By on June 26, 2013

gtc2

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?

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82 Comments on “QOTD: Alfa Romeo In North America – What’s The Point?...”


  • avatar
    Syke

    Alfa’s problem is that it’s been gone too long; and the kind of soulful, quirky car that it would take to bring back the old reputation aren’t acceptable to the majority of the buying public anymore. And, even with interesting cars, buyers expect Toyota-legendary service. Even in the non-white-bread driver’s cars. And, like you said, Mazda has already come close enough to a combination of 164/Graduate and Camry to keep the buying public happy.

  • avatar
    niky

    I think Mazda’s cachet as the Japanese Alfa is already there. Cemented from the moment the first MX-5 left the plant.

    There is still some love for Alfa out there in the rest of the world, but only amongst the older set. For younger buyers, there is no Alfa mystique…

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I have exactly zero romantic notions of Alfa Romeo and Italian cars.
      (Sure, there are Ferrari & Lamborghini, but they conjure impressions of money like all supercars do, not Italy or any other country.)

      I can’t say I’ve ever seen an Alfa. I don’t know what the company represents, and I honestly don’t care.

  • avatar
    dwford

    The whole premise of Alfa returning to the US has been teased for so long that the car guys who woul dhave been interested have moved on and/or just roll their eyes at each new pronouncement. Whatever they want to bring should be send here as Dodges.

  • avatar
    stars9texashockey

    @dwford: Agree, except that Dodge isn’t long for this world.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      That’s right. In 10 years we’ll just have RAM/Chrysler.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        Wrong,

        Step 1: Spot on, the writing was on the wall the moment they split the cars from the trucks.
        Step 2: you forgot Jeep, and the rest of the Italian brands. Even so, I think they also want to kiss Chrysler bye bye (at some point).
        Step 3: RAM may eventually become IV__O.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Agreed, although who split the trucks into RAM was it Fiat after the merger or the gov’t in bankruptcy? I was under the impression it was the gov’t in order to easily sell off the Mopar trucks in liquidation if it came to it.

  • avatar
    NN

    the current lineup supports your argument; it’s dismal. The recent 159 was the last gorgeous and attainable Alfa…they’ve got to bring back something like that and offer it in the states. If they do and channel it via Fiat dealers, I think they would do quite well. But they need style, they need sedans, and it can’t be a badge engineered Chrysler.

    Mazda has fulfilled the niche to an extent, but IMO not completely. The history and romance behind the Alfa Romeo brand, and the fact that it is Italian, can not so easily be replaced. But it can be tarnished if they just use the brand to peddle Chryslers, just like the Chevy brand is tarnished in Europe for being Daewoos.

  • avatar
    FordRangerFTW

    What’s the point?… Because Alfa Romeo.

    • 0 avatar

      most excellent response.

      i’ll cut and copy what I wrote to Thomas’s artcle the other day in case some of you missed it, ;)

      “reminded me of an old, 90s Top Gear (IIRC) show where they compared the Audi A4, BMW3, Mercedes C and Alfa Romeo 156. It was an interesting show and you could tell the excitement of the presenters when they pointed out that it was the first time in their tests an Audi had beat a BMW. The Mercedes placed 3rd and the Alfa dead last.

      As the segment drew to a close and the image faded away, the screen opened up again to show the presenter in the 156. He then declared something like 0-60 times are fine, top speed is great, but that if you lived by wine and music, and were just a bit romantic in your heart, despite its placing, the Alfa could well be your best choice as it pleased in areas that just couldn’t be translated into numbers.”

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        that’s all well and good, but Top Gear doesn’t speak for anybody. How many people in North America remember Alfa, if they ever knew about it at all? If Sergio thinks he’s going to scuttle Dodge and have Alfa take it’s place, he’s as egotistical and delusional as PMD says he is.

      • 0 avatar
        luvmyv8

        Jeremy Clarkson had a funny quote about Alfa……

        “You cannot be a true petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo – it’s like having really great sex which leaves you with an embarrassing itch.”

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      That’s about the same as saying: “What’s the point? … Because snarfblat.”

