It may be the Quadrifoglio version of the Giulia that has been grabbing the headlines, but what about the not so hot models? We tried out the entry-level 2.0T to see if it’s still a match for the German segment leaders.
We like: Great ride, handles brilliantly, strong engine
We don’t like: Tiny wheels, brakes difficult to modulate
- Ever so slightly bigger inside: The Audi A4 2.0 FSI is a great all-rounder in terms of space, drivability and comfort. Priced at R522 068 (April 2017), it's the current Cars.co.za Consumer Awards – powered by WesBank champion in the business class sedan segment.
- More comfortable inside, if not by much: The Mercedes-Benz C200 still has the comfiest ride in the segment. At R522 068 it seems like great value, but consider that the majority of buyers would want to spec a Trim Line when they order their Benz; Avantgarde spec will push the price up to the Giulia's level.
- The default sporty sedan: The BMW 320i Auto remains the first choice for those who want that fine blend of sportiness, refinement and luxury. At R547 956, it undercuts the Alfa on price slightly, but note that the same that applies to the Benz (and Audi to an extent) is true for the Bimmer, Luxury Line pushes price beyond the Giulia's.
- Something not from Europe: The Lexus IS comes fully loaded with features and its higher price actually represents good value. It can’t match the Europeans for driver involvement or sheer desirability, however. The 200t E retails for R601 900.
What is it?
The base-spec Giulia comes standard with 16-inch wheels, they are tiny but can be upgraded to 17- or 18-inch.
The 2.0T is an entry point into the Alfa Romeo Giulia range. So much has been said, written, photographed and filmed of the Quadrifoglio Verde performance derivative that we’ve forgotten that Alfa actually needs to sell derivative versions of the Giulia to make some money. It's up against the stiffest of competition with the likes of the Audi A4 2.0TFSI, BMW 320i and the Mercedes-Benz C200.
The 2.0T is powered by a frisky 2.0-litre turbopetrol mated with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It offers basic luxuries – the real nice-to-haves are dispatched to the options list – so can this base version, distinguished by cloth seats, 16-inch wheels and a single-barrel exhaust pipe, successfully lure business class sedan buyers away from traditional fare by offering something that can't be listed on the spec sheets?
In a market that trades on kerb appeal and sportiness, the Alfa sticks to its knitting: the refined, elegant looks grow on you.
How does it fare in terms of…
The hype around the Giulia is still piquing people’s interest. During its tenure in our test fleet, the 2.0T garnered admiring looks and a plethora of questions from passers-by; indeed, Alfa Romeos still have that sense of romanticism/mystique about them.
And the Giulia's cause is certainly aided by its surfeit kerb appeal. It looks purposefully sporty at the front and shapely at the rear. The number plate positioning still appears to be most onlookers' problem, but as an Alfa owner/enthusiast, you may just assert the brand "owns" that design quirk.
Still comfortable in traffic and city driving, but we would like to try it on the bigger wheel options.
Somewhat surprisingly, for a sedan with a sporty bent, the Giulia delivers a satisfying blend of thrilling dynamics and on-road pliancy, courtesy of a supple suspension. Take it easy and the suspension soaks up speed bumps and crevices in its stride. It provides near C-Class levels of comfort in its ride, but it would be interesting to test it on slightly bigger wheels with a lower profile – something owners will probably opt to specify for their cars.
Interior tech and refinement
The cabin is minimalist in design, but the touchable surfaces all feel sturdy and premium.
In this particular segment, you expect a certain level of technology to be present along with opulent cabin trims and finishes. Unfortunately, although far from stripped out, the Giulia does not seem all that well specified. The standard cabin trim is cloth, which can be upgraded to leather at extra cost if you so choose, but the material is rather comfortable and the front seats are pleasingly supportive around the sides.
Dual-zone climate control is a nice standard feature, however and the 8.8-inch infotainment system connects quickly via Bluetooth and USB ports – it's one of the better phone-to-car systems we’ve used. Navigation is only available on the next model up (Super) in the Giulia lineup.
