We tried to make the design of our Alfa Romeo idea as forward-thinking as the corporate’s earlier fashionsReimagining vehicles from the previous is a development we applaud. Twelve months on from our final go, we attempt once more – with combined outcomes
Extra typically than you may assume, new vehicles are created by folks whose names aren’t on the bonnet badge.
Automotive makers, particularly start-ups spurred on by particular circumstances just like the fast rise of the Chinese language market and the onrush of electrification and autonomy, enlist assistance from discreet specialists who conceive, model, engineer and prepared new vehicles for manufacturing, then fade away as if nothing ever occurred. The UK has a wide selection of such skilled consultancies, and enterprise is brisk.
Once we determined to repeat final yr’s profitable Christmas wheeze of reimagining a quartet of well-loved classics (through our resident designer Ben Summerell-Youde), it appeared wise to get them assessed by confirmed automobile creators.
We’ve got once more approached Envisage Group, the Coventry-based consultancy with whom, a few years in the past, we created and part-engineered an all-new five-door electrical saloon for 10-15 years therefore. This time, 4 of us proposed new iterations of outdated vehicles – an alternate Mercedes A-Class, a new-era Audi A2, an Alfa Romeo Duetto and a Ford Capri crossover – and every wrote a brief justification of the idea. These had been assessed for practicality, market enchantment and modern content material by a three-man Envisage group led by engineering director Paul Arkesden, with venture supervisor Craig Bonham and engineering supervisor Stuart Smith, all significantly skilled in different initiatives and at different firms – however unable to speak very a lot about any of it, such is the secrecy in automobile creation.
Speaking about our initiatives, although, was one thing the group was completely happy to do. Not that their reactions had been all candy music to our ears, because the feedback clarify…
Steve Cropley: Ford Capri
What makes me need to recreate this extremely profitable last-century Ford coupé is the catchy promoting label that all the time went with it: “The automobile you all the time promised your self.” For automobile nuts, such vehicles are all the time lurking at the back of the thoughts.
Get critical about making a brand new Capri and also you quickly strike hassle. Any mission to recreate a long-nosed European 2+2 runs into two main issues: firstly, the truth that there isn’t an appropriate Ford front-engine/rear-drive powertrain out there on this facet of the Atlantic; and secondly, the truth that Europe’s best-selling sports activities coupé is already a Ford – the Mustang. No sense in launching in opposition to that.
What would the individuals who constructed Ford’s efficiency picture so excessive within the 1960s have completed? Nicely, in Detroit a bit over a yr in the past, their descendants defined that Ford’s grand plan is to make use of iconic names to promote first-gen electrical vehicles. To me, ‘Capri’ stands within the entrance rank of Ford’s nice names, however what sort of electrical automobile is sensible? What sort of electrical automobile am I promising myself? Electrical saloons are all over the place and the Capri was by no means a household automobile. SUVs promote strongly, however there’s no argument for a boxy Capri. The problem is to suggest one thing whose styling says compact, trendy, agile, not less than semi-sporting and, above all, related to trendy life. In any case, that authentic Capri labored so effectively as a result of it fitted folks’s lives on the time.
That’s why I’m proposing the brand new Capri as a form of diminutive, high-rolling electrical fastback coupé, paying homage to a stubby, downsized Aston Martin DBX idea however with the footprint of a Ford Ecosport, perhaps plus an inch or two. That approach, the automobile will be proud and sensible, with sportiness chucked in, and its top can present battery house extra simply than a saloon.
There could be a little bit of off-road toughness, with the wheel design and tyre tread including character, together with a non-corporate grille (nothing says ‘mainstream’ greater than a company grille). A radical roofline is crucial, too. I’m seeing a fastback rear assembly a rising belt, with extra extravagant surfacing than you usually see on a small automobile, though by no means overdone. It’d be a query of stability. Nice designers may additionally discover a element or two, perhaps even a rear window define, to echo the unique Capri. I’d definitely wish to see them attempt.
There’s a necessity, or quickly will likely be, I consider, for reasonably priced electrical vehicles which can be compact, sporty and, above all, just a little bit particular. There’s completely nothing on this house at current and the shoppers are getting impatient.
Professional view: there’s nothing prefer it
“This one actually obtained us pondering, principally as a result of there’s nothing prefer it in the marketplace. That’s the place we struggled: it helps to have a purchaser in thoughts though each electrification is coming very quickly and crossover structure is trendy.
“You’ll be able to take consolation from the truth that there are not any vehicles like this within the chosen measurement and value vary — perhaps you’ve found a automobile as particular and trend-setting as the brand new Mini — otherwise you will be alarmed by it. Or perhaps it’s a automobile nobody will need.
“It’s not apparent what present platform you’d construct this off, given the size and that it’s electrical. However we notice the suggestion that Ford’s technique for future EVs will likely be to connect iconic names and shapes to them to earn credibility and justify greater pricing. From that viewpoint, it really works.”
