The original Alfa Romeo SUV.
Name: Alfa Romeo Kamal
Debuted: 2003 Geneva Motor Show
Specs: V6 3.2-liter engine with 250 hp (186 kW), 221 lb-ft (300 Nm) torque, all-wheel drive with three differentials, six-speed sequential gearbox, 124+ mph (200+ kph) top speed
Why We Remember It Now:
With the Stelvio taking center stage at the Los Angeles Auto Show as Alfa Romeo’s first production SUV, we have decided to take a look at the concept that signaled the brand’s intentions towards dipping its toes into the now much-disputed segment.
Alfa’s lineup 13 years ago was pretty amazing, with models such as the 147, 156, GT, GTV, Spider, 166, and the GT creating a nice family portrait. In 2003, the Kamal concept came out and proposed a new and entirely different addition to model range, but it never evolved to become a production vehicle.
Significantly smaller than the Stelvio, the Kamal was envisioned as a proper SUV with an all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring capabilities and three differentials to give it some real off-road credentials. It still had to be as sporty as one would expect an Alfa Romeo to be, so the engineers gave it an independent suspension at both axles and a fast Selespeed six-speed sequential gearbox with electronic clutch developed by Magneti Marelli.
Much like the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the Kamal concept had quad exhaust tips denoting there was something strong lurking underneath the hood. It too had a V6 engine, a 3.2-liter taken from the 147 GTA with a healthy 250 hp (186 kW) and 221 lb-ft (300 Nm) delivered to 20-inch alloy wheels shod in Pirelli Scorpion tires created specifically for the concept. Back in the day, Alfa Romeo said the Kamal topped out at more than 124 mph (200 kph), although that was just an estimation.
Images of the interior cabin were never released, only several design sketches. Alfa Romeo did say the concept had side-hinged rear doors activated by an internal mechanism and a rear window that opened independently of the tailgate, which had a split opening to boost practicality. A spacious 400-liter trunk gave it the “internal versatility of an MPV,” according to the original press release from 2003 attached below for your reading pleasure.
The “Kamal” name might return in the years to come for another high-riding Alfa taking into account the FCA-owned company registered the moniker with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in April this year. There are two SUVs on Alfa’s agenda until 2020, so a “Kamal” could be one of them to slot below the Stelvio.
Seeing as how sales of crossovers and SUVs have exploded in recent years, the Kamal was probably a missed opportunity. But the Stelvio is finally out now, so better late than never…
Gallery: 2003 Alfa Romeo Kamal
In Sanskrit 'Kamal' indicates the colour red. In Arabic, the same term stands for 'perfection' or the 'synthesis of opposites'. Different languages, and different meanings which balance and mutually complement each other in the same word. An evocative force to describe the fascinating concept car from Alfa Romeo, making its début in Italy.
It is called the Kamal, and it marks an authentic conceptual and stylistic leap forward in the international car scene. New horizons and brand new segments are opening up, and Alfa wants to play an important part.
At this point it is easy to imagine the enormous effort that the Alfa Romeo Business Unit has poured into one ambitious goal it set itself: to present the concept of 'elegant sportiness', which has always been a distinctive feature of the Brand, in a completely new form, that is unique in its way.
Through a complex, refined interplay of allusions, the Kamal reminds us of Alfa Romeo's glorious traditions in the sports car sector, while at the same time it also includes attractive ideas that look to the future and new developments in the SUV - MPV segments in particular.
A mix of style and design that represents a distinctive crossover of cultures. The model is a fusion of different vehicle types. It combines the off-road performance of an SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) with the driving satisfaction and handling characteristics of a compact Alfa Romeo. At the same time, it offers a versatile, functional passenger compartment typical of a Multi Purpose Vehicle due above all to clever use of space and a wide range of seat configurations. Everything comes packed into an unmistakable Alfa shape designed by the Arese Style Centre. The car would be just as at home on the intricate streets of a European city as it would on a desert track of frontier landscape.
In other words, the Kamal arouses emotion, it makes driving enjoyable, it makes you want to live life to the full and satisfies a desire for unfettered travel that knows no boundaries of age or sex.
Driving pleasure trade marked by Alfa Romeo
A love of driving, a love of travelling. If the first has always been one of Alfa's strengths, the second becomes an obligatory choice when, in addition to the Alfa temperament, the car also has to have the comfort of a saloon. For this reason, the Kamal was designed with double wishbone suspension all round.
This layout makes driving extremely enjoyable, combining the complete control typical of front wheel drive with exceptional sportiness and pinpoint accuracy, exploited in full on mixed routes. What is more the Kamal suspension has height adjustable air springs which are lowered automatically when a certain speed is reached: the effect is that of a car that really grips the road. That is not all. The driver can adjust the suspension height according to the type of use: higher off the road, lower on the road.
On the Kamal, the superb comfort guaranteed by the suspension is enhanced by the exuberant temperament that we have come to expect from an Alfa sports car. This is why the concept car was designed with a powerful 3.2 V6 24V delivering 250 bhp. Powerful, but more than anything 'round', as a six cylinder unit should be. An engine that can provide not only exceptional performance and peaks of power and torque, but also a smooth, progressive power delivery even at low speeds. In other words a car that is capable of exciting performance but is also suitable for our everyday roads and not only for the race track.