Meanwhile, the build quality of the Giulia appears to be good, if not best-in-class. The interior design is pleasing to take in and the touches of brushed aluminium on the dash and dark wood grain trim panel around the gear lever are great to run your fingers over.
Grained wood surrounds the gear lever, infotainment controller and the dynamic mode selector dial.
The rim is leather steering wheel is nice and thick and the start button located by your left thumb feels just right. There’s a lot to like about the cabin of the Giulia, even though it seems restrained and conventional by traditional Alfa Romeo standards, it would please most business class sedanistas.
Alfa Romeo no longer lags behind in the performance department or indeed its drivetrain technology. The 2.0-litre turbopetrol's outputs are very competitive at 147 kW and 330 Nm of torque; it moves the Giulia along effortlessly and is lightning-responsive to throttle inputs (for a turbo motor).
There’s plenty of torque in reserve if you need to overtake at freeway speeds and acceleration from standstill to 100 kph is claimed at 6.6 seconds, which is nothing short of blistering for an entry-level derivative. The 8-speed transmission is smooth-shifting up the gears and, for the most part, back down the 'box too. It can get a touch clunky when coming to a standstill as it rushes to get back into first gear.
The Alfa badge can hold up to the German test now. Start/stop button is a simple thumb away – a simple and practical idea.
The only criticism at this point would be the Giulia'sbrakes. They are difficult to modulate progressively. A small prod does nothing and a slightly harder prod appears to have the retardation of a Formula 1 car. Slow speed braking can make you look amateurish as you jolt your way to a halt.
Attenzione! There’s a new segment leader in this department. The Giulia was conceived as a performance car first and the chassis designed and tweaked specifically for it. The lesser-powered derivatives benefit from that design philosophy, particularly with regards to their handling and steering.
The Giulia is the new class leader when it comes to handling talents in the Business Class segment.
The Giulia will please you with its rapid steering that makes it feel light on its wheels and quick to change direction (it does require familiarisation, but is easy to adjust to). The sedan doesn’t lean dramatically as a result of the sharp direction changes and remains spirit-level flat (well, just about) when thrust side to side. It’s great fun to coax through your favourite twisty section and provides astounding confidence to push and find the limits.
The grip levels are high, even on the comparatively tiny wheels and the Giulia feels balanced and predictable, even if you force it to give up its grip on the road. The steering weights up gradually as you feed on the lock, but it lacks ultimate feel, but that can be said of so many electrically-assisted steering systems nowadays. It is one of the better steering systems we’ve used recently, however.
The Giulia 2.0T comes in at R555 000. That's about R10-20k more than comparable base-spec German rivals and will ultimately cost more once you have upgraded its wheels and upholstery etc, but if you rank vehicle dynamics highly or are looking for something a bit more standout, then it's arguably worth the small extra outlay. The Giulia is sold with a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and a 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.
There were worries that the Giulia would be a one-trick pony, that it was only going to work as a Quadrifoglio and that the run-of-the-mill versions would be average. Well, in our experience, the Giulia works as an entry-level business class car too. It feels like a luxury item from the interior to the driving experience and stylish exterior – bar the tiny (16-inch) wheels.
Its handling dynamics are its strong point, leaping ahead of the competition. The Giulia is engaging to drive and the chassis and wheels feel glued to the tarmac. The engine is excellent, with very little lag at the bottom-end. Space in the front and back is on par with competitors as is the boot space. It’s also surprisingly comfortable in day-to-day driving situations and apart from the difficult to modulate brakes, it's a smooth, refined sedan.
The interior, while lacking features such as parking sensors, cameras or fancy headlight systems, is a nicely designed and a cosseting place to sit and we'd rate its build quality as good; it's certainly not a negative. The infotainment system is easy to use and comprehensive in its abilities.
We're willing to put our heads on the chopping block: If you’re buying a BMW 3 Series because it’s the most dynamic business class sedan on the market, then you’re buying the wrong car. The Giulia can now lay claim to that title.
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