Is Alfa Romeo’s gorgeous new Giulia just eye candy, or a serious rival to those all-conquering German executive expresses?
It’s a while since Alfa had a rear-wheel drive sports saloon in the range – 1992 to be exact, when the Alfa 75 took a bow. So naturally there was plenty of anticipation ahead of the launch of the all-new Giulia.
The new car’s design caused a sensation, but cynics still thought that the Giulia would be a let-down elsewhere.
Well, we’re happy to report that the doubters couldn’t be more wrong – the Giulia is a fantastic car in so many ways.
Let’s start with its looks. Perfectly proportioned and very sleek, it’s only when you park it alongside other cars that you appreciate how special it is.
The Giulia’s lines are so smooth and distinctive that it looks a decade fresher than so many other new cars.
From the front it’s aggressive, from the side it’s more athletic and feline, while the Giulia’s rear is beautifully pert.
It’s fair to say that it’s not quite so dramatic inside, but it’s still stylish and a very pleasant place to be indeed.
Clearly designed around the driver, the interior is cool and uncluttered. The way the 8.8-inch infotainment screen is built into the curved centre console is especially stylish.
I tested the model in the range that’s likely to be the most popular – the 2.2 Turbo Diesel Super. The four-cylinder turbo diesel unit is available in two outputs (148bhp and 178bhp), and mine was the latter. A 197bhp petrol engine is also available.
Priced from £29,550, there are three trim levels with ‘Super’ (one up from entry level), starting at £31,250.
Next up there’s the Speciale and Veloce, while the flagship Quadrifoglio boasts a 503bhp 2.9-litre V6 Bi-turbo and is a beast,
Back to the 2.2 diesel in my car, which like all the other engine options is only available with automatic transmission.
This may be shocking to some, but the slick ZF eight-speed box is a joy and there are steering column-mounted paddle shifters on the Super spec upwards for more eager drivers… and these aren’t a million miles away from the ones found on a Ferrari.
On paper, the 178bhp diesel is capable of an impressive 67.3mpg, while emitting just 109g/km of CO2. In reality you’re unlikely to get close to those figures, more because the Giulia is such a rewarding driver’s car.
With a top speed of 143mph and a 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds, it’s certainly swift, but it’s the way it delivers the power that’s so special.
Fire her up and the new all-aluminium diesel unit makes itself known. A bit grumbly at first, but it soon smoothes out and effortlessly picks up speed, feeling faster than it is.
The engine may not be the most refined in its class, but Alfa’s engineers have done a good sound insulation job in the cabin and it’s more than a match for the Jaguar XE, for instance.
The other thing that immediately strikes you is the pin-sharp steering. Apparently a new “semi-virtual” system is being used. I can’t possibly understand the science of it, but combined with a small steering wheel, the overall effect is definitely sporty.
The Giulia feels totally planted on the road, grips well and rides superbly. In fact, it’s so entertaining, you have to restrain yourself.
If you want a blast, choose Dynamic on the Alfa’s rotary DNA selector beside the gear selector. It modifies the car’s behaviour and there are three settings – Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency. Everything from the engine to the steering and suspension to brakes are tweaked.
It’s comfortable inside, with a cheekily low driving position if desired, and there’s a quality feel to the cabin which seems well put together.
There’s plenty of room up front and behind for adults, while the boot is a surprisingly spacious 480 litres.
The Giulia is safe too, receiving a maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP with an impressive score of 98% for adult occupancy protection – the highest result ever achieved for a passenger car at the time of testing.
Driver safety aids fitted as standard across the range include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). A blind-spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert are optional, as is a reversing camera.
So far so good, but the Giulia isn’t perfect. For instance, the infotainment screen is big, but it’s not a touchscreen, so only accessible via a rotary controller next to the gear selector. This means that to select a postcode on the sat sav requires spinning round a daisywheel and clicking each letter and number individually – the kind of system Volvo ditched with the new XC90. Sitting behind pretty smoked glass, it’s not the brightest either, while the graphics don’t seem highly defined.
Also, lovely though the interior is, it’s still not quite a match for the likes of Audi.
That said, the Giulia is one of those cars that can be forgiven for its shortcomings because it’s such a special car overall. What matters is that it’s well able to hold its own with its main rivals – the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Jaguar XE – and good luck to it.
Verdict: The Giulia is an Alfa Romeo that you can buy with your head and your heart. Seductive good looks and superb driving dynamics combined with safety, speed and economy – if you can restrain yourself – make it a compelling proposition.
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