THE PROS & CONS
- WHAT’S HOT: Stunning looks, inside and out; strong engine; excellent handling; more spirited than any of the competitors.
- WHAT’S NOT: SatNav system must be tossed immediately; some of the other high-tech features aren’t always perfect; run-flat tires still not ready for prime time; dealership support and resale value still likely to be iffy.
- WHAT’S INTERESTING: Everything about this car is interesting …
If there were a prize for the car company which has been around the longest, had the most successful racing history, and was the least known in North America, Alfa Romeo would win in a walk.
Founded in 1910, its racing team was run in the 1930s by some guy named Enzo Ferrari, before he went on to build cars under his own name.
Alfa has taken several swings at our market, most of them swings and misses (OK, so the World Series is just over.)
Now part of the Fiat-Chrysler group, Alfa is up to bat in the “away stadium” of North America again.
The Alfa starts at $48,995, which is in that ballpark.
To start with, the Giulia is flat-out gorgeous. From every angle, there’s something to admire. No gadgets. No styling tricks. Just pure design harmony.
I haven’t received as many compliments from passersby about a car’s looks for a long time. I even ran into a chap at a gas station in Michigan who had one! He had tried to order a red one like my tester, but had to settle for white. He said he gets compliments all the time too. About his car, he was quick to point out.
The gorgeousness continues inside. The steering wheel, flattened at the bottom for added thigh clearance, could be a museum piece all by itself. Trim materials and execution are first rate.
My bum got a bit numb after four hours on the road, but otherwise, the seats are comfy and supportive for the sporty driving the car encourages.
There’s decent room in the rear seat as well. The rear seat backs fold down to increase cargo capacity. The release catches are in the trunk itself, not the most common way to do this. But it makes sense when you think about it: when do you discover you need extra space? When you’re loading the trunk and it isn’t big enough.
The Giulia is motivated by a 2.0-litre twin-cam turbocharged four, producing 280 horsepower, significantly more than its obvious competitors, with 306 pound-feet of torque on tap from 2,500 to 5,500 r.p.m.
And 0-to-100 km/h comes up in the low-five second range, which is sufficient for the Alfa to show its rear end to the competition in an impromptu drag race. Not that you or I would ever do such a thing.
The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, with maybe the largest steering column paddle shifters I have ever encountered. These are fixed to the steering column, rather than rotating with the wheel. This way, you always know where they are.
But if they move with the wheel, they’re more likely to be where your hands are if you need to shift coming out of a corner. I’m always of two minds about this. Typically, when I am in a car that does it one way, I wish it did it the other way. No wonder consensus has not been reached.
If you prefer to use the main transmission lever to swap gears, it is a zero-travel electronic device. Shove it forward for Park, back for Drive, to the left for Manual shifting, but the lever itself always returns to the same static position. I prefer it to move so you can tell by feel where you are, but I recognize that I have largely lost this battle. Or, you can just stick it in D and let the thing shift for itself. That’s what an automatic is for.
Speaking of being attached to the steering wheel, the starter button is also there, at about the 8 o’clock position, just outside the horn pad in the middle of the wheel. An unusual place for the starter, but once you’re used to it, it’s not too bad. Not as good as putting a proper key into a slot and turning it so you always know where your key is, but there’s another battle I’ve lost.
The Giulia has full-time four-wheel drive, with a carbon fiber prop shaft connecting front and rear axles to reduce weight and improve front-to-rear weight distribution. The front-to-rear torque split is adjusted as needed to keep you rolling in poor traction conditions, and to optimize handling when you are pressing on.
The big tires are, sadly, run-flats. Given Alfas are known for their handling, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to compromise that for these abominations. Not to mention ride quality. I must confess, this car didn’t ride as badly as usual for run-flats. Still, the first trip I’d take with my new Giulia would be to my tire store. It would ride and handle even better, and I’d be more than prepared to accept a wee loss in trunk space to carry that spare.
The DNA drive mode system allows you to choose from three driving modes. D (dynamic) offers sharper throttle, brake and steering response, and more growl from the exhaust. N (Natural) backs each of these parameters off a shade. A (Advanced Efficiency) enables cylinder deactivation to save fuel. A noble goal and all, but seriously — in an Alfa? Hey — up to you.
The transitions between modes are not always silk-smooth — sometimes, there’s a distinct thump in the drive line when switching over. I couldn’t replicate this every time, so it’s hard to know what is going on there.
And the Stop/Start feature, another fuel saver, is also not as smooth as some.
What does this car have in common with the Honda Civic, also tested here this week? Besides being fun to drive? Alfa also has to toss the dashboard centre stack in the rubbish bin and start over. It has to be the most recalcitrant SatNav system ever — I was in the car for a week and never came close to figuring it out. There was no shortage of genuine out-loud cussing going on at this thing.
The system is totally nonintuitive, and trying to just get it to show the map was beyond me. Next time, I’ll take a good old-fashioned paper map with me.
Also Read: Jetta GLI a Sophisticated Sedan for Families
Off the top of my head, the one carmaker who has truly figured SatNav systems out is Hyundai/Kia. Alfa, please copy. My new buddy in the white Giulia said he’d been driving his car for a couple of months and hadn’t figured it out, either.
But you know what? He doesn’t care, because the car is so gorgeous, and so much fun to drive.
And it must be said, so much fun to be seen in. Everybody has one of the German cars. Even a Jag or Caddy are more likely to be found in the country club parking lot than an Alfa.
Get yourself an Alfa Giulia, and you’ll be the envy of everyone else.
Unless my buddy in the white one also shows up …
2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia
BODY STYLE: 4 door, 5 seat, compact sports sedan, full-time four-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 2.0 -itre four cylinder, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, direct injection, variable valve timing, turbocharged.
POWER / TORQUE (horsepower / lb-ft): 280 @ 5,200 r.p.m. / 306 @ 2,500 — 5,500 r.p.m.
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
TRANSPORT CANADA FUEL CONSUMPTION City / Highway (L/100 km): 10.5 / 7.7. Premium fuel.
COMPETITORS: Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Jaguar XF, Mercedes-Benz C-Class.