Alfa Giulia finally makes its appearance

John Gilbert

Distinctive shield grille tells the world that the beautiful Giulia compact sedan is truly an Alfa Romeo. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Distinctive shield grille tells the world that the beautiful Giulia compact sedan is truly an Alfa Romeo. Photo credit: John Gilbert

It was worth the wait. I first laid eyes on the Alfa Romeo Giulia when its worldwide introduction was held in Milano, Italy - Milan, to you who haven’t been there -- and it was introduced on stage in an auditorium with world-famous tenor Andre Bocelli striding on stage with it, and serenading the highly emotional scene with a beautiful Italian love ballad.

Those Italians know how to do emotion. To say nothing of cars! Over the succeeding year, there have been numerous delays and stops and starts before the Giulia finally got to showrooms in the U.S., and I’ve written before about the almost comical intrusions that prevented my road-testing schedule and the Giulia’s timing from coinciding. I even got the Stelvio, Alfa’s companion first SUV based on the Giulia, but still no Giulia.

Perfectly sculpted lines form a design that includes a surprisingly large trunk. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Perfectly sculpted lines form a design that includes a surprisingly large trunk. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Finally, a pair of the sleek compact 4-door sedans made it to the Midwestern press fleet, and I heard about it at the perfect time, just before the Midwest Auto Media Association fall rally was conducted at Chicago’s Audobahn Country Club, a neat little closed road-racing course where members pay a fee, just like at a private golf club, only instead of taking divots and bogeys, members get to take their favorite cars out and run them through their paces on a race track.

MAMA works out an arrangement for the Fall Rally so that manufacturers bring their newest cars, and MAMA media types can come down and run conrolled laps in those cars at the track. It’s always a fantastic midweek day, and my older son, Jack, who assists me with my automotive website New Car Picks.com, goes with me and I drive from Duluth. Then I swap cars and drive something else home.

This time, after a special request, we were able to climb inside a “Rosso Competzione Tri-Coat” Giulia TI and circle Chicago as we headed back to Minnesota. The wait, as I said, was easily worth the reward.

I’ve always tried to harness the hyperbole when I write about cars, because so many of the new vehicles are so splendid, and so few deserve criticism. But I’m finding it difficult to hold back, this time.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia TI is, without a doubt, my favorite car of any I’ve ever driven.

The Giulia comes in two fashions. Both have a high-strength steel body and an amazingly smooth platform that is firm anough to allow it to snake around the tightest turns with flat poise and yet with a grace that is never harsh. Italian cars seem to have the inside track on being able to make their cars beautiful and also sensual, and the same goes for their engines.  In this case, Fiat - which owns Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, and Ferrari Formula 1 racing enterprises - was taking no chances with a built-from-scratch sedan it intends to set new standards when exported to America.

The sporty steering while and leather/aluminum cockpit add to the sporty flair of the Giulia sedan, with either 505-horsepower turbo V6 or 280-horse 2.0-liter 4. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The sporty steering while and leather/aluminum cockpit add to the sporty flair of the Giulia sedan, with either 505-horsepower turbo V6 or 280-horse 2.0-liter 4. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Legend has it that Fiat executives selected two Ferrari Formula 1 race engineers, told them to chose their team of engineers, and then design and build  two extremely high-tech engines, a four and a V6, to power the Giulia, with its flawless and striking design, perfect front-rear balance, and in need of powertrains to match.

The basic Giulia comes with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Turbo engine that has 280 horsepower and 306 foot-pounds of torque, and operates through an 8-speed automatic transmission shiftable by hand with long and sleek aluminum paddles - affixed to the steering column, not the steering wheel, which is beneficial for keeping the paddles always where the driver can expect them, right side to upshift and left to downshift.

The costlier Giulia Quadrifoglio comes with a 2.9-liter V6, twin-turbocharged, producing 505 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds, available with a 6-speed stick.  The Quadrifoglio, which means cloverleaf in Italian, hence the cloverleaf logo for Alfa, costs about $70,000. We won’t question how easily worth it the car is. The 4-cylinder, however, is the prize, in my opinion. It also has front-engine/rear-drive, but can be bought with Alfa’s specific all-wheel drive system, and it has a base price of $39,995, which means for about $45,000, you could get a Giulia with all-wheel drive. That’s the one I want, the better to scale Duluth’s clifflike avenues.

