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2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Test Drive Review
Alfa Romeo ends nearly 30 years of Italian sport sedan drought in the U.S. with the all-new 2017 Giulia.
Three decades without an Alfa Romeo sport sedan is far too long, and an absence like that means the quirky marque has been saddled with hyperbolic expectations in true Alfa fashion. Somehow, the Milan motor company finds itself in a position where, yet again, if it doesn’t revolutionize the industry, it's failed. Revolutions are a tough business, but with a communicative chassis, unbelievably direct steering, and a deliciously exotic engine, the Giulia may be just the inspiration needed for a sport sedan shakeup.
Look and Feel
It’s an Alfa Romeo, so you’re going to see lots of coverage throwing around terms like “work of art” and “classic beauty.” It’s definitely pretty—it may have the most attractive profile on the market right now—but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Personally, I can’t get enough of the side and rear views, but things look swollen from the front. There are definitely Alfa cues and quirks both inside and out, however, and that’s what this needs to endure the coming tests. The bulbous front is covered in lines and folds, capped by a nice pointed crease right above the emblem. Still, despite all these design elements, the front end still feels less angular than I’d expect for an Alfa sport sedan. I look forward to seeing this all tightened up during the first mid-cycle refresh.
From the side, you’ll notice small doors and a compact roof—carbon fiber in the Quadrifoglio—contributing to a visually petite passenger pod when compared to the long hood (also carbon) and wide rear. Inside, there’s no real lack of functional space other than that short front door, leading to the B-pillar sitting right next to your head when you sit in the driver’s seat. Otherwise, head- and legroom are in abundance up front, even for my 6-foot, 4-inch frame, though the backseat lacks legroom for the tall. My only real complaint would be that you seem to sit rather close to the outside of the vehicle, and my left arm was touching the B-pillar often while driving.
You’ll likely not notice that, though, distracted as you’ll be by the swooping lines of the dash and the seemingly Ferrari-sourced steering wheel, complete with the big, red Launch button. Elements of the Giulia that have been described as “daring” and “brave,” such as its unconventional infotainment screen, are a loud testament to just how boring much of car design has become. Vary even a little bit from tradition and it’s enough to earn you the “rebel” label.
Sadly, the controls and materials don’t live up to the standards set by the design. Everything from the infotainment screen down looks like it’s made of leftover Chrysler parts, and the materials themselves don’t feel commensurate with the Giulia’s $38,000 starting price, let alone the Quadrifoglio’s $72,000 ticket.
For that $38,000, you’ll get an Italian sport sedan with leather, rear-wheel drive (RWD), and a 280-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, pumping out 306 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed ZF automatic and good for a 5.5-second 0-60 time. For another $1,000, the Giulia Ti gets you access to unique packages like the Ti Performance package for the adaptive suspension and mechanical limited-slip differential of the Quadrifoglio, features you'll want if the clover’s price isn’t something you’re willing to swallow.
But if that’s where you find yourself, you’ll be rewarded with a Ferrari-sourced, 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 that can deliver an astonishing 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque with a howl that’s distinct, memorable, and appropriately exotic. That’s where I was lucky enough to spend a week testing the Giulia, and since it already comes very well equipped, there are little options needed to bump up the luxury. Mine was graced with a $2,200 Tri-Coat “Rossa Competizione” paint job, a $250 cabin air filter, a $1,200 Driver Assistance Dynamic Launch package for forward-collision and lane-departure warning, auto high beams, and a windshield that reflects infrared light to cut down on cabin temperatures rising due to sunlight. That said, I found the Giulia could get quite warm inside unless the air conditioning was on at full blast. A cargo net and floor hooks for the trunk added $150 to the price, and upgrading to the Harman Kardon stereo meant another $900. The carbon fiber steering wheel shaved weight and padded the bill by $400, and the unique 5-hole, 19-inch staggered wheels with a 10-inch-wide rear pair contributed another $500. With a $1,595 delivery charge, the total cost came to $79,195.
The base engine for the Giulia and Giulia Ti is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. With a 5.5-second 0-60 time, acceleration is strong, and all that torque down low contributes to the overall usability of the powerband. And even with that power, it still manages an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city and 33 highway, for a combined rating of 27.
For the ultimate Alfa experience—and in order to get 4-leaf clovers all over your car—you’ll have to move up to the Quadrifoglio with its 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V6. Its 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque provide a blistering combination that will break traction with even a hint of moisture on the road, thanks in part to the tread pattern on those Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires. Keep it in the dry, and your nerve will likely run out before your grip.
Everyone has been repeating the fact that this engine is essentially the one from the Ferrari California V8 with the last two cylinders lopped off: a flat-plane-crank, 90-degree V6 that puts out 1 more horsepower per cylinder than the V8 on which it’s based. That’s impressive, especially given how smooth and linear the power delivery is. It can be a little lumpy at idle, even seemingly missing when cold, and you can hear the fuel injectors more than I’d like, but the power and the sound simply don’t disappoint. However, to really hit legendary status, it needs to be prettier. If Alfa wanted to do something different and buck tradition, the new convention of plastic covers over every engine would’ve been the perfect place. As it stands, we’re left with fake Allen bolts on another plastic engine cover, and that’s simply below the standards of any Alfa, let alone an $80,000 one.
