(Jan 30): The souped-up version of Alfa’s entry-level sedan is refreshingly different from its peers—and cheaper, to boot. You might have just found your new best friend.
Alfa Romeo has been the butt of jokes for years. Even—especially—during those years, it hardly sold any cars in the United States. (In 2016, it posted 516 total U.S. sales.)
Older Alfas are known for their propensity to rust and for any number of frustrating mechanical hiccups that happen with no apparent consistency or common theme, while electrical and software “issues” have plagued modern examples in recent years. (Then there was that embarrassing day at the track with BMW and Mercedes, which may have been an isolated event but wasn’t great for street cred.)
The Alfa Romeo Giulia is Alfa Romeo’s re-entry sedan into the U.S. market.Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
But now the humble Alfistis in your life—your cousin, a friend at work—has a strong comeback. They can thank the Alfa Romeo Giulia. This is the car that will receive all the credit for (re) introducing Americans to the 107-year-old brand.
By now you’ve probably heard plenty about Giulia; the Italian-built sedan with the carbon-fiber driveshaft and baby Ferrari curves was the subject of those perfectly sexy television commercials and the winner of Motor Trend’s coveted Car of the Year award for 2018.
I’m not going to gush about it as much as some Alfa fans and critics have. Those guys are nuts for Alfa Romeo. But it’s true that along with the Stelvio SUV, the Giulia has worked like a charm in terms of bringing an audience back to the brand in the United States. Both are lithely chiseled machines, with dynamic performance from behind the wheel and comfortable, thoughtful interior technology and appointments. Last year, the Italian brand realized the biggest surge of any carmaker’s sales in the U.S. for 2017, up 62 percent from the year prior.
The Giulia has a 280-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that can hit 60 miles per hour in 5.1 seconds. Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
Volkswagen AG’s Audi AG, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz have nothing to worry about yet in terms of sales competition. Alfa Romeo Automobiles Spa sold just over 12,000 cars in the U.S. last year, compared to more than 300,000 from BMW, and boasts only 177 dealers in the U.S., about half as many as the likes of BMW and Mercedes. Yet it is fair to say that the Giulia and its variants have stolen a share of the spotlight, at least for the time being.
By now, the Giulia as a model is not new. It debuted in late 2016 and started production in 2017. But it is worth examining the updated 2018 version, especially the Giulia Ti RWD edition, because it embodies this car’s raison d’etre: to offer a bold, value-conscious, different-looking and -feeling alternative to the German-made sedans that have dominated the segment for decades.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia comes with new standard equipment and such new options as a Harman Kardon audio system, an infotainment system with an 8.8-inch display, and a new driver-assistance package.Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
The $41,145 Ti RWD edition gives you things the $40,095 standard version doesn’t, such as heated seats, a bigger control screen, and remote vehicle start. A Ti Performance package, for $1200, adds active suspension and mechanical limited-slip differential. Those additions mean that while mine had the same 280-horsepower, four-cylinder engine as the base version, and they both get to 60 miles per hour in 5.1 seconds on the automatic, eight-speed transmission, the Vesuvio Grey model I drove felt especially light and responsive under duress.
Ask Giulia to mind its manners in traffic and down side streets? Fine. Push it to pass cars bigger and more powerful than it is—on paper, at least—up the highway? It’ll do that, too, with pleasure. The suspension here is perfectly calibrated between tight and responsive; the steering feels as good as almost anything for which you’d pay $30,000 more. In general, Alfa Romeo has produced a sedan that drives far lighter and more athletically than expected, without feeling overstrung. If it’s not quite better, it can at least hold its own with the big boys (BMW, et al). I have to say, it was pretty fun to be driving a sedan that is, for once, different and interesting. I think you’ll like it, too.
The special Ti Sport edition offers two new ,19-inch, aluminum wheel options as well as a Ti Sport Performance Package, which adds an active suspension, as well as a limited-slip differential. Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
New and Improved, Inside and Out
New for 2018 on the Giulia line are chrome door speakers surrounding the cabin and 18-inch polished double Y-spoked aluminum wheels. Standard, too, are Apple CarPlay and Android Aut, plus front parking sensors bundled together with blind-spot monitoring and auto-dimming exterior mirrors. There’s also a new cargo convenience package that comes optional with cargo netting and hooks inside the truck; a premium, 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo is now offered as a $900 option on the Giulia and Giulia Sport.
Better yet, both the base model and the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport offer new tech such as an 8.8-inch display with 12 free months of SiriusXM satellite radio.
The interior of the Giulia is compact but well-appointed, with supple leather and refined stitching throughout. Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
In fact, the Giulia Ti comes with many well-appointed trappings of luxury, one of its biggest strengths. Even the red-leather interior seats (which often look outré in sedans) and dark gray oak-wood trim on the dashboard and doors looked and felt great.
This is not to say that everything in the 2018 Giulia has been perfected. The brakes are way too soft; the joystick-like shifter feels plastic and cheap. The sport seats are cushioned so thickly you’ll be hard-pressed to fit your hips and shoulders in them if you’re much bigger than sample size. I felt like I was sitting on top of the car, rather than inside it. We have yet to really test the reliability over multiple years’ worth of driving; reliability has been an issue with Alfa Romeo cars. And if you want the full Italian job, you’ll have to fork over more than $50,000, which was the final price on the one I drove, once all the upgrades and fees were tallied.
The Giulia is the mid-size vehicle that Alfa Romeo now sells in the U.S. It sits between the tiny 4C coupe and the Stelvio crossover. Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
If you can pay even more than that, opt for the 2018 Giulia Quadrifoglio. That sedan has the same sensuous body style, starts at $74,000, and justifies that price with high performance from a twin-turbocharged, 2.9-liter, V6 engine and Pirelli P Zero Corsa Asimmetrico 2 tires.
But if you want to drive something bold and beautiful, fun and efficient (27 miles per gallon, combined), step down one notch to the Giulia Ti RWD. It is a great option with value and style in the frequently too-vanilla premium sedan segment.
The Giulia gets 24 miles per gallon in the city and 33mpg on the highway. Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
In general, Alfa Romeo has produced a sedan that drives far lighter and more athletically than expected, without feeling overstrung. Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg