THE premium midsize sedan landscape has changed somewhat since the Alfa Romeo 159 and 166 last graced our roads, with BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz all reaffirming their position at the head of the table with new iterations of the 3 Series, A4 and C Class.
Other players have dipped their toes in the water too with Jaguar shaking up up the top order with the dynamic XE, while solid offerings have also come from Volkswagen and Lexus. But the lack of Italian flair was noticeable.
Alfa Romeo is hoping its latest attempt to capture the executive car market with a new premium offering will be vastly different from the failed 159, with the company believing the new Giulia marks the brand’s renaissance. No pressure then.
The only thing not-quite-so-new about the Giulia is the name – last used in 1978, while the saloon is the first car sporting an Alfa badge to use a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive setup since 1992.
Based on the brand’s new modular Giorgio platform which is designed to be shortened and stretched for different applications, the model range is made up of three separate tiers, or is that four. But it’s more confusing than that, there are Speciale add-ons too.
It starts with the base vehicle name, the Giulia, with the Super we’re driving sitting in the middle below the all-luxury Veloce. Independent of these three variants though is a 2.9-litre V6 performance version known as the Giulia Quadrifoglio.
In the case of the mid-level Super, three engine options exist, including a 2.0-litre petrol version and two 2.2-litre diesel units, with the 4-cylinder turbocharged option under the bonnet of our test car.
It’s the first Alfa Romeo diesel to be built from aluminium and pumps out 132kW of power and 450Nm of torque, with a nice beefy mid range, at least on paper. It’ll get to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds and it drinks a claimed combined 4.2-litres/100km.
Each variant builds on the lower spec as you might expect, but the Super gets 17-inch alloy wheels, partial leather seats, and an 8.8-inch infotainment system with SatNav, as well as the items that it lifted from the base model.
These include cruise control, rear parking sensors, LED rear lights and a wealth of safety technology – including autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and forward collision warning – as standard.
It also picks up a leather clad steering wheel, dual zone climate control, automatic wipers and lights, DAB radio, and USB and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s a Speciale luxury upgrade too, that adds sports seats, bigger wheels and a body kit.
Initially, the Giulia is quite annoying because to describe it as quirky doesn’t do its oddities justice. But upon getting further acquainted with it, our irritation changes to a rather encouraging feeling.
It’s got a lot of minor ‘issues’ that work together to diminish our enjoyment of the car, including the fact you can’t turn off the stability systems, and there’s no such thing as the correct wiper speed in light rain.
It’s got automatic emergency signals but the hazard lights trigger much too soon under moderate to heavy braking, the temperature controls were all over the shop, and the SatNav display is beyond low rent when compared to its rivals.
That said, these things shouldn’t cloud the fundamental fact that this not only the most competitive Alfa Romeo saloon since the last Giulia was launched more than half a century ago but, crucially for anyone with Alfisti blood in their veins, the most likeable too.
The details may need some work, but the fundamentals are mostly excellent. You start with a flawless driving position and, at least by modern standards, excellent all round visibility.
The engine is noisy at idle and under full load, but otherwise quiet, quieter for sure than equivalents found in the C-Class and Jaguar XE, but probably still behind BMW and Audi. The instruments in their classically hooded binnacles are clear, though not that attractive.
The wheels won’t have completed their first revolution before you notice the ride quality. It is eerily good for this kind of car and not just on smooth roads. We found some horrendous potholes and were wowed by the suspension system.
It’s ability to isolate each bump within a single corner of the car was amazing. The springs feel soft, but superbly damped, and the platform itself exceptionally stiff, which is exactly how it should be for this kind of car.
The Giulia Super is a good looking machine with enough Alfa cues to satisfy the fans (anyone spot the hints of 1950s Giulietta Sprint?) and the sort of clean lines that will catch the eye of new buyers.
When it comes to the interior, we’ll let Alfa Romeo’s PR team have their say: “The driver’s position was ‘cut’ as a fabric with a diagonal tunnel, a slightly undulated dashboard and cleverly oriented instruments which convey the impression of a tailor-made suit with hand crafted care and premium materials”.
Right. Okay. Actually, they’re right. The interior is all focused on the driver with the dash tilted slightly towards the right side of the car, with all the controls aimed at the person steering, and within easy reach.
That design led approach ensures the Giulia’s interior stands out from those in the segment that are rather more conservative and practical, but beauty will only get you so far, and this is where the niggles begin.
For instance, the matte glass infotainment screen, while beautiful, is oddly kinked to fit the curve in the dash, as well as being set too low ergonomically, drawing your eyes away from the road when using it on the fly.
More than that, the graphical quality is poor, and having to use the rotary controller to access the system adds further frustration. Trim throughout the car is also poorly aligned and the footrest was too close to the brake pedal when being used.
The round dials for the climate settings and the infotainment controller look beautiful but are not quite as premium as you might expect, to the touch. That said, the wood veneer trim and extra smattering of leather lift the cabin to feel on-par with competitors.
Seating position is low but feels good, while the steering wheel feels great in the hands, with reasonable storage space in the cabin, including a decent sized glove box and centre armrest storage. You’ll get a 500ml water bottle into the door bins.
Climb into the back and the door openings aren’t huge so taller passengers will need to duck to get in, but once inside there’s decent elbow, shoulder and legroom, with good wriggle room for your feet.
There was enough head space too, but the sloping roof line means taller passengers might feel a little too closed in. You’ll fit two adults across the back, but the middle seat is more of a perch, as it’s not contoured like the two outer seats.
There are rear air vents for those in the back and ISOFIX mounts on the two main rear seats, plus a power outlet and mesh packets on the backs of the front seats for storing a tablet.
Overall, the Giulia is a typical Alfa Romeo in that it’s loaded with character. It’s not perfect. The interior, for example, despite looking gorgeous, has too much cheap plastic and the door openings are quite small.
But then you take that first corner under acceleration and all is forgotten.
Our 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia was provided by Alfa Romeo Australia. To find out more, contact your local Alfa Romeo dealer.