The Alfa Romeo Giulia is tailor-made for anyone bored with the increasingly familiar choice of German executive saloons on their company car list. Few car-making nations provide a finer-looking four-wheeled breath of fresh air than the Italians. Yet, unlike some of its predecessors, the Giulia shouldn’t be dismissed as an oddball or irrational choice; there’s more substance to back up the style this time round.
Built on a new lightweight rear-wheel-drive platform, the Giulia is the first instalment in a range overhaul that, Alfa claims, will put every one of its models in a class-leading position for power-to-weight ratio, performance and handling. The switch from front to rear-wheel drive allows the car to sit more comfortably next to executive saloon rivals, such as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class than the old 159 did, and the mix of steel with aluminium in the car’s structure and bodywork saves enough weight to put the Giulia among the lightest compact executive saloons.
Going on sale in the UK in September, the Giulia will come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard, and initially a choice of 148 and 178bhp diesel engines, or 197 and 503bhp petrols. A further 'Eco' version of the 178bhp diesel emitting 99g/km CO2 will eventually join the range too. Alfa gave us an early taste of the more powerful of the two diesels at its Balocco proving ground and on surrounding roads in northern Italy.
What's the 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia like to drive?
Alfa’s all-aluminium diesel engine stutters to life with a marked shake, and it sounds a bit clattery at idle and under load. It’s not so vociferous at a cruise, however, and has strong, responsive and flexible performance that just about distinguishes the Giulia as one of the segment’s more athletic members.
The car’s eight-speed automatic gearbox tends to reach for a higher gear quite early; that cleverly keeps the engine spinning at a rate that’s relatively hushed and smooth, yet also delivers its full portion of torque, so keeps it feeling responsive. The odd vibration is still transmitted into the interior; it’s something you wouldn’t feel in the best premium saloons, but nothing really annoying.
We’ll have to wait to find out how much truth there is in Alfa’s key acceleration claim for the car: if the Giulia is capable of hitting 62mph from rest in just 7.1sec, it’ll be among the quicker cars in the class. It doesn’t feel desperately fast, however; there is a more powerful Giulia 2.2 Multijet in the pipeline that may address the shortfall.
The chassis could easily cope with more power. The Giulia corners with very little lean; its incisive steering and well-balanced grip levels suggest the company was keen to emphasise its move back to rear-wheel drive. The sharp steering is a little unnerving at first because it is particularly keen just off the centre line and only medium weighted. It feels stable at high speeds, though, and the responsiveness of the car’s handling makes it precise and compelling to drive through corners.
On our Italian road route, the Giulia's suspension managed to absorb smaller imperfections with minimal fuss, even if larger potholes caused jolts to pass through the cabin at low speeds. At higher speeds on the motorway, things improved, although we'll need to wait until a UK drive to be sure.
What's the 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia like inside?
Although it’s quite small by executive saloon standards, the Giulia is fairly spacious. Second-row knee room is on a par with what you’ll find in a typical German rival, and, although head room is a little tighter, there’s enough room in the back for average sized adults or larger child seats.
The boot is quite wide and its capacity looks competitive. Cabin storage is only okay, with door bins you’ll struggle to get bigger items such as bottles, wallets and small bags into. Seat backs that fold 40/20/40 will be an option.
The car will be offered in Giulia, Giulia Super and Giulia Quadrifoglio trim levels; our test car was a Super with optional 18in alloy wheels and full leather seats. Alfa provides part-leather trim as standard on mid-level cars, as well as 17in rims, dual-zone climate control and a 6.5in Alfa Connect infotainment system. Autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning systems are also standard across the range.
Although the Giulia’s dashboard looks pleasant enough at a glance, it’s not a rival for an Audi or a Mercedes on perceived material quality. Alfa expects its buyers to be willing to accept compromises in some areas, and this is one of them. The car’s leather is also a bit hard and shiny, some of its mouldings are ungrained and most of the switches feel relatively cheap and plasticky.
The optional 8.8in colour infotainment system in our test car ought to have been a highlight, appearing as if from nowhere from behind a smoked grey panel to the right of the instrument cluster. Its display looks dim and its menu graphics are quite sparse, however, while the rotary dial used to control it isn’t nearly as tactile as equivalents from Audi, BMW or Mercedes.
Should I buy one?
There are better-mannered, better-appointed and better-finished cars in which to cover a high-mileage commute, which is what executive saloons are typically used for, so we wouldn’t imagine the Giulia will tempt too many drivers out of their plush C-Classes or A4s. We don't have confirmed prices yet, so we can't comment on how tempting the Alfa will be financially.
For those who look to Alfa Romeo to provide a more spirited and exciting kind of four-door, however, the new Giulia shouldn’t disappoint in the way so many of its modern forebears have. It’s just a shame Alfa didn’t do a better job of lifting the car’s interior trim above that of volume-brand opposition.
At any rate, Alfa deserves a lot of credit for focussing its limited resources on the qualities that once made its cars world-renowned, and presenting a more credible and tempting alternative to the German executive hegemony than it has in a long time. It’s been insisting for a while now that it’s a company on the comeback trail – and now we can begin to believe it.
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What Car? says...
Alfa Romeo Giulia Super 2.2 Multijet 180
Engine size 2.2-litre diesel
Price from £28,000 (est)
Torque 332lb ft
Top speed 143mph
Fuel economy 67.3mpg