      Alfa means nothing to most Americans.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Not all the smokey 145s are in Calabria. There’s a 1977 with the 2.0 turbo diesel for sale in Buenos Aires with only 190,000 km for just 3 million Argentine Pesos. I wonder what it would take to get it road-certified here in California?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      It’s old enough to get a free pass – bring it on up! Anything over 25 years old can come right on in.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Actually, the 25 year rule doesn’t apply to California – they set 1975 as the 25 year in 2001 and neglected to put an adjustment mechanism in the rule. But pre-1998 diesels are exempt for Cali smog, though there might be federal import rules to cause a snag. Then there’s that “possible” misprint price that’s over $400,000 dollars by the official exchange rate (or I misread the ad). The seller may be anticipating some fiscal madness in Argentina in the very near future.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Wait what happened to the Brera coupe from a couple years ago? Discontinued already? That thing was very pretty.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Terrible, god awful dynamics.

      Alfa hasn’t had a car that was both attractive AND fun to drive probably since the GTAs. And their current engine lineup blows chunks- though that’s the fault of emission regs, not Alfa. There aren’t really ANY characterful new turbo engines, aside from Bimmer’s 6 which itself is a shell of former greats like the E46 M3 & E34 M5 lumps. Makes you wonder if electric cars would be that bad… video games show good engine notes can be replicated with enough effort. In any case, the Twinspark 4 and V6s that Alfa made its name with are long gone and would not come back for the US market. Similarly the 159 is OK but pales in dynamics and beauty of the 156. It’s pointless.

      Truthfully, for the US, Mazda stepped into Alfa’s shoes as soon as Alfa left. They have a long storied history of great driver’s cars and a general history of being the underdog and going against the grain. It’s a story that’s a def plus to the idea of the cars. And their current lineup is quite possibly the best it’s ever been as far as mainstreamers go. Alfa needs to die a quick painless honorable death and let Fiat carry the torch. The Panda is a better driver’s car than any Alfa for sale and I’m pretty sure all of Fiats bigger cars are just rebadged Alfas (or vice versa).

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Very pretty indeed … but along with its 159 sister car, it was the last of the Alfas to be designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Who, like the 156 designer Walter de Silva, is now at Volkswagen.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I had a red Giulietta Sprint while in college. It was a wonderful car both weeks that it actually ran.

    At least, it kept me close to campus…and insured that I had no silly excess spending cash with which I could seduce gullible young maidens.

    And – yes – I still love the car…even though my Miatas were (and are) better in every measurable aspect.

  • avatar
    ash78

    To scare Citroen, Renault, SEAT, Skoda, Dacia, or any other good, second-tier European manufacturer from ever making a solid entry into the modern US market.

    “Because Alfa already tried and failed!”

    On the other hand, I heard the presence of Alfa makes Europeans think VW is reliable. It’s all relative. Alfa probably won’t last in a nation weaned onto Hondas.

  • avatar

    Santo Dio, caspita! Mazda as Alfa? Niente, giammai.

    Just for starters, looks. Alfa exist to beautify thestreets, please ears, uplift spirits, soothe the soul.

    While Mazda are really good cars, they’re a galaxy away from that. Just look at the new 3. Basta!

    • 0 avatar
      wsimon

      Good point, much of the recent lineup (MX-5 excluded) have been very ugly, the 3 to the point of hideousness. The new Mazda 6 seems to be a step in the right direction; at some point I will venture down to the dealership to check one out in person. It’s a shame too, because a Mazda 3 would fit my needs perfectly but it simply looks too awful to be a proud purchase.

      For the record, I nearly purchased an Alfa 145 wagon while I lived in Belgium – it was with the Twinspark engine, of course; I can nary envision a greater vehicular blasphemy than an Alfa with a diesel engine.

      • 0 avatar
        wsimon

        Correction to my first post – it was a 156 wagon (wanted to correct before the Alfa mafia attacked my post…or is it just the mafia?)

        • 0 avatar

          You shoulda gone for it! The 156 family was one of the most beautiful ever, IMHO. The 159 did’t come close. Of the more modern Alfa it and the 166, are the most beautiful.

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            Sorry Marcelo, but 159 >>> 156, hands down. I’ve seen both on the street.

            And I like the 156 too.

          • 0 avatar

            hola Athos! Who said my taste is a determiner of anything? I’m just glad we both think they’re beautiful. I like the 159 very much, but I still prefer the 156.

          • 0 avatar
            GTAm

            I would say both 156 and 159 sedans AND wagons are in a different galaxy to any competitor in terms of styling.

