Alfa Romeo is a far more competitive proposition these days. For proof of that, you've only to look at this car - the Giulia. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Alfa Romeo's new Giulia claims to embody the core elements which have made this Milanese marque one of the world's best-loved automotive brands. Distinctive Italian design, innovative powertrains, perfect weight distribution, unique technical solutions and the best weight-to-power ratio in the class all promise much as this car goes up against models like Audi's A4 and BMW's 3 Series.
It's been some time since Alfa Romeo had a competitor in the BMW, Audi and Mercedes-dominated compact executive saloon segment. The old Alfa 159 that used to campaign here was an under-rated car that never gained much traction in our market. Alfa's latest Giulia model though, promises to prove a more tempting proposition for business buyers bored with the usual Teutonic alternatives. Alfa has spent its time away from this sector wisely, making sure that its engine technology, media connectivity options and safety provision with this car can all meet the high standards now being set in this class. The company's designers claim to have met all these benchmarks, then clothed all of this sensibility in sensuous Italian style. Is that what's on offer here? Let's find out...
Alfa knows it must bring its A-game when it comes to engine technology in mainstream models, if it's to effectively take on German rivals. The engine line-up is built around a 2.2-litre diesel with 150bhp or 180bhp, along with a 2.0-litre petrol unit producing 200bhp and the twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 used in the top Quadrifoglio super saloon variant, this latter unit putting out 510bhp. The Giulia gets a rear-wheel drive set-up, complete with classic 50:50 weight distribution and all models have to be ordered with auto transmission, an 8-speed unit. Pulling power is strong, whichver powerplant you select. Even the turbocharged petrol unit offers 330Nm of torque. The Giulia benefits from the careful management of weights and materials to obtain perfect 50/50 weight distribution across its axles, while four-arm Alfa Link rear suspension (with an Alfa Romeo-patented solution for toe adjustment) and a double-wishbone front set up should aid ride and handling. Also debuting on the Giulia is a clever semi-virtual steering axis set-up which optimises the filtering effect and guarantees rapid, accurate steering by keeping a constant caster trail in corners.
Design and Build
The taut proportions of the Giulia have evolved from a rear-wheel drive architecture which bestows the car with short overhangs, a long bonnet, muscular haunches and the longest wheelbase in its segment. In the Quadrifoglio version, the use of ultra-lightweight materials extends to other components including carbon fibre for the bonnet, roof, front splitter, rear spoiler and body inserts, as well as aluminium for the doors and wings. Inside, the cabin design is centred around the driver with the main controls grouped together on the small steering wheel. The human-machine interface consists of two simple, user-friendly knobs for adjusting the Alfa DNA selector and the infotainment system. Premium materials, including carbon fibre and real wood, are used and depending on the trim level, a 3.5-inch or seven-inch colour instrument display offers the driver all the essential information about the car at-a-glance. Organised in four screenshots, the information on display changes according to the DNA mode selected by the driver, offering a variety of readings including lateral acceleration, fuel consumption and suggested gear shift points.
Market and Model
Prices are predictably competitive with target Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series rivals, which means that buyers will be looking at paying in the usual £30,000 to £35,000 bracket for mainstream versions of cars of this type, though you can pay nearly £60,000 for a Giulia if you choose the top Quadrifoglio 2.9 V6 Bi-Turbo 510bhp variant. Equipment levels for more ordinary standard, 'Super', 'Tecnica' and 'Speciale' variants will be strong, with a particular draw being the 8.8-inch Connect Nav 3D infotainment system that offers a sophisticated series of features and functions and is controlled by voice activation or manipulation of a Rotary Pad. The set-up is compatible with all mobile devices (Apple iOS and Android) and includes full control of Bluetooth calling and music streaming, as well as DAB digital radio and Hi-Fi digital audio. The navigation system includes high-resolution 3D maps with rapid route calculation even in locations where there it's not possible to find a GPS signal - this thanks to its advanced Dead Reckoning technology. It also facilitates TomTom map updates via USB and allows users to view more information regarding driving style and Alfa DNA settings. Safety kit runs to a Forward Collision Warning system and an 'Autonomous Emergency Brake with pedestrian protection' set-up, plus optional Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Blind-Spot Monitoring.
Cost of Ownership
Under the bonnet, every engine in the Alfa Giulia range looks decently efficient and pretty clean - which will of course be crucial if it's to attract company car drivers. The 2.2-litre JTDM-2 diesel with 180bhp is available in an ECO specification, which cuts emissions to less than 100g/km - despite this engine having 450Nm of torque. Even the 510bhp 2.9-litre BiTurbo petrol engine in the Quadrifoglio version claims to be best-in-class in terms of emissions, thanks to its electronically-controlled cylinder-disabling system. In other words, the days of Alfas being money pits for hopeless romantics are long past. As for peace of mind, well you get the usual three year unlimited mileage warranty covering parts, materials and labour, plus 3 years of AA Contact support which includes 24hr Roadside Assistance, Home Start, Relay, Relay Plus, European Cover, Accident Management, plus access to travel information, legal advice and technical information.
The Giulia should rejuvenate Alfa's fortunes in the business-orientated compact executive market segment. For some time now, this sector has been too Audi/BMW/Mercedes-orientated and there are plenty of potential company customers out there looking for something a little different - more sporting and styling. This car could well suit these people perfectly. Of course, Alfa must make sure that quality is up to snuff - but from what we've seen, the signs in that regard look good here. The Giulia certainly makes a more interesting driveway statement than yet another A4, 3 Series or C-Class would. It really comes down to whether, as a potential buyer, you're prepared to step out and be a bit different from others in your company carpark. Over to you.