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The new Giulia, Alfa Romeo’s latest ‘last-chance saloon’, delivers convincingly where others have failed Words John Simister
The usual way to start a story about a new Alfa Romeo is to bill the subject as Alfa’s lastchance saloon, the car that has to get it right because credibility, goodwill and the company itself depend on it, and so on. Trouble is, we pundits have used this approach… how many times before? I’ve lost count.
So, the new Giulia. It has rear-wheel drive, last encountered in the 1985 Alfa 75 as far as mainstream Alfas are concerned. The range contains no parts from any predecessor, nor indeed any Fiat, and peaks with a Quadrifoglio version offering an extraordinary 510bhp from its 2.9-litre, twin-turbo, 90-degree, Ferrari-built V6. This sounds exactly like the sort of saloon Alfa Romeo should be making, and in due course it will be joined by an estate car and an SUV (think Jaguar F-Pace rival). One problem: from the front it’s obviously an Alfa, but the side and rear views are distressingly mid-twenty-teens generic. The roof and windowline, the slanty tail-lights… is it a BMW 3-series? A Jaguar XE? An Audi A4? Why do they all look the same, apart from the Audi’s longer front overhang?
I’m at the Fiat Group’s Balocco test track, originally built by Alfa Romeo. Two flavours of Quadrifoglio are circulating, quad exhausts blustering grittily with a volume surprising in a four-door saloon. First back in the pits is the manual version. We won’t get it in the UK, but my default position is to favour a manual over an auto so I’m keen to try it.
The cabin is full of flamboyant sweeps in the modern idiom, with a double dial-cowl whose rims trace a part-helix. What looks like a plain black curve of dashboard lights up as a borderless information screen when power flows through the Giulia’s neurons.
The meticulous detailing and quality of an Audi aren’t quite replicated here – but what’s this? A Race mode has been added to the usual contrived Alfa DNA control (Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency).
Out of the pits, onto the track. Steering? Very quick but not so darty that you overdo the inputs. Balance? Impeccable: minimal understeer, tail happy to help point the nose, lots of grip, the hint of super-friendly, torque-vectored driftability with strictures loosened in the raciest mode. Engine?
Extremely potent and revvy, but not especially sweet. Its two throttles automatically ease during a foot-to-the-floor upshift, and automatically blip on the way down. But vibration through the clutch pedal and revs slow to drop heighten a slight clumsiness. Magnificent brakes, though.
Now the auto, a #ZF
eight-speed ( #ZF8HP
) with a torque converter and a fine pair of wide-angle aluminium paddles with which to manualise it. Blam-blamblam through the gears; it’s as quick-witted as any double-clutcher, which masks the crankshaft’s momentum and suddenly makes the whole Alfa feel keener, lighter, even pointier. On track at least, it’s absolutely brilliant.
It wasn’t allowed on the road, annoyingly, but there I tried instead a 2.2-litre, 180bhp turbodiesel (the best-seller-in-waiting) and a 2.0-litre, 200bhp twin-turbo petrol model with a particularly smooth, sweet and punchy engine. Both ride the roads with astonishing – class-leading, actually – smoothness, quietness and control, helped by the very rigid body structure.
The Giulia range, auto-only in the UK, will be in showrooms shortly. Its prices will roughly match those of the BMW 3-series / F30/ F31/ F80. Does the car itself? For people like us, it surely does.
Above The Giulia is not quite as luxurious a place to sit as some of its competitors, but once you turn the key you’re unlikely to care – the driving experience is superb.