Alfa Romeo The man with the vision
‘Six months already? That seems very short and very long at the same time!’ Alejandro MesoneroRomanos’ answer sums up how intense it’s been as Alfa Romeo’s new head of design; Christmas Eve was his first day off in half a year.
The to-do list? Conceive the new design direction to kickstart Alfa Romeo’s new era. Get to know his new team, and recruit fresh blood. ‘And I have to adjust the design process to make it more agile and creative. And we have to design the cars.’
It’s been a whirlwind 18 months, after almost a decade of consistency at Seat design, where his key cars included the Ateca and Cupra Formentor. Then Mesonero-Romanos left to run Dacia design, but departed within months.
‘I got a phone call. Someone mentioned Alfa Romeo, Italy. And I said: “Okay, there I go”. I just chose with my gut and with the passion I have for the brand. Italian cars have been my inspiration always, my school. So it would have been crazy to say no.’
I ask which Alfas really inspire Alejandro. ‘You have three hours?’ He grins broadly. ‘This is the amazing thing about Alfa Romeo. We have such a history of beautiful cars.’
He goes on to list the 33 Stradale (see p61), the 1938 8C, a Le Mans challenger with a Cyrano de Bergerac nose and faired-in wheels, and the ’50s 2000 Sportiva. ‘And even when Alfas are a little weird, like the Junior Zagato, they have a lot of character. So I’m really pushing to find beauty and character.’
The key is proportions that give a powerful stance, like the ’60s Giulia GTA, and a light, nimble-looking body with more emphasis on beautiful surfacing than excessive styling lines. ‘And daring design is important,’ he continues, referencing Scaglione’s ’50s BAT streamliners. ‘During the ’80s, Alfa became not so daring. I want to bring it back.’ The final ingredient is conveying the joy of Italian life.
His design team is small – roughly 30 members makes it one-third the size of Seat’s – but there’s little bureaucracy to slow things down. CEO JeanPhilippe Imparato sits in the open-plan o¥ce the other side of the studio’s double doors. ‘We don’t need big meetings, committees of committees; Jean-Philippe and I just sit together with a coffee, my computer and some papers and decide what to do.’
And designing for the electric age holds no fear. ‘I love engines, cleaning my motorbike carburettors, the smell of engine oil. But when we [review] a design, sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s not a V8 or a V6 but it’s electric.’ He isn’t fixated on what’s inside, but delivering a stunning outside.
‘The car industry is a question of people, and we have Carlos Tavares. He loves cars, he loves the Italian brands and he wants to succeed. Same for Jean-Philippe and myself. We’re going to make Alfa Romeo into what it deserves to be: a success.’
‘We don’t need committees. We just sit with a coffee, my computer and some papers and decide what to do’ ALEJANDRO MESONERO ROMANOS
The Tonale must become Alfa’s best seller, a success at the premium end of the world’s biggest market
to record a car’s servicing record off-board in a bid to shore up used values.
And the interior? It’s luxurious and beautiful, a dramatic improvement over the original Giulia and Stelvio with their billion-dollar dynamics and Poundstretcher cockpits. The bulging leather driver’s seat feels both commandingly high but sportily low, flanked by a wide centre console with a central cubby artfully embossed with Alfa’s logo. The wheel is silky to the touch, the switches high quality but – note to Alejandro – do what you can to beef up the hollow-feeling, unpadded central tunnel. A rear passenger has decent space behind a six-foot driver, despite the Tonale measuring just 4.53m long: its height is bang on the BMW X1 or Audi Q3’s.
Sales of the Tonale are due to start in Italy in June, with the car rolling out to the UK in the following months. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but starting just under £30,000 would shadow its German premium rivals.
The Tonale must become Alfa’s best seller, a success at the premium end of the world’s hottest market segment. It needs to transcend its many commonalities with the Jeep Compass, a fine car for its purpose but far from dynamic on-road. The test drive will tell. In the meantime, this Alfa Romeo looks composed of many deliberate and meaningful steps forward in technology, design, quality and customer focus. Welcome the Tonale, a new hope for one of the greatest, but for decades unfulfilled, car brands.