          • 0 avatar
            GTAm

            I am quite simply amazed at what has been written here by what I think is an entertaining and serious motoring website. I sniff a huge vacuum of knowledge about the Alfa Romeo brand at TTAC. If you tell any Alfisti that Mazda is a close thing to an Alfa they’ll probably die laughing. I nearly did ;)
            The first family car we owned and the one I learned to drive in happened to be a ’78 Mazda 808. It was followed by 4 other Mazdas (late 80’s JDM Familia, 90’s Familia Interplay, Astina and a Familia TDI Interplay with an Isuzu engine) occasionally interrupted by a Honda Civic, Fiat Regata 100S, Ford Orion, VW Jetta, BMW E30, Peugeot 206, and 02 BMW E36s.

            Then I discovered Alfa Romeo, and life has never been the same. I’ve owned 02 156s and a 159 currently in use as my daily drivers. I also 0wn 4 classic (or pre-Fiat/Real) Alfas, a Giulia GTJ, Alfetta GTV , a Berlina 2000 (in restoration) and a Sud Sprint Veloce. However I have driven many other brands including Mazdas (and I like Mazdas and have a soft spot for them) and I think I am qualified enough to say that if you even think of comparing the two, you are way way off by a massive margin.

            Yes Fiat has watered down the Alfa DNA somewhat over the years from being low price Ferrari to fancy Fiats but still they are streets ahead of their equivalent Mazda IMHO. The Giulietta is very class competitive in Europe and several notches above the current Mazda 3 in terms of looks, performance, driving pleasure, feel etc.

            What Alfa is, is (here I’m trying to get the closest thing to a US perspective) a cut price, practical Ferrari. For many historians Alfa is arguably greater than Ferrari. And here you compare it to Mazda????

            Giulia 1600 GTAs trade at around $180k in Europe. That should give you an indication of how valuable the brand is. It is just a matter of proper products and proper marketing which Fiat messed up big time over the decades until now – with the 4C taking the brand back to it’s class leader/ innovator / undiluted driving machine roots. Why do you think Ferdinand Piech wants the brand so badly? Because it’s similar to Mazda??? :D

            Let’s hope Fiat gets the marketing right this time. If the Maserati launches and initial sales of the new QP and Ghibli are anything to go by, there is some hope.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      I can’t roll my eyes enough at this.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      I actually quite like the 3 and think it’s the best looking in class. Perfect? No, but nor is the Gulietta which drives much worse.

      Alfa Romeo is dead. All that is necessary is Sergio’s eulogy.

      • 0 avatar

        Not quite dead yet. At this point I believe it’s on hold, as is Fiat for that matter (even in Brazil, except for the new factory), trying to ride out the storm. I guess Sergio is too busy with Chrysler right now.

        • 0 avatar
          juicy sushi

          I think Segio will always be too busy. Alfa’s problem is that it can’t function as a specialty brand without significant support from other brands. But within Fiat -Chrysler that support is absent. It can’t work as full-line, but can’t go premium due to past reputation. Also Maserati and Ferrari create a glass ceiling.

          I just can’t see a happy ending.

          • 0 avatar

            I think the demise of Dodge could be revealing of their future intentions. If that does come to pass, Chrysler might fill it its shoes. This would open up space for Alfa, above Chrysler, Fiat and under Maserati. This is just speculation on my part. I have no real info on the matter.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            If they announce a Dodge closure today, I think they’ll just merge the Charger/Challenger and/or Journey into RAM, but with Chrysler they’ve been pushing it as a semi-premium brand for so long it would be best to keep it as such. I’m not sure what Alfa models they mean to bring over, but if you use the brand to complement what Chrysler doesn’t offer (true small sport sedan, roadster, convertibles etc) I think it could work.

    • 0 avatar
      GTAm

      +1 Santa Dio indeed!

    • 0 avatar

      besides, I love to say the name of the city where Alfas are build: Pomigliano D’Arco.

      I think no other city name sounds half as good as this.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    If they could offer me a nice fun to drive car with a manual shifter for less than $40,000 I’d consider it. But they are going to have to convince me that they are reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      The Soul of Wit

      “But they are going to have to convince me that they are reliable.”

      A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. (Pause while I remove hunks of Snickers bar from my screen, which I spit through my nose when I read that sentence…I really oughtta not eat while I surf…..)

