Alfa Romeo Giulia Saloon (2016 - ) review
The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a stylish saloon that mixes dainty rear-drive handling and a fine ride with attractive design. Can it rival the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4?
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Surely the reason any person chooses an Alfa Romeo over its peers is for its looks. The 156 and 159 saloons were both gorgeous compared to the German executives of their day, and while the new Giulia that follows in their tracks is perhaps not quite as striking, it'll still turn heads quicker than any A4 or BMW 3 Series. As standard the Giulia comes with 16-inch alloys, LED rear lights, and daytime running lights. The 'Super' model in our pictures ups the ante with 17-inch wheels, red brake callipers and a wider choice of alloy designs. You can, if you wish, upgrade this trim with a couple of option packs; Lusso, and Sport. The Lusso park adds some interior luxuries but also switches the window surrounds from gloss black to chrome, while the Sport Pack features brighter Xenon headlights. Finally, at the top of the range sits the Giulia Quadrifoglio, a high-performance model in the same mould as the BMW M3 and Mercedes C63 AMG. This hot-rod version is easily identified thanks to its carbon fibre aerodynamic front splitter and rear spoiler, 19-inch alloys, wider arches, bonnet vents and a set of Cloverleaf badges that sit on the wings. It's a stunner.
Alfa has certainly taken a leaf or two from the German executive handbook when it came to building the cabin of the Giulia, but as far as we're concerned, that's a good thing. The set of deeply cowled dials and the sporty three-spoke steering wheel are both as Italian as pasta Bolognese, but the neat centre console definitely reminds us a lot of the BMW 3 Series. The 'Super' version has some really high-quality touches, including a gorgeous set of aluminium gear shift paddles and a sporty starter button mounted on the steering wheel. The controls are well laid out, but apart from the showy stuff, the rest of the switchgear feels quite flimsy. The driving position is decent, though, and visibility is good, although we wish the backrests had a little more adjustment. As standard you get a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, with phone compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It looks nice, but the graphics are low-res, and in the cars we drove the system was slow to respond, with confusing menus and a tendency to get easily muddled. The Giulia has a decent cabin then, but the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 both feel considerably more luxurious inside.
Saloons are rarely the most practical form of transport, but the Giulia performs better than you might expect in this area. It actually has the longest wheelbase (the space between the middle of the front and back tyres) of any car in this class, so rear seat passengers are treated to oodles of legroom to stretch out in. The sloping roof means headroom will be a bit snug for anyone approaching six foot, but the seat backs are angled so that you sit lower. As with other rear-drive saloons, there is a big bump in the middle for the drive shaft, so anyone drawing the short straw will not want to be sat in the middle seat for long. It's also narrow and set higher than the two seats on the outside. The 480-litre boot is on a par with the BMW 3 Series and C-Class, and the aperture is wide enough for easy unloading, although you will have to lug heavier items over quite a high loading lip to get them inside. Cabin storage is about average, with a pair of cupholders up front, a sizeable glove box and some storage (and USB connectivity) in the centre console, but the door bins are narrow.
Ride and handling
So far, we've only driven the Giulia on Italian roads, but we managed to find the kind of poorly surfaced, cambered and rutted lanes that are so common in the UK, and the Giulia turns out to be a bit of a revelation to drive. Even on optional 18-inch wheels the handling is a lovely mix of rear-drive agility (helped in no small part by the hyper-sensitive and light steering) and a plush ride similar to that of a Jaguar XE. It does an excellent job of isolating you from scruffy road surfaces, with the shock of hitting a bump absorbed before it spreads up into the cabin. Despite that quick steering, the Giulia also feels solid and composed on the motorway. It also generates plenty of grip, although the traction control does cut in to spoil the fun if you get too carried away. We also drove the 503bhp Quadrifoglio model on a test track, which has clever technology including a pair of clutches to shuffle power around across the rear axle. It feels super-agile, and while we can't comment on the ride quality until we drive it on the road, the playful rear-drive setup, and a 'Race' mode that turns the stability control off, ensure it's an enjoyable, seriously fast handful.
