Alfa Romeo Gulia Youthful Return Road Test

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Youthful Return



Mention the Alfa Romeo Giulia to almost anyone and its the green and white Polizia cars that floated down the river in Michael Caine’s ‘Italian Job’. Spluttering to a halt on the roof top of a sports centre or crashing through gates as the getaway Mini Coopers ran rings round them. One of the longest periods of production of any modern car, the Giulia, which roughly translates into ‘youthful’, ran from 1962 until 1978 and became one of the Italian brand’s most popular models. Quick ones, family ones, estates and commercial variants, the Giulia was one of the best multi-purpose cars ever to carry the famous shield.


But enjoying the usual turmoil and uncertainty that surrounded Alfa Romeo along with the company’s dedication to motorsport be it with or without Fiat’s involvement or blessing. The period also more or less heralded Alfa’s switch from using model names to using numbers such as the 147 saloon. Back to names, we eventually got the Mito and the larger Giulietta hatchback along with the GTV and Brera coupe. The thing Alfa failed to do was keep pace with it’s German and Japanese competition, BMW and Audi offering models for which Alfa didn’t have an answer.


So the appearance of the new Giulia last year came as something of a surprise in many instances, an Alfa Romeo saloon that was to all intents and purposes everything it should be.


Oozing style, something Alfa Romeo has always been rather good at, the new mid-sized three-box design is intended to go head on with BMW’s 3-Series, Audi’s A4, VW’s Passat, the C-Class from Mercedes-Benz and to a degree, Jaguar’s XE. For the Alfisti the new Giulia can do no wrong, the 2.9 litre flagship Quadrifoglio as staggeringly quick as it is stunning to look at. But starting at £61,595 or well over £80,000 if you get serious about it, the infectious Cloverleaf derivative isn’t destined to become as major seller. Instead its the very competent diesels that will attract the most attention, Alfa and parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles setting their sights firmly on the company car market.


As is the universal trend, whether its the entry level TCT model or the 500hp screamer, apart from a few additional aero additions all Giulia look more or less the same. All of which means the diesel powered ‘Super’ model as tested should if all goes too the Alfa plan, become the most stylish rep chariot on the road. But will it? Whilst the clinical excellence of the Germans might fall short of thrilling the senses, their managerial cloned looks androgynous in the extreme, its the Giulia’s microscopic shortfalls that could still count against it.


Carrying the famous Alfa Romeo shield grille and badge with Italianate pride, narrow swept back LED lights stare out intensively over a matched pair of deep set moustachioed intakes and curvaceous front splitter. The front and rear arches pour over multi-spoke 18”alloys, 225/45 Pirelli P7’s on the front, 225/40 on the rear, double-wishbone front suspension allied to Alfa-Link on the rear positively suck the Giulia down onto the road. The low, rear tapering roofline adds high belt line although this can cause some to find entering the Giulia a little more difficult, given the lower positioning of the seats. Rear LED lights and a small boot lid round off the inordinately Italian exterior, the car sufficiently self assured to feel superior to anything else within its proximity.


Open the door and slide downwards into the black leather and dark fabric trimmed heated seats, the thick leather rimmed rake and reach steering wheel waiting to greet you, a large Alfa Romeo badge reminding you exactly as to what you’re now sat in, the rest of the trim is a mixture of leather, soft touch textured surfaces and matte inserts. Wide and comfortable with large shoulder supports, front or rear the seats welcome their occupants although rear head room is pinched due to the tapering roofline. Also, work on the theory the Giulia is actually a four seater, the large transmission tunnel more or less eliminating a fifth occupant. For the driver large analogue dials sit either side of the highly informative readout whilst satin finished sequential paddles lurk purposely just to the rear of the wheel, working in conjunction with the rocker style automatic gear shift.


Climate is controlled by three conventional rotary controls, the rest a combination of the large turn and tilt knob and the 8.8” x 2.25” central screen. Elongated the multi-function display sits behind a black screen, only appearing when the car is running, all the usual Bluetooth functions fall under the control of this visual readout. The style of the cabin is without question but is does have its idiosyncrasies. Working on the physical fact the central reservation cubby is the most useful and that the 480 litre boot was never designed to accept square items and that 60:40 split folding rear seats are an extra and that the Giulia’s door bins are annoyingly small as are the rear seat nets. Equally, the glovebox is taken up with the owner’s handbook whilst the face level ventilation when set to warm, heats up the downshift paddle to a finger burning temperature. But providing you remember its and Alfa Romeo then there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with any of the interior.


Lift the bonnet and in this instance you’re greeted by the 4-cylinder 2,143cc in-line diesel. Delivering 180hp and 450Nm of torque that at full swing at just 1,750rpm, the engine is mated as are all Giulias to a sharp, responsive 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. Work on the theory at least that fuel consumption will be around 39mpg with the car set in ‘Natural’ or normal mode. Dial in ‘Eco’ and on extended motorway runs a minimum of 65mpg is more or less the norm, meaning in at least 550 miles per 52 litre tank of fuel. However, select ‘Dynamic’ and 28mpg is about as good as it’ll get, 0-60mph coming up in 6.9 seconds and onwards to a 143mph top speed, the Giulia happily deliver performance worthy of the badge.


To drive the new Giulia is once again up against its German rivals. The ride in most instances is smooth enough but with a tangible emphasis on handling. This at times means unless running on a smooth surface, the car fidgets over rougher roads whilst the Pirelli tyres have habit of tram lining. Fitted with what the factory call vectoring diffs, on full lock at slow speeds the car tends to hop a little.


Likewise, being rear wheel drive, hard fast cornering means the diffs come into play at times unsettling the rear end. And no, you can’t disengage them. In the main the Giulia rides nicely with just the mildest hint of hard power oversteer. The Giulia was conceived as a true rear wheel drive car and without question, it feels exactly as it should. Locked into ‘Dynamic’ and there’s a feeling of pleasurable nervousness, the car ready to react, the steering sharp and responsive and with a slight long travel, progressive brake pedal, the Giulia positively demands left-foot braking, neatly balancing acceleration and retardation whilst using the sequential gearing.


As an everyday business car the Giulia is as capable as any other. But where others claim their cars are sports saloons, Alfa Romeo’s Giulia really is. It does demand a little more from it’s driver, if you’re going to drive the car harder it rather expects you to know what you’re doing. Most modern drivers are now pre-programmed to drive front wheel drive cars, BMW one of the few to remain steadfast to the traditional rear wheel layout. This is how all cars used to be, drivers back then more capable than their modern counterparts. But find the right road, have a meaningful conversation with the Giulia and the little faults fade away.


Price wise the Giulia range starts at £29,875 whilst the Super as tested is all your for £36,720 which means its very competitively priced when compared directly to similar cars. Where the Giulia differs is the style it brings to this at times mundane segment of almost identical cars, the difference of the driving experience by comparison and the fact it could be that little bit better in certain areas. But Alfa Romeo don’t build perfection, they build cars with character and soul and when you can inject these two characteristics into a mid-sized business saloon, to my mind at least, you’ve got it right.


By; Mark Stone