“Hi everyone, my name is Ash and I’m an Alfa-holic.”

I feel comfortable talking about this because I’m sure there are plenty of people here who can relate without judgment. And, to be fair, it’s a very long time since my last relapse. It was way back in the late ’80s when I fell off the ‘sensible car’ wagon and bought a secondhand Sud Ti Cloverleaf.

It was a bit leggy and there was already a rust bubble leaching out from under the windscreen rubber, but I was so buzzed by the chassis poise and the rasping, parping flat-four that willpower was futile. And for a couple of years, I remained intoxicated by it.

Alfa Romeo Guilia Quadrofoglio

Eventually I took a job that required sizeable daily kays, by which time the Sud’s sagging seat, flawed driving position and fraying mechanicals meant it had to go. But while the Nissan Pulsar ET Turbo that replaced it was both quicker and easier to live with, I never developed the depth of affection for it as I did for that little Sud.

The Nissan was like a lukewarm Kirin lager; the Alfa more like a grappa shot.

Alfa Romeo really is one of those car companies that has an almost inordinate amount of enthusiast love for it. It would seem that if you’ve built a car as epic as the 33 Stradale, the Alfisti will eventually forgive you for one as execrable as the Arna. But brand love and robust sales can be two very different things.

Part of Alfa’s more recent problems would seem to come from trying to stay too true to the brand’s sporting ethos at the expense of more rounded virtues.

The Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV are both terrific things to punt hard, but buyers only think that’s what they want from an Alfa, when the reality is they want a cabin that feels like a Milanese designer furniture store, but also bristling with tech and connectivity.

Both models missed that mark when they were first released, and as the expression goes, sometimes you don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

But the even bigger issue for Alfa is its threadbare product portfolio. How do you let a famed Italian brand dwindle down to just two core model line-ups? In Australia, even Bentley offers greater breadth of choice.

Come to think of it, how do you spend a reported billion dollars on developing a platform called Giorgio as recently as 2014, only to have to dump it because it wasn’t future-proofed for electrification?

This current malaise makes the arrival of this month’s cover star, the Tonale compact SUV, even more critical.

You’ve read Georg Kacher’s impressions from the Italian launch in the June issue of Wheels, or here online – but at the risk of a spoiler alert, it sounds as though the most potentially persuasive version of the Tonale may be the plug-in hybrid, and its delay means it’s now a 2023 bet for Australia.

Current boss Jean-Philippe Imparato, who left Peugeot to take over Alfa in January 2021, is reported to have been central to the Tonale PHEV’s delay, allegedly sending it back with a note: ‘must try harder’.

Imperator sounds as though he has a clearer vision for the Alfa brand than his predecessors, and he’s also talking a big game in terms of the product pipeline, promising one new model each year to 2026, with full electrification taking effect by 2027.

Will that be enough to really swing the meter in Alfa’s favour? The company is so far behind in the electrification race it runs a real risk of being stuck in catch-up mode for years.

Its first dedicated EV – reported to be a sub-compact SUV that may or may not be called Brennero – is not due until 2024, by which time the big players and the Chinese will have gained an even stronger

beachhead in this segment, surely making meaningful penetration by Alfa into volume markets like China and the USA even more challenging.

Let’s hope the brand can rise to it, because I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to one day see a healthy Alfa Romeo, with a comprehensive model line-up of segment-competitive cars that are engaging to drive and desirable to own.

I reckon that’s something to which we could all raise a glass.

COMMENTS

Keyword: WESTERMAN: Will the Alfisti embrace the Alfa Romeo Tonale?

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