All the engines featured in the Giulia are new, featuring direct injection and lightweight cylinder blocks made from aluminium. If you want pulse-racing performance the Quadrifoglio will deliver it in spades. Its 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 engine is good for 503bhp, and 0-62mph takes a claimed 3.9 seconds. It feels like a match for the Mercedes C63 AMG, even if the automatic gearbox is not quite as fast to snap through its ratios. As with most saloons destined for a life as a company car, most Giulias are likely to be powered by diesel. On that score, you can have a 2.2-litre engine with either 148 or 178bhp. We've only tried the quicker version, and while performance feels adequate, it's more of a steady cruiser than a barn stormer. The only gearbox option is an eight-speed auto, which is smooth, swift to change up or down, and generally pleasant to use, and the extra two ratios help to keep engine settled at low revs on motorway trips. Refinement is about average for the class, with a squeak of wind rustle from the mirrors at 75mph, and some rattle and strain from the engine both on cold start-up and when you work it really hard. There is also a 197bhp 2.0-litre petrol, but we've not yet had a chance to drive this model.
Unfortunately, as the Giulia is so new, we don't have exact prices, UK specifications, residual values or insurances groups, but Alfa Romeo (unsurprisingly) insists that it will be priced in line with its German rivals, but offer a sliver more equipment as standard (see below). As for the day-to-day running costs, both diesels will return an official 67mpg, and emit 109g/km of CO2, making them relatively light on tax, benefit-in-kind and keeping trips to the petrol station fairly infrequent. The 2.0-litre petrol model will be a little less affordable, returning around 138g/km and just under 50mpg, although exact figures are yet to be finalised. The Alfa's rarity and strong image should help bolster its resale values in the short term, but as with any company car, a cheap monthly lease rate will be crucial. Customers after the Quadrifoglio should expect to pay around double what they would for an entry-level diesel, and the running costs will be equally steep. Its likely to sit in the highest insurance group, and return mpg in the high twenties when you're driving really gently. However, CO2 emissions of 189g/km are pretty low considering the performance on offer.
Probably the biggest shadow hanging over the Giulia's potential success will be the memory of the fragile and unreliable 159. It wasn't just that the car had mechanical issues, but also that the dealers were slow and sometimes unwilling to help customers who had problems. That is reflected in the brand's current position in the Warranty Direct reliability index, where it sits perilously close to the foot of the table of manufacturers. It seems as though the Giulia is much better built, but with a brand new chassis, set of engines and gearbox, only time will tell if there are any teething problems. The early test cars we drove seemed to have a few gremlins, especially with the sat-nav and climate control, so we hope these are not representative of the cars we'll get back in the UK. As standard the Giulia comes with a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty, plus a third year limited to 100,000 miles.
We were always confident that the Giulia had a good chance of achieving a high score when it was tested by Euro NCAP, and our feeling was vindicated when it scored a maximum five-star rating, even under the stringent 2016 regulations. Just like a Jaguar XE it comes with slow-speed autonomous emergency braking, a forward collision warning system that'll alert the driver of any impending danger, and lane departure warning all as standard. Mandatory kit like tyre pressure monitors, traction control and anti-lock brakes are present and correct, while you have the option to fit advanced gadgets like adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and a reversing camera to aid parking for a small extra outlay. Every Giulia also has a 'DNA' switch, with three different driving modes, which adjust the brakes, safety and driving aids, and throttle response depending on driving conditions.
The Alfa might not feel quite as well finished as the best German saloons, but it should help make up for that with a generous dollop of standard equipment. All cars get a 6.5-inch screen, Bluetooth, a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and basic air-conditioning. Pay a little more for the 'Super' version and you'll add part-leather seats, nicer cabin materials and the option to include the 'Lusso' and 'Sport' packs. Inside, the Lusso adds heated leather seats with electric adjustment and wood trim inserts, while the Sport gets bulked up seats and Aluminium trim inside. As yet the full options list remains a mystery, but one that should be on your radar is the upgraded 8.8-inch Connect Nav 3D, with a bigger, clearer display, voice recognition and, as the name suggests, 3D mapping. A high-end Harman Kardon Hi-Fi will also be an optional extra, along with a larger 7.0-inch TFT colour display that sits between the big dials to show key driving information. This does all sound like the Giulia will match the current class contenders, but we'll be able to confirm its value for money once the final British specifications have been released.
People choose their company cars for many different reasons, and if you like the way the Alfa Romeo looks, then you’ll love the way it drives, too. A fine chassis, decent engines and excellent gearbox all hit the mark in that department, and while question marks remain about its reliability and interior quality, this definitely feels like the best Alfa in years.