The power output is 250 bhp at 6200 rpm, with peak torque of 300 Nm (30.6 kgm) at 4800 rpm. Which is sufficient to guarantee exciting performance, and a torque curve that reaches very high values even at low speeds, allowing you to travel in 6th at less than 2000 rpm and to slip rapidly away without needing to change gear.
The gearbox is the famous Selespeed unit with an operating logic derived from Formula 1, which makes for faster gear changes at low and high speeds.
Sophisticated suspension, a brilliant engine, the latest generation gearbox and direct steering, that responds precisely and rapidly. This winning combination produces the incredibly enjoyable drive of the Kamal, which is pure Alfa Romeo. With an extra something. The prototype has a lower centre of gravity than a conventional SUV, increasing the car's stability, and it is also lower; this improves the Cd and thus performance (the estimate top speed exceeds 200 km/h).
On top of which the Kamal was designed with VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) to ensure absolute mastery over the car in all conditions, even the most extreme, as well as ASR (Anti Slip Regulation). The first is a device that kicks in during emergency braking, while the second intervenes at any speed, assisted by the brakes and the engine management, to optimise traction.
All the internal versatility of an MPV
It is 435 centimetre long, 186 cm wide and 162 cm high, measurements that make the Kamal a unique vehicle of its type in the world.
It has four doors that have a particular opening system. While the front doors open in the normal way with a handle, the rear doors are side-hinged, activated by an internal mechanism.
The rear window is also a novelty because it opens independently of the tailgate. The latter has a small 'flap' which can be lowered and extended to the ground, to make loading even easier. And by folding away the rear seats, it is possible to create a flat, easily accessible loading area. The luggage compartment exceeds 400 litres and there are also numerous oddment compartments and glass recesses in the central tunnel. The tunnel can even be used to keep drinks cool, thanks to cold air from the climate control system. The enormous transparent roof is also an innovative touch.
An 'all-terrain' look that leaves no doubt
Kamal was designed to tackle any situation on the road and any climatic condition. Without cutting corners. This is borne out by the reinforced live axle as well as the adoption of 4 wheel drive with electronic control, with three differentials and Torsen system, which splits the torque variably between the front and rear wheels.
Kamal's 'all-terrain' temperament is enhanced by the aluminium protection around the chassis and engine, and 20" Pirelli Scorpion tyres, with mix and tread designed specifically for Alfa Romeo.
Styling: a new format for the Alfa Romeo DNA
The Kamal was designed at the Alfa Romeo Styling Centre and it certainly has a strong personality. It concentrates two types of concept in its styling: belonging to the Alfa range and, more unusual for this class of car, a resemblance to an on-road rather than an off-road vehicle.
From the brand DNA it inherited its compactness, which is extremely important for manoeuvring, and formal balance. It is compactness that gives the versatility which enables the Kamal to be used both on the track and off the road. It slips into the role of the everyday car with a natural elegance. The Kamal is the embodiment of elegant sportiness: a fascinatingly exciting feature with a fresh, young appeal.
Let us take a closer look. Long bonnet. Small roof positioned towards the rear. Wrapround glazing. Wheels flush with the body. High waistline. A feeling of balanced masses. These are the features that create the first impression.
In detail, the front highlights the three-leaf clover effect with the foglights incorporated into the side inlets. An important stylistic touch that makes the new Alfa Romeos immediately recognisable. The simple, refined design of the shield with the chromed surround and metal grill that underlines its sporty appeal. The lines that shape the bonnet start from the shield like two arrows diverging towards the uprights. The bonnet is large and dynamic, linking up smoothly into the windscreen that itself runs into the roof, making the roof incredibly light. The first element we notice at the side is the ratio between the glazing and the sheet metal: the former predominates. This characteristic gives the sense of sportiness and sturdiness that we were expecting. It is attenuated and balanced by the elegant, soft line of the strong 'shoulders' on the wings, which create a sort of double wave. The shape of the rear pillar is typical of Alfa Romeo, with the strong dynamic impetus of the angle.
The tapered side draws our attention to the way the body rests on the large wheels, and lightens the overall effect.
From the side to the rear. The focus on the passenger compartment underlines the pyramid shape which starts from the small section of the roof, and gets wider towards the rear upright and the wheelarch, giving the impression of a vehicle that is anchored to the road. The position of the lights with their horizontal shape is perfectly in tune with the brand's 'family feeling'. Their monochrome colour and extremely high tech features make them resemble jewels set into the sheet metal. The way the exhaust terminal is incorporated into the lower part of the bumper is a final touch of elegance.
Body: 5 doors
Length: 4.35 metres
Width: 1.86 metres
Height: 1.62 metres
Engine: 3,179 cc V6 24v
Power output: 250 bhp
Gearbox: Selespeed 6-speed sequential
Transmission: electronic 4x4 and Torsen system with three differentials
Suspension: double wishbone front and rear
Tyres: Pirelli Scorpion 265-45-20"