Tuesday 3rd December 2019
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First drive: Alfa Romeo Giulia (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.

First drive: Alfa Romeo Giulia (2020MY)
No facelift but a series of most useful updates for the 2020 model year Alfa Romeo Giulia.

 



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Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY)

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Can just a smattering of interior gewgaws really lift the Alfa Romeo into contention for 'compact premium saloon'-class honours? Time to find out.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.2 JTDM Sprint
Pricing: tbc; Giulia 2020MY range expected to start from c.33,000
Engine: 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: four-door premium saloon
CO2 emissions: 126g/km (VED Band 111-130: 170 first 12 months, then 145 annually thereafter, subject to list price once confirmed not exceeding 40,000)
Combined economy: 60.1mpg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.1 seconds
Power: 190hp at 3,500rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1,750rpm
Boot space: 480 litres

What's this?

The 2020 model year Alfa Romeo Giulia and we can already stop you from straining to spot any external differences - as there are precisely none. Even though the Giulia has been on sale for three, going on four years now, this is not a facelift. It is more of a technical update, or - if you want to be a little more unkind - desperately needed remedial work.

You see, when the Giulia launched in 2016, it won widespread critical acclaim for the way it looked (not unusual for Alfas, this, but never a guarantee that the car underneath the pretty skin is any good or not - please see the utterly gorgeous and rather demented 4C for further details), and also, more crucially, the way it drove. It was a genuinely talented, beautifully sorted saloon that was actually the match of, if not better than, the long-time darling of this sector in the form of the BMW 3 Series.

All very good. The interior, though, was not. It was as if the chassis engineers and styling team had got the rest of the Giulia ready for 2016, while the bunch of reprobates working on the passenger cabin were delaying doing their homework until the last possible second. Therefore, while the Giulia's interior has always had a few monumental high points - like lovely seats, the best paddle shifters in the business bar none and a wonderful, thin-rimmed, circular and perfectly proportioned steering wheel - it also had too many jarring moments in there as well. Such as a gearlever that had such poor pieces of plastic moulding joining up at its rear that you felt like you could cut your finger on the sharp edge that resided where your trigger finger rested upon it. Or the digital display in the instrument cluster, which had a font which was too small and so it appeared as if crucial information was missing from it, so gappy was the screen. Or the infotainment and its mediocre graphics, presented on 6.5- or 8.8-inch displays, both controlled by a flimsy rotary dial on the transmission tunnel which felt like it might come off in your hand at any second. Or the general lack of intelligent storage space inside, or the relative dearth of advanced driver assist safety (ADAS) systems, or the feeling that some of the plastics used for the main surfaces would be deemed unsuitable for Fisher Price's latest range of toddler toys.

In short, the Giulia was a wonderful saloon car with a distinctly hit-and-miss cabin. So, for the 2020MY, pretty much all of the faults above have been addressed, without losing any of the Giulia's dynamic character or elegant good looks. The gearlever on these new Alfas is now a leather-wrapped item with illumination, while the steering wheel also has a fresh look and plusher leather swathing its rim (which, sadly, has become a little thicker than on the old Giulias). Perhaps best of all, the infotainment has leapt forward several leagues; all Giulias get the 8.8-inch display as standard, which is now touch-sensitive where it wasn't before and which also boasts graphics that are far sharper and easier to deal with than previously. Throw in further apps, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and even a more substantial rotary controller on the transmission tunnel, and the main interface clangers that used to be present in the Giulia are eradicated.

There's more. There are now two cupholders forward of that gearlever, the TFT screen in the dash is a seven-inch affair that's far more up-to-date than its predecessor, there's a smartphone wireless charging tray really neatly incorporated into better centre-console storage, and all of the dash top and door cards are swaddled in materials which are much more pleasant to the touch. A wealth of ADAS items come into play as part of an optional Driver Assistance Pack Plus (bringing the Giulia a Level 2 autonomy rating if you fit it), there's additional sound-deadening stuffed into the cavities surrounding the passenger compartment, and even the steering has been tweaked to reduce low-speed 'crow hop' - this is the sensation that the wheels are skipping while using full lock during walking-pace manoeuvres. Will this be enough to drive Giulia sales forward? We hope so, because - so far - they've been distinctly middling and not enough to upset the apfelkart of Teutonic dominance in this particular market sector.

How does it drive?

Alfa Romeo UK will confirm 2020MY Giulia prices soon but the model range walk-up goes Super, Sprint, Lusso Ti and then Veloce. The mighty Quadrifoglio flagship doesn't gain these interior tweaks yet, although it is due to receive them early in 2020. Therefore, engine choices for the 2020MY Giulia amount to the 190hp 2,143cc (it's referred to as a 2.2 JTDM but we're calling it a 2.1, for obvious and correct reasons) turbodiesel, and the 2.0-litre petrol in 200- and 280hp formats, the latter of these reserved for the Veloce. All models will have an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox and rear-wheel drive, as the Q4 AWD doesn't translate well in the Giulia to RHD markets like ours.

We drove a Sprint turbodiesel and everything we've always loved about the Alfa continues to hold true. It remains one of, if not the most well-balanced chassis in its sector, with fabulous steering, top-notch damping and superb control of its body shell. With masses of grip to call upon and excellent traction from the rear axle, even as a four-pot derv-drinker this thing's more interesting and engaging to drive than the vast majority of its direct rivals. There's a sweetness to the way it turns in and a relative wealth of information flooding back to you as the driver, which means you can't fail to develop an instant and deep rapport with the Giulia, while both the brakes and that silky-smooth eight-speed ZF transmission are calibrated brilliantly for the car's character. It's not perfect in the dynamics department, of course: the traction control is still non-switchable on all models below the Quadri, while that 2.1-litre unit sounds gargly on cold start-up and noisier than it needs to when revved past 3,500rpm. It is mysteriously similar in this regard, then, to the old Mercedes 2.1 (exactly the same swept capacity), although no one at Alfa has ever said the unit was sourced from Daimler.

Nevertheless, to drive in a spirited fashion like an Italian, the Alfa Giulia remains the sharpest tool in the premium segment box. Where it now pushes into the realms of being class-leading is that the already-good ride and refinement have improved notably thanks to the 2020MY changes, while the cabin has better equipment to operate and is a far nicer place to spend some time. Both the gearlever and steering wheel feel much better in hand, like you're in something properly premium and not a vehicle trying its best to keep up with class standards (and failing), while the infotainment/digital displays are a blessed relief from the infuriating tech you had to deal with in the Alfa prior to this point. All of the Giulia's key surfaces are nice to the touch and the whole ambience in the interior is one now befitting of a car of this class; it might not seem like much on the face of it, yet it makes a big difference to how rounded a product the 2020MY Giulia really is. OK, that rotary dial remains clacky in comparison to an Audi MMI item or BMW's iDrive pie-dish, but at least now you can just use the Alfa's touchscreen instead to completely bypass this one ropey detail.

Verdict

You might think some upgraded passenger compartment materials and a new gearknob are not enough to propel the 2020MY Alfa Romeo Giulia to class honours, but we think differently. Its interior is still not class-leading and nor is its infotainment; however, the former is good enough to mix it with the main bunch in this market sector, while the latter can be avoided by simply using the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto you get as standard - and this is something most smartphone-owning car users do nowadays anyway. So, the Alfa Giulia is corking to drive, great to gaze upon, has plenty of useful equipment AND it now sports a quality interior as well. Hard to overlook at car as all-round talented as this, isn't it?

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 19 Nov 2019









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2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.

2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint (2020MY). Image by Alfa Romeo.








 

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