Matt Prior: Audi A2
Easy methods to revive the Audi A2? Simply restart the unique manufacturing line. The A2 was a automobile thus far forward of its time that perhaps we’re virtually prepared for it now. I’m joking, after all. A few of the authentic A2 bits must go, I suppose. We’d must can the diesels, for a begin, though the unique 1.four TDI was good for 119g/km and 65.7mpg – 18 years in the past. Later, there was a 1.2 diesel that averaged 94mpg. Key to the A2’s so-2018 frugality was that it weighed solely 895kg, owing to its diminutive measurement and aluminium construction. It additionally had extraordinarily slippery aerodynamics.
The A2 couldn’t be so mild at this time, as a result of a brand new model, if it matched the forward-looking ethos of its predecessor, must be primarily based on the Volkswagen Group’s MEB electrified platform, have a flooring stuffed with batteries and an electrical motor at one finish or the opposite. Which implies that, similar to 18 years in the past, hardly anybody will purchase one, as a result of except you possibly can plug it in at house and have a predictable commute, you’re exposing your self to the wild west of the general public charging community. And nobody will do this except they’re compelled to, which is why quickly all of us will likely be.
Powertrain apart, for the brand new A2 little adjustments. The A2 didn’t depend on retro styling, which is why it nonetheless seems contemporary. Its thick door pillars had been for crash safety and its bluff, excessive rear and accompanying tiny window made for good aero however harm visibility. As we speak, blindspot sensors and rearview cameras can repair that.
There’s no apparent repair to the unique A2’s arduous trip, save for the truth that we’ve turn into fairly accustomed to EVs and Audis using harshly and nobody appears to thoughts.
The unique A2’s solely different concern is how few of them Audi managed to promote, which, on condition that it was priced from round £16,000, left revenue margins far too slim. As we speak, we’re used to paying quite a bit for small Audis, so restart the cogs and value the brand new A2 from £30,000.
Professional view: who would purchase it?
“You’ve obtained to ask your self why Audi by no means constructed one other A2. Just a few folks cherished them and nonetheless do, however the questions linger: how do you make certain this automobile has enchantment? What’s the USP?
“We expect promoting it could be the issue. Positive, the unique A2 was mild, but it surely wouldn’t be as mild in manufacturing these days, and the unique additionally had critical price points, like particular plastic wings and a bespoke HVAC system.
“The Autocar proposal may have been much more radical, extra edgy, we expect. The proposed design seems like not way more than a mid-cycle motion on the unique mannequin. The roof is a bit completely different, however we’d predict difficulties with getting out and in of the again seat because of that. Having stated all this, it wouldn’t be too tough to do, relying on the aggressiveness of the price targets.”
Hilton Holloway: Mercedes A-Class (Mk1)
It’s 21 years for the reason that authentic Mercedes A-Class grew to become notorious. For some motive, video of the tiny futuristic car rolling over throughout testing by a Swedish motoring journal hit the TV headlines all over the world, and the phrase ‘elk take a look at’ entered our vocabulary.
The primary motive the brand new A-Class – simply 2000 or so had been constructed on the time – rolled over when steered violently round an impediment was as a result of it was so tall and so brief, and one of many causes it was so tall was its ‘sandwich’ platform.
The double-decker floorpan, which allowed for an empty house below the A-Class’s flat flooring, had numerous capabilities. Within the occasion of a frontal collision, it allowed the slant-mounted engine to be pushed below the ground quite than into the cabin. Sitting passengers excessive additionally significantly improved the side-impact security.
On the time – and this was 21 years in the past, keep in mind – Mercedes engineers additionally prompt that the house is also used to retailer batteries for an electrical A-Class or gasoline tanks for a fuel-cell model.
Certainly, experimental hydrogen fuel-cell variations of the unique A-Class and its B-Class successor had been made. (I drove the latter just a few years in the past within the RAC’s Future Automotive run from Brighton to London.)
Mercedes phased out the sandwich flooring idea, saying lowish gross sales made the bespoke engine and gearbox very costly to do. However I’m nonetheless a devotee of the thought.
The flat flooring and tilted drivetrain make for a fantastically spacious package deal. (The unique A-Class gave 70% of its total size to occupant and baggage house.) Becoming detachable seats to this idea turns it right into a van, or construct it with out seats for a bespoke supply car.
This idea is impressed by each the experimental B-Class range-extender and Toyota’s new Japan Taxi, which has a petrol-hybrid engine albeit fuelled by LPG. The range-extending idea has a lot going for it, particularly when it makes use of low-CO2, low-pollution pure gasoline.