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      In an ideal world, sure. But for one thing, I’m fairly certain that Alfa Romeos are assembled in such a matter that the parts are designed to fall off before they have a chance to malfunction. For another, it still probably wouldn’t be a profitable venture. I’m starting to think that maybe automakers who want to offer cars that only appeal to enthusiasts should become kit-car manufacturers. Building kit-cars also eliminates the need for all of those nannies and infotainment systems that everyone seems to hate…

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Have you ever actually OWNED one? My ’86 Spider Veloce has been utterly bulletproof for the four years I have owned it. Drive it all the time in the summer. I drove it to DC and back a couple years ago (1200 mile round trip). And it is 27 years old.

      La Dolce Vita is not possible in a Camry, no matter how quickly Jack can flog one around a track.

  • avatar
    Waterview

    Was recently in Italy for two weeks and stumbled upon a vintage car show in Rome (a great day for a car guy!). The combination of the old Alfa’s at the show, along with the new Alfa’s in the streets made we wish we at least had them available in the US. Not sure I’d choose one, but the new Giulietta looks very good.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    I’d rather have Oldsmobile back. The cars would be better, be more powerful, and I wouldn’t have to sell a child to fix one.

  • avatar
    donnyindelaware

    I rather them fix the dodge and chrysler brands back to there respectable positions instead of bringing over another brand that wont sell after three years

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    There’s no point to bringing Alfa at this time. Heck, Alfa’s next car is going to be built in cooperation with Mazda! It’s going to be the Miata pronounced with an Italian accent.

    I don’t think there’s room in the US market for Alfa. Unless they drop Dodge like they seem to be planning to do.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Geez… that is the saddest, most forlorn car photo I’ve ever seen.

    There should be a People for the Ethical Treatment of Automobiles.

  • avatar

    @summicron

    Verum, so: carpe diem

  • avatar
    gslippy

    What’s the point of Alfa’s return?

    Because we are easily seduced by the hot temptress, despite knowing she will eventually let us down.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    I laugh every time I hear about Alfa coming back. They left when, in 1990? And that was after years of terrible, terrible sales. Let’s say their last good year in the US was 1983. So 30 years ago. I would argue that nobody knows what an Alfa is anymore and nobody cares.

    Today’s Alfas are based on Fiats. And Fiat a second-tier car company in Europe. Their cars are junky and unreliable. Alfas are basically Fiats with chrome and leather. What do they bring to the table for us here?

  • avatar
    J.Emerson

    We’re not going to get Alfa Romeo, because pretty soon the rest of the world won’t get Alfa Romeo either. Marchionne has shown a take-no-prisoners approach to underperforming brands; look at what happened to Lancia. There’s no real product in the pipeline for Alfa that we know of, at least none that isn’t just a gussied-up Fiat.

    You’re right that Mazda makes a good replacement for Alfa Romeo, though: second-tier cars of dubious quality from a perennially ailing manufacturer, much defended but seldom bought.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    If the question is “should the horrific, unreliable Alpha’s that Americans remember from 30 years ago be let back into the USA?”? then the answer is no… BUT! that is a loaded question that does not in any way take into account what has happened with Alpha and Fiat over the last 30 years.
    I would say the wrong question has been asked today… And, we forgot the Dodge Dart (that thinly disguised Alpha that is an increasingly common sight on US roads), didn’t we.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think bringing Alfa Romeo to the U.S. would be an ego thing for Marchionne, nothing more. I’m not sure where Alfa Romeo sits in the market, but it certainly can’t compete with Porsche, BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz with such a small portfolio. There’s never been a smaller business case than now for niche brands, especially ones that need their own dealerships. Even volume brands like Acura, Dodge, Lincoln and Volvo may not survive the next ten years. I think the Pentastar conglomerate should instead focus on turning the FIAT brand into a full range of semi-premium, fashionable products and taking MINI head-on. That seems like it’d be more of a profitable venture…and it would keep the Fiat studios happy.

  • avatar
    davidm_1

    I must admit I do wonder what will become of Alfa Romeo in a few years time. I recently purchased a 159 ti which is by far one of the best looking cars around in the UK but, there current range is not very attractive and are similar looking to the other euro boxes out there.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Since Fiat/Chrysler has been rebadging Chryslers as Lancias and trying to sell them in Europe, why not rebadge the other products in the Fiat line and sell them as Alfas? Let’s hope the partnership works out with Mazda.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I wouldn’t mind having a 159 1750TBI, red or black, manual and with the beige/light brown interior.

