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First drive: Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Alfa Romeo.

First drive: Alfa Romeo Giulia
Is the Giulia the re-birth of Alfa we've long been waiting for?

   



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Alfa Romeo Giulia

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With multi million pound investment, a new chassis, new engines and the dynamic expertise of former Ferrari engineers to call on, the Alfa Romeo Giulia looks like it has all the weapons required to battle it out at the top of the compact executive saloon market. But we've been here many times before, haven't we? Told that this is Alfa's resurgence, that the company is going to sock it to the Germans. And we've been left disappointed in each and every instance. So does the Giulia buck that gloomy trend?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.2 MultiJet 180 Super Lusso
Pricing: as tested expected to start around 32,000
Engine: 2.1-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, eight-speed ZF automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 109g/km (VED Band B, 0 first 12 months, 20 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 67.3mpg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.1 seconds
Power: 180hp at 3,750rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1,750rpm

What's this?

The all-new Alfa Romeo Giulia, completed and launched in the period since Alfa - in the words of its curmudgeonly CEO Harald J Wester - 'pushed the reset button' and started again. It had to, really. Sliding into premium car obscurity with a confused model line-up and a succession of underwhelming 'new dawn' models, it has been years since Alfa turned out a genuinely competitive vehicle in any automotive sector. Thus, Fiat Chrysler Automotive's overlord Sergio Marchionne laid down the gauntlet in 2014: FCA needs to be building six million cars annually by 2018, with Alfa's sales accounting for 400,000 of that number. Doesn't sound a lot, until you realise that the year before Marchionne uttered his edict, Alfa shifted just 74,000 cars worldwide. The Giulia, at the vanguard of the company's new model line-up, therefore has a huge amount of responsibility on its shoulders: no less an authority than Wester himself said this car was 'make or break' for the whole of Alfa Romeo.

It's not going on sale here until September and we might as well start with what on the face of it seems like bad news - right-hand drive Giulias will not be available in manual format. And that includes the Quadrifoglio model with the 510hp biturbo V6 petrol engine. Putting any concerns about the eight-speed ZF auto transmission to one side for now, the wait until autumn means that Alfa UK is withholding a few details about the range, such as exact prices and a wider array of economy/emissions figures. What we do know is that the three trim levels are Giulia (i.e., no specification name at all), Super and then Quadrifoglio, with Sport and Lusso packs offered as bridging packages between these disparate grades. All Giulias are rear-wheel drive and there are two petrol and two diesel engines to start us off. Choose from the zesty 2.0-litre, 200hp turbocharged four-pot or the astonishing 3.0-litre biturbo V6 Quadrifoglio, with its 510hp and 191mph capability, if you like spark plugs, and two variants of a new all-aluminium '2.2' diesel (it's actually, like the old Mercedes unit, a 2,143cc engine, which means it's categorically a 2.1) if you don't. This turbodiesel is available with either 150hp/380Nm or 180hp/450Nm, the latter of which is the model we've driven here in Super Lusso guise.

Alfa officials would only say that the Giulia will be priced to compete with the BMW 3 Series, so expect a 180hp diesel to start at around the 32,000 mark. For your money, you get the best-looking three-box saloon in the segment and, arguably, the world right now. Proportionally, the Giulia is just about spot on and it looks just as good in entry-level specification and sitting on small alloys as it does wearing full Quadrifoglio regalia. OK, you could accuse the rear end of being a bit too Maserati (or maybe even Kia Optima), but you're really nit-picking because the Alfa is more alluring than anything in this class, and that includes the Jaguar XE, our former favourite design. Most importantly, as modern and distinctive as it is, take the badges off the Giulia and it is unequivocally an Alfa Romeo; it hasn't aped the German competition in the slightest and it is all the better for it as a result.

How does it drive?

Climb into the cabin and things aren't so good, although it's not a disaster in there - far from it. This is probably Alfa's best interior in the Fiat era and it looks lovely at first glance. It's when you start touching things and appraising details more rigorously that the initial 'oohs' turn into 'ohs'. That infotainment screen, for example. We like the glass housing for it and the larger 8.8-inch item fits into it well, but the lesser 6.5-inch unit looks hopelessly lost in its setting. The mapping graphics aren't particularly cutting edge, either, although the iDrive-like control system is pretty easy to figure out. Back on the griping, there are a handful of plastics and buttons that don't match up to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz levels, while the colour display between the plain, clear analogue dials in the instrument cluster always looks sparsely populated; like it should be displaying about five more pieces of information than it actually is.

