Alfa Romeo Junior review

After the Tonale, hopes were not high for the little Junior electric SUV, but will the newcomer provide an electric shock to the compact car market?

Since the arrival of the Giulia and Stelvio, Alfa Romeo hasn’t had all that much to shout about. The Tonale was a bit of a disappointment, and though the executive models have been updated, surprises have been few and far between. Until now, that is. The new Junior had a tough start in life, taking its architecture from the Fiat 600e and having to change its name just days before it arrived on the scene, but now we’ve had chance to drive the new model, and the top-end Veloce version, at least, is a refreshing success story.

Cool image

Alfa Romeo itself admits the Junior is aimed at a new breed of customers – those who don’t see a problem with the Italian brand focusing on SUVs – but the Junior still has plenty of recognisable Alfa Romeo traits. Take the design, for example, which is modern and striking in equal measure. Alfa has revamped the classic shield grille, and the rear styling turns the aerodynamic shape of the taillight housing into a sharp design feature.

So far, the only version Alfa has made available to test is the high-end Veloce model, which is the sportiest option in the Junior line-up. As such, it also benefits from massive wheels and low-profile tyres, as well as a kind of fairing over the grille that is stamped with part of the Alfa logo. Red pinstripes in the body cladding also mark it out from the lowlier ‘Elettrica’ models.

Inside, the Junior gets a driver-orientated cabin with a central touchscreen and a digital instrument cluster, both of which are clear but don’t offer that much in the way of spectacular features. Much more spectacular are the optional Sabelt seats, with cutouts in the backrests but some sharp edges, particularly on the rear shells.

That’s an issue for those who sit in the back, where room is adequate rather than exemplary, and it’s easy to bash knees against the jutting pieces of plastic on the backs of the front seats. That said, the boot is much more practical, offering 400 litres of cargo space and an adjustable floor, allowing you to either hide valuables or trade outright capacity for a flatter surface when the back seats are folded down.

Arguably the cleverest storage solution, though, is the little lunchbox under the bonnet for storing charging cables. Rather than leaving them untidily languishing in the boot, the Junior has a dedicated compartment under the bonnet that’s waterproof and keeps the cable from dirtying your luggage if they’ve been out in the rain. A simple solution, but an effective one.

Electrifying pace

In Europe, Alfa Romeo has confirmed a choice of hybrid and electric powertrains for the Junior, but which models will make it to Ireland remains to be seen. If the hybrids make it, they’ll get 1.3-litre petrol engines with electrical assistance, whereas the Elettrica and Veloce versions both get simple battery-electric powertrains with a 54kWh battery under the floor and an electric motor driving the front wheels. In the case of the Elettrica, that will give the car 156hp, but the Veloce we tested has a much more powerful motor. At 280hp, it needs extra engineering attention to keep it in check, so Alfa Romeo has fitted a Veloce-specific differential that manages the power and improves traction, as well as fitting special suspension and brakes.

The result is a compact electric car that performs magnificently. The characteristics of the electric motors make the acceleration instant and unhinged, so it feels much faster than the official 0-100km/h time of 5.9 seconds might initially suggest.

Hard charger

Yet despite that, it offers respectable range. Although Alfa hasn’t officially confirmed figures for the Junior yet, the company is expecting the Veloce to manage more than 330km on a charge, and that’s not bad for something so fast and with a relatively small battery. The less powerful Elettrica models will probably be looking at over 400km on the official economy test. What’s more, Alfa Romeo has promised 100kW DC charging, which means the battery can be topped up to 80 per cent in around half an hour at a public charging point offering 100kW or more.

But the highlight of the Veloce model in particular is the way it drives. The bespoke suspension set-up means it handles brilliantly, with rapid responses to the steering and impressive body control. However, while Elettrica models are expected to offer greater range, they aren’t expected to be quite as lively on the road.

That said, they may well be more comfortable. The downside of the Veloce’s handling brilliance is that it’s not quite as comfortable as it might have been, and though that’s forgivable – especially as the suspension never feels as though it’s getting caught out – some drivers might favour a smoother journey.

The great unknown

Alfa hasn’t yet announced prices or specifications for the Junior, so it’s difficult to pass judgement on the car overall, but we do know that for keen drivers, the top-of-the-range Veloce model will be one of the best compact electric crossovers on the market. Particularly for keen drivers. Range might be a slight issue for the Veloce model, but for those who value thrills, the Junior will be well worth considering.

What next for Alfa Romeo?

Once the full gamut of Junior models is on the roads, Alfa Romeo will have to decide whether or not to bring the petrol hybrid versions to Ireland. Once that decision is made, the next thing on the Italian manufacturer’s list is a next-generation Stelvio SUV, which is due in 2025 and is expected to at least come with the option of electric power, while the new-generation Giulia saloon is expected in 2026. That too is forecast to be available in electric form when it finally arrives.

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