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Next Mazda Miata: Not Alfa, Not Fiat, Perhaps Abarth

Fantastico! The Alfa Romeo sportscar that was going to be based off the next Mazda Miata may be diverted to Abarth. Alfa instead will do its own thing with Maserati, and the new Alfa rear-wheel-drive architecture can be tweaked to serve Chrysler and Dodge.

Even though the grand plan for Alfa Romeo will not be disclosed until May at the earliest, details have emerged from the Geneva motor show that suggest two lead architects have put together a clever modular component set that contains all the ingredients of a winning formula. Those architects are Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and Maserati-Alfa Romeo-Abarth chief Harald Wester. Here are the cornerstones of their plan:

  • The roadster co-developed with the next-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata, which is set to premier early next year, will more likely be badged an Abarth than an Alfa.
  • The Alfa Spider will be part of the brand's new RWD/AWD architecture.
  • The long-term future of the Alfa 4C coupe and spider is unknown.
  • The flexible RWD/AWD Alfa architecture will be adapted, and perhaps decontented, for the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, and Dodge Challenger replacements.
  • All the new Maseratis -- Levante, next Gran Turismo/GranCabrio, and Alfieri (pictured) -- will share the same DNA.
  • The architectures used by Alfa Romeo and Maserati are related, but it's unclear to what extent.
  • The front-wheel-drive MiTO and Giulietta will not be replaced. The proposed interim Giulietta sedan and sportwagon have been canceled.
  • A total annual multi-brand production volume of well over 500,000 units, generated in four assembly plants - Modena, Grugliasco, Mirafiori, and Brampton - should guarantee profitability.

Why is Alfa having second thoughts about the MX-5/Duetto deal? Because it
might not be such a clever idea to have the brand's first new volume-selling halo car developed and built in Hiroshima. At Geneva, Marchionne told a press conference that all Alfas should be built in Italy. While it's possible to divert the Spider to Fiat, which has a history of making affordable roadsters, Abarth is the sportier marque and needs fresh product even more urgently. Fiat will instead concentrate on the 500 and Panda family, as originally planned.

How Alfa Romeo is Leaving Fiat for Maserati

The new Alfa Romeo architecture is the mastermind of a team led by Phillippe Krieff (chassis) and Gianluca Rivetti (drivetrain). The scalable, lightweight matrix is modeled after BMW's 35up project, which will handle all models from the 3-series up, including crossovers. To emphasize how modular its common components concept is, Alfa Romeo reportedly may subdivide it into three segments: basso (low), medio (mid-size) and alto (high), calibrations that describe primary dimensions and weights.

A low engine installed in a high vehicle, for example, would permit the use of a lighter, cheaper, mid-size suspension. Like 35up, the same combination of components can cover passenger cars and crossovers, which is why the Maserati Levante is no longer a Jeep Grand Cherokee derivative. The Levante will instead share the Mirafiori assembly line with sedans and coupes.

Here is what the combined Alfa Romeo and Maserati product plan has in store:

  • Alfa Romeo Spider: RWD, all-steel body, 1750/2000cc four-cylinder engines only. Circa 2016 (calendar years).
  • Alfa Giulia: (for lack of a better name, BMW 3-Series size), RWD/AWD, steel-intensive sedan body with aluminum content, four-cylinder engines and 2900cc V-6capability. Circa 2017.
  • Alfa Giulia Sportwagon: RWD/AWD wagon, focus on EU markets, not yet cast in stone. Sporty coupe may realize higher global sales volumes, like other new Alfas available with Quadrifoglio Verde(styling/equipment) and Autodelta (handling/performance) upgrades. Circa 2017.
  • Alfa Romeo Alfetta: (for lack of a better name; similar size as BMW 5-series), RWD/AWD luxury-sport saloon, steel body with aluminum hang-on panels, four- and six-cylinder engines. Circa 2018.
  • Alfa Romeo Alfetta Sportwagon: RWD/AWD upmarket wagon, focus on European markets, not yet cast in stone. Sporty upmarket four-door coupe may work better on a global scale.Circa 2018.
  • Alfa Romeo compact sporty coupelike crossover: (positioned between BMW X1 and X3 but closer to X1). Same underpinnings and engineering/equipment/drivetrain concept as Giulia. Circa 2017 or '18.
  • Alfa Romeo mid-size sporty coupelike crossover: (positioned between X3 and X5 but closer to X3). Structure and content similar to Alfetta. 2018or 2019.
  • Maserati Levante crossover: RWD/AWD, now passenger-car based, V-6 and V-8 engines. Late 2014.
  • Maserati GranTurismo replacement: RWD/AWD, new front mid-engine lightweight architecture, V-8 engines but V-6-capable, proper 2+2-seater,no transaxle layout, eight- or nine-speed automatic transmission. Late 2015.
  • Maserati Gran Cabrio replacement: RWD/AWD, new architecture, much better packaging, bigger trunk, proper 2+2-seater, V-8 engines butV-6-capable, eight-or nine-speed automatic. Early 2016.
  • Maserati Alfieri: 2+kids-seater. Coupe only, price-positioned against Porsche 911 (under 100K euros), RWD/AWD, V-6 engines but V-8-capable, eight- or nine-speed automatic, late 2016.
  • Maserati MC12E supercar: probably an evolution of LaFerrari, either with a different alternative drivetrain element or without HY-KERS altogether. Currently unfunded and untimed. If Maserati sales peak at a profitable 50,000 to 60,000 units a year for a prolonged period, this derivative supercar project might be replaced by a completely new limited-edition lightweight front-mid-engined (V-8) Birdcage street racer with strong motorsport potential.

Although its future product program is still very much a work in progress, Maserati may make its own Q4/AWD system standard on all upcoming sports cars. In some markets, 45 percent of Ghiblis and Quattroportes are sold as Q4 models. Also under preparation is a more powerful V-6 diesel rated about 325 hp.

Starting with the Ghibli, every new Maserati model is package-protected for battery installation (the e-motor would be integrated in the automatic transmission). As long as it is not mandatory to ensure a given zero-emissions driving range, the Modenese manufacturer is reluctant to offer what Maserati/Alfa/Abarth chief Harald Wester described as"uneconomical solution." The Italians are currently laying the finishing touches on state-of-the-art electrically assisted power steering, which is a precondition for a number of increasingly popular driver assistance systems.

No more ties with Fiat, no more links with Jeep and Chrysler, no Mazda connection. Instead, let's bring back some of the stuff that made these marques famous, like the most involving drives money can buy wrapped in drop-dead gorgeous sheetmetal. Best-in-class performance with a matching soundtrack, the most intuitive steering, the quickest dual-clutch transmission, the most riveting brakes. And in addition to Giulia and Alfetta, Ghibli and Quattroporte, a large measure of eye-catching, low-flung two-door excitement.