Alfa Romeo Giulia Saloon (2017 - ) 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?
Interested in buying Alfa Romeo Giulia?
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 Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. As standard, the Giulia comes with 16-inch alloys, LED rear lights, and daytime running lights. The Super model ups the ante with 17-inch wheels and a wider choice of alloy designs. You can, if you wish, upgrade this trim with a couple of option packs, Lusso and Sport. Lusso adds some interior luxuries but also switches the window surrounds from gloss black to chrome, while the Sport Pack features brighter Xenon headlights. These lamps also come with Speciale trim, along with 18-inch wheels and red painted calipers, while Veloce models have black calipers and are also offered with a unique shade of paint as an option. 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 real 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, complete with starter button, are as Italian as pasta and pizza, but the neat centre console definitely reminds us a lot of the BMW 3 Series: there’s a dial controller to scroll through the on-screen menus, as well as the touch-screen functionality. The menus could be simpler, and the graphics could be a little slicker and speedier in their operation, but the system still works reasonably well. The rest of the controls are well laid out, but apart from the showy stuff, they do feel quite flimsy. The driving position isn’t ideal, either. Your seat doesn’t go low enough, the backrest needs more adjustment, and your over-the-shoulder visibility could be clearer. It’s a little difficult to comment on quality because all the cars we drove came with optional interior packs that brought various different trims and finishes you don’t get as standard. Overall, things feel reasonably posh and solid, but the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 both feel considerably more luxurious inside.
Saloons are rarely the most practical form of transport, but even so, the Giulia trails behind its rivals in this area. It actually has a relatively generous wheelbase measurement (the space between the middle of the front and back tyres), but the bulkiness of the front seats make rear knee-room feel rather tight, and there isn’t much room under the front pews for your feet, either. Rear head-room will be a little snug for those much over six feet tall, too, and a roof that curves downwards at the sides of the car also makes you feel a little hemmed-in. As with other rear-drive saloons, the rear footwell is divided in two by a bulky partition under which the driveshaft lives, so anyone drawing the short straw will not want to be sat in the middle seat for long. It's also narrower and set higher than the two seats on the outside. The 480-litre boot is on a par with those of the 3 Series and C-Class, and the aperture is wide enough for easy unloading, but you will have to lug heavier items over quite a high loading lip to get them inside. You don’t get split-folding rear seats as standard on all models, either, and they leave you with an oddly-shaped aperture to load items through. 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
As a company, Alfa isn’t shy of reminding you about its rich sports car heritage, so it’s not all that surprising that the Giulia is a car that’s meant to appeal to the keen driver. It does, too, with a nice mixture of rear-drive agility, plentiful grip, and impressive suppression of body roll in corners. For some drivers, the steering will help the agile feel, too, because as well as being nicely weighted, it’s also very quick indeed, both to respond and to turn. For other drivers, it might not be so appealing, because this hyper-sensitivity can make the car feel a shade twitchy and nervous, and this can get a little tiring on a long journey. The other controls – namely the throttle, brakes and clutch – behave in a similarly abrupt, switch-like way, and again some drivers will love it and some will not. By and large, ride comfort is pretty good, which is always very important in an executive saloon. The suspension does a pretty good job of absorbing bumps, ruts and potholes before they cause too much offence, although the body can start to feel rather floaty on an undulating road. Bear in mind, too, that we’ve only driven cars with the optional adaptive dampers – which vary their behaviour according to which mode you select – so we don’t yet know how the car will behave on its standard suspension. The amount of difference the modes make varies from version to version. On some cars we’ve tried, you can barely tell the difference, but with the range-topping Quadrifoglio model, it turns the suspension from firm-but-fair into positively punishing. That said, the Quadrifoglio is exactly the riot to drive that it should be. As well as its brutal performance, it has some clever technology including a pair of clutches that shuffle power around across the rear axle to improve agility, and a Race mode that turns everything up to 11. Everything, that is, except the stability control, which it turns down to zero. This makes the car a proper handful, so we wouldn’t recommend trying it on the public highway, but if you fancy taking your super-powerful saloon on a track day, it’ll have you in absolute stitches.