Utilizing pure gasoline additionally permits us to use the intensive fuelling community already below our ft. And in contrast to pure battery energy, gasoline tanks are a lot lighter and less expensive and car vary is unaffected by climate situations. 20 years after it was launched, the unique A-Class engineering idea is extra related than ever. Utilizing this structure and a pure gasoline (or biogas) range-extender drivetrain may underpin a brand new era of diesel-free premium crossovers, as effectively offering the premise for low-pollution haulage.
Professional view: trendy however flawed
“Leaving apart that Mercedes has moved on from the unique, twin-floor A-Class (and is way more profitable with at this time’s model), this revival of the idea does all the things proper for the trendy period. It’s neatly packaged, with the cab ahead and a ‘flip diff’ to shorten the nostril. This stuff are very trendy. However it’s important to resolve whether or not the market cares as a lot concerning the extremes of inside house because the designers.
“It goes again to the Austin Maxi: the corporate made a lot of the truth that you could possibly lay all of the seats down and sleep within the automobile – however no person did.
“We’re not struck on that massive glass roof, both. It’s possible, however you’d devour quite a lot of the power you’ve simply saved retaining the automobile cool.”
Richard Bremner: Alfa Romeo Spider
The Alfa Romeo Spider was as soon as the automobile by which a lot of the glamour of its maker’s title resided. Not solely did it look fairly, with its artfully crafted triple-piece grille, faired headlights, scalloped flanks and delicate boat tail, but it surely additionally had the mechanicals to ship a drive as dreamy as its seems. A rorty all-alloy, twin-cam 1600, a five-speed gearbox, well-engineered suspension and four-wheel disc brakes made it essentially the most refined sports activities automobile in its class. And sophistication it had in spades.
Its fame was vastly amplified by a star look within the 1967 Hollywood movie The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman, but it surely didn’t want such publicity for achievement. Its fundamental excellence and loss-making Alfa Romeo’s incapability to switch it prompted it to stay on for 27 years, in more and more adulterated kind, earlier than being changed in 1995 by the front-drive Spider loosely primarily based on the Fiat Tipo. Whereas not a landmark machine, that 916-series Spider offered decently, survived till 2004 and was finally changed in 2006 by the 159- and Brera-derived Spider. Extra cabrio than sports activities automobile, this obese two-seater offered very slowly till being deleted, but to get replaced, in 2010.
Regardless of this disappointing finish, Alfa has a two-seat sports activities automobile heritage that deserves reviving. Earlier than you mouth ‘4C’, I imply in a way much more convincing than this Lotus Elise-alike underachiever manages. Fortunately, Alfa Romeo now has the to make it occur, particularly the rear-wheel-drive platform from the Giulia saloon. It’s too lengthy for a two-seat Spider, however with a piece of flooring eliminated, an agility-enhancing motion in itself, there may be the platform, suspension and 197bhp, 276bhp and 503bhp engine vary to kind the positive foundation of a sports activities automobile that may be quite a bit sportier than the Mercedes SLC and probably the brand new BMW Z4. Oh, and a guide gearbox can be good.
A beneficiant bonnet, a tail longer than each the SLC’s and Z4’s, as per the unique ’66 Spider’s proportions, ought to produce a timeless design that may function a handful of sculptural and ornamental references to the sooner automobile. However this Spider can be boldly modern, subtly muscular, elegant, Italian and decidedly not retro. Alfa Romeo designs have all the time pushed forward, and this needs to be no completely different. Reaching magnificence would require a material hood, by the way.
The inside can be Italian furnishings post-modern lush, and the speedo and tacho would individually sprout entrance and centre from behind the wheel, ’66 model. However all else can be trendy, driver-centric and thoughtfully geared up for the passenger, too. Sports activities vehicles typically undergo intervals of waning enchantment, earlier than being reignited by contemporary product. An excellent new Alfa Spider ought to do it.
Professional view: not edgy sufficient
“This new model of the sports activities automobile that began as Duetto and have become Spider seems very possible. Alfa’s father or mother, Fiat Chrysler Vehicles, has platforms and powertrain that might be tailored comparatively rapidly to make it.
“The automobile could be very enticing but when something it’s a bit too believable. The proposer has understanding of how low-volume fashions are created from high-volume parts, but when this had been an Envisage venture, we’d have made it extra radical, with an eye fixed on an extended life. A part of the enchantment of vehicles like that is edgy styling. You need a design that begins as a chunk of artwork and a completed form that suggests we will construct this whereas others can’t.”
Principally, we’ve proved once more how arduous it’s to suggest, not to mention specify, a brand new automobile. Our vehicles all have a level of credibility, however Envisage’s consultants (veterans of dozens of stay initiatives) discovered our Alfa Spider a bit too protected, our Audi and Mercedes considerably missing in gross sales enchantment, and our Ford Capri a bit too off-the-wall for consolation. It would work, but it surely seems dangerous. Final yr, our outcomes had been very like this: no person proposed a market smash. With a yr to enhance, we hardly did. Maybe the lesson for us is to stay to the keyboard.
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