    My best friend got a Giulietta, diesel, top of the line and full optional. He’s pretty happy with it.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    I had written out a very good response, beautiful analysis and opinion, but for some reason I was redirected destroying my amazing writing.

    Basically,

    Alfa – Bad
    Mazda – good

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    I’m not a big fan of retro rebirths of previous winners, but Alfa could do worse than resuscitate the 1750/2000 GTV. I wonder if you could even do it today given all the regulations.

    God I loved that car.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Just as BMW undoubtedly hopes Mini drivers will migrate to Bimmers as they age, Alfa Romeo would give Fiat 500 drivers something to grow into (because seriously, who thinks they’ll start buying MOPARS en masse?). More importantly, with the entry-level luxury segment currently filled with serious Germans, slightly bland Japanese, and forgettable or gawdy American offerings, Alfas would be legitimately stylish (and only have to be reliable enough to make it though the lease period).

    Of course, that’d be dependant on them getting a new smaller sedan.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    ……………

  • avatar
    MGV001

    Alfa died in the mid 80’s when the Italian government dumped its lifeless body onto Fiat. Since then, it has been nothing more than a poorly cared for zombie brand. Reviving Alfa Romeo is an almost impossible task requiring huge investments and resources. What Marchionne is instead attempting to do is piecemeal and incremental. I wish him well because the spirit of Alfa Romeo is at the heart of every enthusiast. Cars like those that endeared Alfa Romeo to many can and should be built again.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Honestly I think the MiTo would be the perfect entrance for Alfa in the U.S.
    Proven drive train and enough flair to make a splash here!!
    Smaller cars are the future and the MiTo has a distinctive look that is really ALFA.

  • avatar

    Alfa Romeo has a storied history that Marchionne & Co. can tap into and it has a brand cachet that can be carefully cultivated into a must-have status symbol on par with (or even bigger than) Audi and BMW. But only if Marchionne plays his cards right with Alfa.

    One problem is reliability, both actual and perceived. The days when people would tolerate an Alfa’s eccentric quirks just to get the driving experience have been dead and buried for decades. Today, everyone expects Corolla-like reliability in any car they drive. The MX-5 Miata pointed the way forward – a sporty car in the British roadster mould with trademark Japanese reliability. The next Alfa has to be a sporty car with Italian flash and flair…and Corolla-like reliability.

    The other is product. Alfa has to bring a decent range of vehicles to market if it aims for any sort of sizable volume – the 4C and Spider won’t cut it unless Alfa wants to remain a tiny niche player a la Lotus.

  • avatar
    hawox

    i remember my uncle’s alfa, it was the most unreliable thing ever produced, everything that was electric never worked properly since new, the body started to rust within months, the gearbox was hopeless because you couldn’t find were the gears were.
    still i remember the sound of that engine and the look.
    today things have changed, now cars must be reliable and fuel efficient, infact all the best selling models are very similar each other. even mercedes with the new A class has made a car that could be sold with one of all the other brands.
    to make a car wich is affordable, reliable, fun to drive and light like a toyota gt 86 you need to invest alot of money.
    Marchionne simply cut every investment, aside of the new panda they did nothing in the recent years, simply recicled.
    so in the future of alfa there’s nothing.

  • avatar
    joeb-z

    To cap it off the Alfa enthusiasts will do what they usually do, wait for the cars to depreciate and then buy them. SO the first four years you need suckers or lease schemes.

  • avatar
    Speed3

    It’s the idea of Alfa Romeo. And also, Acura sucks, BMWs and Audis are getting pretty expensive these days. I think an entry-level luxury niche is opening that could be right for an Alfa Romeo with the right products.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    Another area where Mazda has filled the roll that Alfa used to: Cars that rust away prematurely.

  • avatar
    Joe

    I’m hoping Alfa fills the (small) void left by Saab. Fun to drive, affordable, front wheel drive European cars – except Alfa promises to deliver cars that are better looking and more emotional, as only the Italians can do. Sign me up. I want a European car that isn’t a BMW, Mercedes or VW/Audi.


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