However, the seats look marvellous and are extremely comfortable to sit in, it's hugely capacious in the rear even with tall people installed up front, a lot of the main touchpoints are delightful - principally, the steering wheel with the start/stop button mounted upon it and those fantastic metal paddle shifts that are mounted on the steering column - and the driving position is perfect: no offset pedals, no difficulty in getting the electrically adjustable seat just where you want it, no visibility issues. It may not be 'Ingolstadt' in here but it certainly has ergonomic rightness and a charm all of its own.

Charm that is not utterly eroded once you fire up the 2.1... sorry, 2.2 and begin threading the Giulia along the roads of Piedmont. Blimey, Alfa has hit the target with the ride quality. It takes barely any time at all to register that this is a fixed-rate spring-damper combination out of the very top drawer. The Giulia glides along with supple aplomb, the body never floating away with too-loose control and the wheels refraining from crashing through even the worst of potholes. Lob in minimal road roar and low levels of wind noise and within five miles the refined Alfa's proven it can do the monotonous motorway cruise as well as the rest of its rivals.

The engine's a good 'un too, although it's always a trifle noisier than the Audi, BMW and Jag competition. Revved beyond 3,500rpm, it gets particularly loud, but at least it has a slightly throaty voice that makes it sound interesting, if not as agreeable as the old five-cylinder 2.4 JTD Alfas of the early 2000s. This aluminium MultiJet unit is much smoother, though, by way of recompense and it's coupled to the exceptional ZF gearbox, meaning performance is every bit as brisk and broad as the Giulia's on-paper stats suggest. Talking of that automatic, we said earlier that the non-manual policy for right-hand drive cars looked like bad news on the face of it; well, fear not - whether driving the diesel or the Quadrifoglio, the Giulia was improved significantly by the closer ratios and slick shifting of the automatic unit, so the lack of a clutch pedal is nothing like the impediment it could be.

Brave new world or not, what an Alfa saloon should be is sporty - the Italian company was making the original Type 105 Giulia when BMW was still figuring out why the Baroque Angel was such a bad idea. Almost incredibly, given its recent form, Alfa has managed to pull off the magic trick of making the Giulia ride sweetly and yet handle with real vivacity. The steering is sharp and accurate, although it lacks a bit of weight, but otherwise the major controls and dynamic settings are all judged superbly. The body stays nice and flat when cornering hard and weight transfer is kept in check, while the Giulia diesel will even try and tweak its back end out when exiting hairpins with a fair chunk of throttle. A faithful front axle and admirable resistance to push-on understeer all ensure the Alfa Romeo is an enthralling thing to throw about in the bends. Thank the firm's insistence on keeping the car's weight down for that - bereft of fluids, the Giulia 2.2 180hp diesel weighs 1,374kg, which is highly competitive in the class, and the even better news is that said bulk is distributed 50:50 across the axles.

Verdict

We're going to hedge our bets slightly here and say that, on the basis of the glowing praise above, our overall mark for the Alfa Romeo Giulia might look a bit harsh. However, we need to know its exact prices and UK specifications in reference to the framework of the Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes offerings. We want to see how it copes with a god-awful British B-road in the middle of winter. And we can't ever help ourselves from being a touch prejudicial about Alfa's long-term reliability performance, which (rightly or wrongly) is something potential customers will be thinking about too.

Nevertheless, we're happy to say we'll revise our mark upwards if it impresses us here as much as it did in its homeland, because this is the best Alfa we've ever had the privilege of driving by some considerable margin. That might sound like we're damning the Giulia with the faintest of praise, given the dynamic bar has been set low at Alfa in recent years, yet it soon becomes apparent that the Italian newcomer is truly up there with the class leaders. It rides beautifully. It has approachable, rear-wheel drive handling. The engine is strong. The gearbox is excellent. The brakes are good. So is the body control. The roomy interior looks appealing and is generally decent, while the bodywork is exquisite. All of which means that there's not a shred of sentimentality when we say: Alfa Romeo has finally come good, and how. The Giulia genuinely deserves to poach sales from the Audi-BMW-Mercedes monopoly - the big question is, will it? Make or break time indeed, Harald.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 13 May 2016



  www.alfaromeo.co.uk    - Alfa Romeo road tests
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2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. Image by Shane O Donoghue.








 

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