Giulia: an Alfa reborn… no, reimagined


After the thrilling introduction of the visceral Quadrifoglio version of the Alfa Romeo Giulia (which remains available, but in limited numbers), the 2.0-litre derivatives of the new range are tasked with enlarging the Italian marque’s footprint in the cut-throat business class segment.

On the face of it, the “cooking-variety” Giulias, shorn of the flagship version's rip-snorting 375 kW 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, a host of exterior carbon-fibre addenda, those massive black rims, an active aero splitter, Alfa DNA Pro, torque vectoring and chassis domain control (active suspension) systems, look a trifle unassuming, still elegant and oh-so-easy on the eye, but yes, comparatively demure.

Considering the reception to its classically-pretty predecessors, the retro 156 and svelte 159 (I am proud to have owned one of each), the Giulia is suave and executively-clad, but not drop dead gorgeous. By Alfa’s lofty style standards, the Giulia is inoffensively attractive, but that’s true of the newcomer’s rivals from Germany, the UK, Sweden and Japan (who’d ever think that the Lexus IS’ exterior treatment would be the most attention-grabbing of the lot?).

There is an integral elegance to the Giulia's shape, but look quickly and the non-QV derivative could be mistaken for another premium sedan.

But then, even though 156 sales started strongly in South Africa, the 159, which arrived here in 2006 at the height of a new-vehicle sales boom, failed to garner much sales success despite its advances in refinement and a maintenance plan; besides, its performance and efficiency were mediocre. The range later gained a turbodiesel version and then, in 2011, the introduction of the Ti-specification and 1.75-litre turbocharged motor made little to no impact at all.

“Beauty is not enough", at least that is what Alfa Romeo’s 2003 advertising slogan read, and, unfortunately, it proved rather prophetic for the fate of the beautiful 159 and its delectable Brera and Spider siblings. So, does it really matter that the Giulia’s not THAT attractive, then?

Designed to conquer Trump land

To understand the Giulia’s product pitch, consider that it’s based on Alfa Romeo’s Giorgio RWD platform, which will underpin a raft of upcoming products, including the Stelvio SUV. The Milanese marque is desperate to crack the North American market, but, until recently, it just didn’t have the products to do it.

The Giulia, however, which is said to have been delayed until FCA boss Sergio Marchionne was happy with it, represents Alfa Romeo’s best shot to date of establishing a foothold in the lucrative (comparatively massive) United States market and other places where the brand is a mere myth. The firm feels so strongly about the newcomer's chances that it ran a (what must have been very expensive) Giulia TV ad spot during the mass-watched 2017 Super Bowl.

Ignoring the optional carbon-fibre wrapped front seatbacks for a minute... the rear legroom available in the Giulia is quite impressive.

As a car that’s meant to win new converts to the brand, the Giulia is a conventionally packaged business class sedan – plain and simple – which is a very good start in a market where buyers can be very brand-loyal. It has a rear-wheel drive layout, offers reasonable rear legroom, its 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol motor develops more power and torque (147 KW/330 N.m) than the BMW 320i, Mercedes-Benz C200 and Audi A4 2.0 TFSI (with the exception of the latter's quattro sport derivative) and the motor’s mated with a slick 8-speed automatic transmission sourced from ZF.

The second derivative in the range, the Super, features 17-inch alloys, twin exhausts, privacy glass and aluminium-trimmed scuff plates. Inside, you find dual-zone climate control, auto headlamps and windscreen wipers, stop/start technology, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and shift paddles. So, the specification is quite good, although blind-spot monitoring and a reverse-view camera (or at least rear PDC) would have been sweeter still.  

The seats are, a little curiously, trimmed in a combination of leather and cloth, which is sporty and befits the sedan’s character, but most buyers would probably prefer full leather, because, well, that’s what they’re used to getting in business class sedans.

The woodgrain insets (if specified as part of the Luxury Pack) give the Alfa a "baby Maserati" feel.

The biggest revelation of the Giulia’s interior is the feeling of solidity it exudes. Again, by the standards of its predecessors, there is little flair or flourish to the Italian car’s fascia design (no Agua/Benzina/Olio dials), but the controls have such a reassuring weight to them and there are metallic trims on all the important touch areas. Any buyer who’s owned or test driven a business class sedan would feel very much at home when ensconced in the Alfa’s cabin.

Look, there are still quirks to the interior, principal of which is the sit-up-and-beg driving position, which is more akin to that of a crossover or SUV than a sporty sedan, the infotainment system’s touchscreen seems scattered with arbitrary digital messages when it is not being used (I’m sure the navigation system in the Super with Stile Pack or Quadrifoglio derivatives is a bit more cohesive-looking, judging from my short stint in the meteoric QV) and when the lane departure warning on the Super is activated it emits an uninspiring “whumh whumh whumh” noise. Hmm, charming.

Still engaging to drive quickly

The good news, from a driving point of view, is that the Giulia delivers a level of engagement that belies that awkward driving position. Courtesy of an innovative suspension (double wishbone setup with semi-virtual steering axis at the front and a 4.5-link configuration at the rear) and what is claimed to be the most direct steering system in its segment, the Italian handles with a level of alertness and deft that is sadly rare in cars of its class.

To obtain an optimal weight-to-power ratio, the newcomer features a carbon fibre driveshaft and aluminium for the engine and suspension (including front domes and front and rear frames). The car handles really nicely, even if its steering feels a mite lively (again, by the standards of its direct rivals). Allied to that, the ride quality is pleasingly pliant (on the 17s) and the absence of severe wind and road noise intrusion was impressive... It is a bona fide luxury car.

By imbuing the Giulia with good levels of build quality and on-road refinement, the Alfa's appeal is substantially broader.

The engine’s performance is eager, but truth be told the throttle and transmission responses are rather leisurely unless Dynamic mode is called upon… heck, the exhaust note (for a direct-injection turbopetrol motor) even has a snarly edge to it. Suffice to say there is more to come from the package, with a 206 kW Veloce version in the works for introduction at a later date and I, for one, can't wait to drive it.  

In conclusion then, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, in 2.0-litre guise, might not be the most pretty, spirited, heart-wrenchingly desirable sedan that the Milanese-based marque has ever produced, but it is a very competent business class sedan (with a bit of a twist... it really is entertaining to drive quickly). Suffice to say it will appeal to conventional premium car buyers in a way its predecessors never could.

And yet, such is the underappreciation of the Alfa Romeo brand in South Africa (for various reasons) that perhaps the peace of mind offered by the Mercedes-Benz rivalling 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan might still not help the Italian marque win over enough buyers to make the Giulia a sales success. Expectations are modest – bear in mind that the family car/compact SUV/crossover segment has made huge inroads into this market.

It’s a pity. The Giulia 2.0 is not the most desirable Alfa Romeo I’ve ever driven. But it most certainly is the best one.

Related content:

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (2017) Video Review
Alfa Romeo Giulia (2017) Specs & Pricing
[Updated] Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (2016) First Drive
Alfa Romeo Stelvio (2017) International First Drive
Behind the Badge: Alfa Romeo
Spotted in SA: Alfa Romeo SUV & new Fiats

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