Alfa Romeo Giulia review – has the compact exec segment got a new leader?

In such a competitive marketplace, the Giulia holds its own and represents Alfa’s best effort in years.

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Rating
star-4.5
Pro
Keen engines, enjoyable handling
Con
Firm low-speed ride, option packs soon add up

PRICE from $37,000

There has been much said about the new Alfa Romeo Giulia, but whereas most of the attention has been levelled at the M3-rivalling Quadifoglio, the cooking Giulia models are if anything even more important, as these are the cars that need to appeal to a far wider audience.

Launching with a suite of four turbo petrol and turbo diesel engines, the new Alfa Romeo Giulia is finally adding an Italian option to the compact executive market, previously dominated by the big German manufacturers and occasionally infiltrated by Jaguar and the Japanese pair Lexus and Infiniti.

As compact executive rivals are stronger than ever in their latest iterations, Alfa Romeo can no longer afford to merely get by with recycled platforms and hand-me-down engines. The Giulia’s platform is all-new (and shared with another new volume model, the Stelvio SUV), its engines freshly developed for this car, and it sends its power, like the majority of cars in this class, to the rear wheels.

Fittingly, Alfa Romeo’s effort has paid off – and whether Quadrifoglio or not, this is one of the best cars the company has produced in a very long time. While it lacks polish in places, its talented chassis, strong engines, light weight and improved quality all make this a very competitive offering.

Prices, specs and rivals 

Priced from $37,000, the Giulia is pitched at the premium offerings in the compact executive segment, which is dominated by German brands. The Giulia range is divided into five trim levels, bookended by the base and Veloce models.

Standard kit on the entry-level model comprises a multifunctional steering-wheel, automatic emergency braking and rear parking sensors, with a 6.5-inch screen mounted on the centre console for the informtainemt system. The base trim is exclusively powered by the 197bhp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

The diesel-only Tecnia benefits from a suite of extra tech functions, courtesy of three factory-specced packs, consisting of parking sensors front and rear, multiple USB outlets and a heated windscreen. At $38k it’s arguably the best value for money Gulia.

The Super starts at $39,170 for the petrol, the two diesels carry small premiums, with the more expensive 178bhp version priced at $41k. Justifying the price bump over the base trim is the larger 8.8-inch infotainment screen and 7-inch display integrated into the instrument cluster. The 17-inch alloy wheels also offer distinction from the base model which rides on smaller items.  

The Speciale trim is style-centric with exterior touches lending a sportier aesthetic, with red-painted brake calipers, a double exhaust and sport bumpers, front and rear. Ignoring the heated seats and a heated steering wheel, there’s little separating the $45k Speciale and Super in terms of standard equipment.

The Veloce, an eCoty victor, crowns the standard range with the supersaloon Quadrifoglio model sitting far above it in performance terms. Bespoke alloys and a dual-exit exhaust set the Veloce apart visually and Ferrari-esque, aluminum gearshift paddles add a sporting flare to the interior.

The Giulia models offered largely reflect the variety of derivatives offered by the Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Mercedes-Benz C-class. There is a gap though between the Veloce and Giulia Quadrifoglio that the brands above have managed to fill with the S4, 340i and C43, respectively. Whereas the German trio are available in multiple bodystyles such as fastback or estate, the Giulia is saloon only.

Performance and 0-100kph time

Alfa Romeo has tried hard to ensure that, on paper at least, the Giulia does not compromise too heavily that it falls off a buyer’s shopping list. The lowliest 148bhp 2.2 JTDM diesel compares on price and specification with a BMW 318d, yet will hit 100kph in 8.2 seconds, a whole second quicker than the BMW. The more powerful 188bhp diesel is rated at an impressive 7.1 seconds, beating the BMW 320d by half a second.

Petrol cars are equally competitive, with the 200bhp base petrol dispatching the 0-62 sprint in 6.6 seconds, while the 280bhp Veloce drops that down to 5.7 seconds. Part of the reason the Alfa Romeo Giulia exhibits impressive acceleration numbers is that relative to the class and its size, kerb weight is surprisingly low. At 1429kg in 2.2-litre diesel spec, the Giulia is usefully lighter than most rivals; even the aluminium bodied Jaguar XE weighs 100kg more than the feather-weight Alfa.

The lack of a six-cylinder diesel option might be considered a limiting factor for those after a bit more punch, but for the performance minded buyer, the fantastic Quadrifoglio with its 503bhp was enough to send us into a spin during eCoty. With more than enough performance chops to take on rivals like the M3 and C 63 AMG, the twin-turbo V6 model is a worthwhile addition to your sports saloon shopping list.

Engine and gearbox

Traditionally a strong point for Alfa Romeo, the Giulia has been launched with a range of five engine choices, including the Quadrifoglio super saloon’s twin-turbo V6. Standard Giulias get the option of a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and a 2.2-litre turbo diesel, each in two states of tune.

For private buyers and those less concerned with CO2 numbers, the entry 2.0-litre petrol Giulia produces 197bhp, putting power through the rear wheels. The new all-alloy engine features MultiAir technology – hydraulically actuated variable valve timing – along with direct fuel injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger.

