Alfa Romeo doesn’t necessarily have the same mystique in the rest of the world as it does in North America. For every coveted 1750 GTV that’s been lovingly restored here, there are probably ten ratty 145 diesels tooling around Calabria, spitting thick grey soot out the exhaust pipes as some wizened pensioner uses it for a grocery run. Not exactly La Dolce Vita is it?