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First drive: Alfa Romeo’s Junior is the brand’s first EV, but is it a hit or miss?

The Junior is Alfa Romeo’s first EV. (Stellantis)
The Junior is Alfa Romeo’s first EV. (Stellantis)

What is it?

(Stellantis)

The Junior arrives as Alfa Romeo’s first electric car. Though originally called the Milano, it was renamed after a discussion with the Italian government saw authorities raise disputes around the car’s name due to its production in Poland.

A new name in place, the Junior is the baby SUV in the Italian firm’s line-up and will go up against cars like the Peugeot e-2008 and Lexus LBX.

In recent times, Alfa Romeo has been forced to cut back its range to just a handful of models, but now thanks to the Tonale and the Junior, the brand is finally shaping up again in a fiercely competitive world of crossovers and SUVs. We’ve been given an initial go at finding out what this interesting new EV is like by driving around Fiat’s famous Balocco testing facility.

What’s new?

(Stellantis)

The Junior breaks a lot of barriers for Alfa Romeo. Not only is it the firm’s first electric model, but it is also the smallest car in its range and the cheapest, too.

There’s a new body with cool styling features such as the Scudetto – or ‘little shield’, in Italian –  front grille that houses the Alfa Romeo logo on electric versions while the interior incorporates Alfa’s famously style-focused approach to cabin design.

Underneath, there’s a battery setup that can be specified in three different power outputs – more on that later – and the car sits on Stellantis’ e-Cmp2 modular architecture platform which is the same you’ll find in the electric Vauxhall Mokka, Fiat 600e and Peugeot e-2008.

What’s under the bonnet?

(Stellantis)

The little Alfa in electric guise will be available with a choice of one battery pack with three power outputs.

All models come with a 54kWh battery pack bringing 158bhp and a range of up to 250 miles on a single charge in the standard version.

The higher-powered Speciale model packs 243bhp and gives a claimed range of 215 miles between charges as well as achieving 0-60mph in an estimated 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 124mph.

The range-topping Veloce receives 283bhp and also has the same claimed electric range as the former at 215 miles and it has the same top speed, too, though the 0-60mph time drops to an estimated 5.7 seconds.

All models will be compatible with DC rapid charging – up to 100kW – which will enable them to go from 10 to 80 per cent charge in less than 30 minutes.

There will also be a hybrid version badged ‘Ibrida’ that will come with a three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine that produces 134bhp with a 28bhp electric motor mated to a six-speed automatic transmission— which is the same powertrain as you’ll find the Citroen C3 Aircross. However, it is unconfirmed whether this model will make it to the UK.

What’s it like to drive?

The Junior drives just as well as it looks. For a small crossover, the way it handles is second to none thanks to very little body roll and good balance through the corners. The steering has a nice weighty feel without being too artificial and the power from its electric powertrain is plentiful.

We were testing the 283bhp Veloce model which also comes with larger 20-inch alloy wheels and has a 25mm drop in ride height. The ride, although a little firm, wasn’t unbearable – though we didn’t drive the Junior on any public roads. However, an artificial ‘acceleration’ noise pumped through the speakers to simulate a sportier driving experience sounded cheap and it would have been better to remove the sound altogether.

Driving the car in Dynamic mode sharpens up the throttle response and adjusts the stability control to enhance the car even further around the bends and it shows, with the Junior managing to put a smile on every motoring enthusiast’s face.

How does it look?

(Stellantis)

Alfa Romeo knows a thing or two about designing a stylish car and the Junior keeps up that trend. The front end has boomerang-shaped front headlights with four individual LED daytime running lights, while the front grille has a carved design that houses the Italian firm’s logo. The Junior is one of the first Alfa Romeo’s to feature a centrally mounted front number plate, too.

The side profile gives a sportier three-door appearance with the famous hidden rear door handles – something we’ve seen on Alfa models for decades – and a large gloss black lower bumper with diffuser giving a more dynamic and stylish stance.

What’s it like inside?

(Stellantis)

Inside, there is leather, Alcantara and our Veloce model has Sabelt sports seats which look great, hold you well through the corners and are fairly comfortable, though we feel like they may get a little firm over longer distances. Little touches like the Biscione snake from the Alfa Romeo logo are found on the air vent toggles and on the dashboard, too.

However, the plastics on the door cards and dashboard were hard and brittle which felt cheap and not reminiscent of a vehicle costing over £42,000.

The infotainment screen, although angled towards the driver, is positioned a bit too far down and the climate control switches are hard to see in bright sunlight and fiddly to use on the move. The glovebox was a decent size, however, if the front passenger was sitting in their seat, the lid would cut into their legs.

The switch gear is all typical Stellantis, meaning that you’ll find the same window switches and even key as in a Vauxhall Corsa, and for an Alfa Romeo, that spoils its Italian charm.

However, rear head and leg room is decent for average-sized adults, and the small transmission tunnel makes it easier for three to sit abreast in the rear.

Boot space is one of the biggest in its class at 400 litres and the rear seats fold down to increase its capacity further, it’s just a shame that there is a slight ridge between the boot floor and rear seats.

What’s the spec like?

(Stellantis)

From launch, the Junior will be available in three different trim levels.

Its competitive pricing means that it undercuts its main rival, the Peugeot e-2008 by nearly £2,000.

The standard Elettrica is priced at £33,895 and comes with 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, LED headlamps and taillights, rear parking sensors and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen.

Move up to the Speciale Elettrica priced at £35,695 and it adds a sports styling kit, tinted rear windows, sports pedals, six-way electric driver’s seat with massage function and an electric tailgate.

Our test car was the flagship Veloce model, which continues Alfa Romeo’s sporty image with a larger power output of 283bhp and is priced at £42,295. It boasts a Torsen differential, 20-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers, black and red leather seats, 25mm lower suspension and a black roof.

Verdict

(Stellantis)

The Alfa Romeo Junior is an important car for the Italian firm. Not only is it its first EV, but it’s an electric car that needs to keep up the brand’s reputation of producing an engaging drive while keeping style — and the Junior certainly does exceed in those departments.

Its excellent driving experience and great looks will certainly tempt buyers away from e-2008s and Fiat 600es.

While its interior may be let down by cheap plastics and a user interface that confuses form with function, the Junior is still a practical and very likeable crossover that should be a hit for Alfa Romeo.

  • Model as tested: Alfa Romeo Junior Veloce 280
  • Price as tested: £42,295
  • Engine: 54kWh battery
  • Power: 283bhp
  • Torque: 345Nm
  • 0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 124mph
  • MPG: N/A
  • CO2 emissions: N/A
  • Electric range: 215 miles (est)
  • Maximum charge rate: 100kW