Peak torque of 243lb ft is available from just 1750rpm and is deployed through an eight-speed torque-converter transmission, Alfa having opted for an all-auto range.

For those wanting a bit more punch, Alfa offers a more powerful 268bhp version of the same 2.0-litre engine, although it is only available in high spec Veloce trim.

The diesel options are expected to make up a majority of UK sales though; with 150 and 180bhp options split across 2 trim levels. The all-new JTDms are impressively frugal as we’ll get to in a moment, but crucially they feel different to other diesels, offering a more linear torque curve, encouraging a sportier driving style. The flip side of this is that despite the numbers, both engines lack the plateau of torque, which give rivals like the 320d that feeling of effortless shove. 

Despite offering manual gearboxes elsewhere in Europe, Alfa Romeo has kept the Giulia an automatic only proposition in the UK. The 8-speed ZF unit on offer though is a good one, offering fast concise shifts that are immeasurably improved when summoned on the optional column mounted paddles. 

Ride and Handling

On the move, the car is nicely refined and instantly likeable. The $2420 Performance Pack brings variable dampers, paddles behind the steering wheel for manual shifting, and a limited-slip differential. The damper modes are selected via the now-familiar Alfa DNA switch, which also affects other attributes such as the throttle and steering. In its regular setting the suspension gives a ride that’s firm but very well controlled, and there’s a sense that the taut shell is allowing it to get on with the job at hand.

With the optional 18-inch alloy wheels there’s an unyielding quality to the Alfa’s low-speed ride around town that a more generous tyre sidewall may mitigate, but it’s not something that anyone interested in a sports saloon would baulk at, and it’s more comfortable than a Jag XE.

What really gives the Giulia its own personality is its quick steering. It takes a period of acclimatisation, but it has a natural weight and feel and it’s not so extreme as to make the car feel nervous. You soon learn to make small, precise inputs, entirely in keeping with the inherent poise and fine balance of the chassis. It’s the sort of car that encourages a brisk, enthusiastic driving style almost everywhere. 

L/100km and running costs

A positive result of Alfa Romeo’s efforts in weight saving, the Giulia exhibits impressive economy numbers, which should help keep it desirable on the company car list. With L/100km as high as 4.2L/100km for both diesels, the Giulia about on par with the BMW 3-series and Audi A4 benchmarks. Petrol models both boast L/100km figures in the mid 40s, a little off the pace (on paper, at least) compared to German benchmarks.

The big issue with the Giulia is in expected depreciation, as the Italian car will be unlikely to retain its value like most established rivals. Combined with a comparatively high purchase price, it could prove to be a deal-breaker for company buyers who will need to take it into account more acutely, and may result in less favourable lease deals than some of the cast-iron Germans.

Interior and tech

Alfa Romeo’s ‘skunkworks’ development of the Giulia may have brought it to market in a shorter time frame than usual, but it has not come without compromise. In Alfa Romeo’s defence, one must look hard to see where the money has been saved, but there are signs of it in the interior.

The design itself is attractive, with reoccurring Alfa Romeo hallmarks like cowled instruments and a lovely three-spoke steering wheel. Instead, it’s the use of materials that leaves a little to be desired. Crucial touch points like the gearstick and infotainment controllers feel cheap and flimsy, and is an area where the Audis, BMWs and Mercedes of this world have taken to the nth degree.

In distinct contrast to these are the lovely, albeit optional, aluminium paddles, which feel like they have been taken straight off an Italian supercar. Specifically, they’re much like those found on the Ferrari 488. No rival offers such a satisfying method of interaction with its automatic gearbox.

Space wise, the Giulia is about right for the class, with more passenger room than the titchy Jaguar XE, but not quite as cavernous in the back or boot as an Audi A4. The lack of an estate variant will limit its appeal to some buyers, but the Stelvio SUV is likely to fill the void to those who don’t mind driving around something a little taller.

The infotainment system takes plenty of cues from German systems, displayed on a screen that is hidden behind a black panel when not in use. The layout is effective and although it is not as crisp or slick to use as the benchmark BMW i-drive or Audi MMI, it’s not so bad as to be a deal-breaker like the system in a Lexus IS.

Design

Thanks to an all-new rear drive chassis, Alfa Romeo designers were gifted the chance to reform Alfa Romeo design for this next generation. Hardly a cradle of distinctive design, the compact executive class doesn’t provide a huge amount of creative expression beyond branding exercises, but the lack of aesthetic distinction seen in the Giulia is disappointing, especially compared to its 159 predecessor and the 156 before that.

Despite the traditional Alfa Romeo grill, from most angles one might struggle to identify the Giulia. Its oversized headlights lack the aggressive scowl of the 159 and despite pleasant details like some attractive wheel options, the overall design is disappointing considering Alfa Romeo’s track record.

The Alfa’s saving grace may well be its relative rarity on local roads, as in the sea of BMW 3-series and Audi A4s, the fact it is not a German compact executive might well be enough for most. 

This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk

Copyright © evo UK, Dennis Publishing

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