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 2.1-litre engine (Alfa calls it a 2.2, but it isn’t) with either 148bhp or 178bhp. We've only tried the quicker version, and while performance feels adequate, it's more of a steady cruiser than the sports saloon Alfa would have you believe. The only gearbox available is an eight-speed automatic, which is smooth, swift to change up or down, and generally pleasant to use. It also keeps engine nice and settled at low revs on motorway trips. Refinement is about average for the class, with a squeak of wind rustle from the mirrors at 70mph, and some rattle and strain from the engine both on cold start-up and when you work it really hard. Petrol options include a 197bhp 2.0-litre petrol, which will be quite tempting for private buyers who aren’t that worried about CO2 emissions. It’s the cheapest version to buy, it endows the car with reasonably sparky performance – particularly in the mid-range – and it makes a good noise and stays smooth when you work it hard. There’s a 276bhp version of this engine, too, but we haven’t tried it yet. The Quadrifoglio, meanwhile, delivers truly blistering pace. Its 503bhp 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 engine helps it dispatch the 0-62mph sprint in 3.9 seconds, and acceleration is just as brutal on the move. This is a car that you can go very quickly indeed in, without trying very hard, so if you value your licence, keep your wits about you. Importantly, it feels like a match for the Mercedes C63 AMG and BMW M3, even if the automatic gearbox is not quite as fast to snap through its ratios.
Compare prices with those of the BMW 3 Series, and you’ll find the Alfa is a shade more expensive, albeit with a lot more equipment provided as standard (see below). That said, prices are bang-on with those of the Audi A4. The Alfa's rarity and strong image should help bolster its resale values, and although they probably won’t quite match those of the Alfa’s more established rivals, they shouldn’t be far behind. As for the day-to-day running costs, both diesels 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 to run, returning 138g/km and around 48mpg. Customers wanting the Quadrifoglio should expect to pay around double what they would for an entry-level car, and the running costs will be equally steep. It’ll sit in an extremely high insurance group, and return less than 35mpg, according to official figures. And that’s if you’re gentle with it. Drive it like it was made to be driven, and your figure will take an absolute nosedive.
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 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, with brand new architecture and engines, but only time will tell if there are any teething problems. As standard, the Giulia comes with a two-year/unlimited mileage warranty, plus a third-year limited to 100,000 miles.
The Giulia has gained the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests, achieving a super-impressive score of 98% for Adult Occupant Safety in the process. As standard, the car comes with nine airbags, slow-speed autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and a forward collision warning system that'll alert the driver of any impending danger. Mandatory kit like tyre pressure monitors, traction control and anti-lock brakes are present and correct, and you also have the chance to fit more advanced safety gadgets using the options list. Choices include adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and a reversing camera to aid parking.
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. The basic Giulia gets a 6.5-inch screen, Bluetooth, DAB radio, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and climate control. Pay a little more for Super trim, and you'll add part-leather seats, a bigger 8.8-inch screen, nicer cabin materials, and the opportunity to include the desirable Lusso and Sport option packs. Speciale cars come with powered and heated front seats, heated steering wheel, split-folding rear seats, and full leather upholstery. Veloce models add meatier brakes, headlamp washers, and front parking sensors, but this trim is only available with the 276bhp petrol engine. The Quadrifoglio comes with most of the dynamic, aesthetic and luxury gimmickry available, but you still have to pay extra for powered front seats and active cruise control.
People choose their company cars for many different reasons, and if you like the way the Alfa Romeo Giulia looks, you’ll probably like the way it drives, too. The Giulia competes with some seriously impressive cars, many of which are better all-rounders than the Alfa, and questions will inevitably be raised about both its reliability and interior quality. Nevertheless, this car is a worthy contender for your money.