Gas mileage isn’t even as bad as you’d expect with power like this. The EPA’s estimated 17 mpg city, 24 highway, 20 combined isn’t far from what I was able to achieve in real-world use and enjoyment. Putting several tanks through the Quadrifoglio, some with a lot of traffic, some with a lot of highway cruising, and a lot with some aggressive driving through curves, I was still able to get close to 16 combined overall. That’s shocking.
As impressive as that engine is, it’s the chassis and the steering that should convince you to go Italian for once. I’ve never experienced steering this direct, and with an 11.8:1 ratio, the Giulia's is quick, too. The fact it can deliver performance like that without being a darty spazz on the highway is bewildering. The chassis offers balance and feedback that immediately boost confidence, and the brakes are stout and effective. I only wish there were more feeling in the steering and especially those brakes. Big 6-piston front and 4-piston rear Brembos on 15.4-inch and 14.2-inch vented and drilled platters bring things to an arresting halt from 60 mph in just over 100 feet, but with the brake-by-wire setup the Giulia sports, it’s a wooden, dead pedal. These are the same systems used in hybrids for brake power regeneration, and that also means low-speed use exhibits a very grabby character. They’re off and then they’re ON, and you’ve suddenly come to an abrupt stop.
Everyone was disappointed by the switcharoo Alfa pulled by promising a traditional 3-pedal manual and then coming to the line with the ZF 8-speed. The good news is the ZF is a very competent transmission, and the giant aluminum paddle shifters mounted on the column do provide a bit of fun. In fact, when you place the Giulia in Dynamic or Race mode, it will even provide a bit of theater when shifting in a straight line, sacrificing smoothness for extra drama. How very Alfa.
Form and Function
The Giulia looks good, sounds great, goes quickly, and seats four. That checks all the boxes for a sport sedan, no? This is a compact sport sedan, though, so you’ll have the usual limitations of a slightly cramped back seat and a less-than-cavernous trunk, and if you go with the Quadrifoglio, the rear seats don’t even drop, so the 13 cubic feet you get in the trunk is all you have. Thankfully this is true only for the Quadrifoglio, as the regular Giulia gets a backseat pass-through.
The sport seats my Quadrifoglio were fitted with offered all the stability and comfort I needed, though I’ll admit it seemed to take my back a day or two to adjust to the curve. After my first jaunt through the mountains, I was a little stiff, but that went away with practice. Perhaps I was just more used to the grip the Giulia offered and wasn’t straining and tensing as much as I got used to it. The short doors do make entry and exit a slightly complicated maneuver if you’ve packed on a few pounds since high school or have any back or hip problems, but they presented no issues otherwise. This is an important point, as there have been many complaints about the Giulia’s standard seats, meaning the Ti with the upgraded seats is where you should start looking. Even so, I think most people will end up sitting on the left bolster when getting in or out, which wears seats out quickly.
The gauge cluster is ideal, with clear and concise readouts of all pertinent information, including a lovely accelerometer that goes bright white when you push past half a G and red when you hit a full G in any direction. All that info comes to you without having to take your eyes off the road, and that’s the way it should be.
Optional packages can outfit your Quadrifoglio with all the modern autonomous and passive safety systems and features, but my main concern here is with the infotainment interface. It’s a wonky and occasionally tedious affair, often confusing or even illogical in operation. Some small examples include the inputs in the screen being listed and indicating opposite from selections made on the controls, such as on the drive mode selector. Listed on the console, it says Advanced (eco), Natural (normal), Dynamic (sport), and finally Race. This has the effect of essentially spelling out “and... RACE,” but on the screen the modes are listed in the opposite order: Race, Dynamic, Natural, and Advanced—which is the correct order given the name of the system: DNA. And when you click right on the control, it scrolls to the left on the screen. The fuel-economy indicator has a graph displaying your average and current numbers. When the bar on the graph rises, your fuel economy is counter-intuitively going down. Picky? Sure. But we’ve waited three decades, and this is an $80,000 car.
Beyond those very specific gripes, the whole system is just a tad underdesigned. I would’ve loved to have seen a few more trips to the revision room before this hit the showroom floor, but you’re not buying this car for an infotainment system that’ll be obsolete in a couple of years anyway, right? Speaking of which, the Giulia does not offer Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
With shockingly competent brakes and a suite of front, front-side, rear-side, rear-head, and rear body airbags, the Giulia comes standard with an impressive setup. Unfortunately, neither the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have evaluated the Giulia. For reference, the European New Car Assessment Programme has awarded the base Giulia its top rating of 5 stars, even without the optional safety systems.
The Giulia steers like no other sport sedan on the road right now, and it offers an engine leagues apart from any of its competitor's. Were it not for the disappointing interior materials and tech, I’d say the Giulia was worth a premium over the most expensive competition. But the truth is, you can get the Giulia Ti for less than a comparable BMW or Mercedes and have something different. The big factor here is reliability. Other than some frustrating behavior from a radio that froze up on me a couple of times, I had no problems, but time is the true judge here. If you’re willing to take a risk on something new, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Bottom line, if you’re in the market for a new sport sedan, the Giulia is a car you need to check out for the steering alone.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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