I got the chance to drive both models briefly at Audobahn Country Club, both on the track and on surrounding roadways. Both models left me completely unable to pick which featsure I liked best -- the exterior design, the sumptious leather and aluminum interior, the fantastic power and performance, or the incredible quick-response steering and handling. After too-few short days living with the Giulia, I decided that all those assets combined to make the whole package so alluring, but as good as it looks, accelerates, and sounds, the most amazing single feature is the handling.

Emotional craftsmanship is evident from every angle of the Giulia's design, and the efficient power and superb handling backs it up. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Emotional craftsmanship is evident from every angle of the Giulia's design, and the efficient power and superb handling backs it up. Photo credit: John Gilbert

I can’t think of an exotic sports car that handles any better. When a car handles as well as the Giulia, it also means it has superb emergency evasive handling ability.

When we left for home, and noticed that we would get the dark red Giulia instead of the gleaming white Quadrifoglio, I was happy. First, my wife, Joan, loves red cars and this Italian red would blow her socks off. It was mid-afternoon, and we weren’t as far as Rockford, Ill., when the sun was setting, but the Giulia, with its firmly bolstered bucket seats and room for four, was computer-perfect in its road manners. Jack drove his share on the way home, and declared it the best car he’d driven, ever. I dropped him off where he’d left his car at a friend’s, near Chippewa Falls, and got back on the highway headed north, to Duluth. I only saw one deer, and it stayed respectfully on the shoulder, possibly keeping its distance from the brilliant white coverage of the perfectly timed automatic headlights. I arrived home at 3 a.m., tired, but not fatigued from driving.

Joan’s work schedule, and my sneakiness, kept her from jumping in the Giulia and disappearing over the horizon. Although, she conceded, she considered it. I asked what she thought was the Giulia’s best feature.

“The looks; it’s the most beautifully designed car I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It’s a work of art. It looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still. It flows, and it’s so emotional. It’s almost like you don’t take it for a drive, it takes you for the drive. You feel as though you could take it out on a race track, win the race, and then enjoy driving it home.”

Guess I didn’t have to be shy about the superlatives. The rounded nose, with the distinctive shield grille with the Alfa badge stuck right on it, means the car could never be mistaken for another nameplate. The rear seats easily fit two, and the trunk is surprisingly large.

The Giulia offers a stunning harmony of lines from every angle, and delivered 39 mpg on a trip to Bayfield, Wis. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The Giulia offers a stunning harmony of lines from every angle, and delivered 39 mpg on a trip to Bayfield, Wis. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Giulia stops pedestrians in their tracks. Joan and I drove it up onto Skyline Drive, high above Duluth, looking down on the harbor. As soon as we stopped and got out, a group of motorcyclists on sports-bikes, not Harleys, arrived and lined up behind the Giulia, in some formation for some group photos of whatever club thing they had going. Many of them walked over first to inquire and praise the Giulia. I thought it would have made a fantastic ad for the Giulia to start up and drive along that curvy cliff-top road, with a swarm of beautiful, lean sports-bikes swarming like bees as an escort.

We got a chance on Sunday to drive 100 miles amid the stunning fall foliage into Wisconsin to attend the annual Bayfield Apple Festival. Great time, great crowd, every imaginable thing made out of apples, and a perfect 60-degree fall day with bright blue sky and golden leaves.

Because Bayfield is located on mostly two-lane roadways, some winding along the South Shore of Lake Superior, you don’t drive over the speed limit, especially noting the affinity Wisconsin police have for out-of-state contributions to local coffers. Keeping the Alfa under 70 was a worthy challenge. It also allowed me to fill the tank for the trip with super 91-octane premium Mobil, drive down and back for a 200-mile total, and still have three-fourths of a tank left. It computed to 39.0 miles per gallon, and high-mileage driving never felt so impressive.

With engines designed and built by Ferrari Formula 1 engineers, prices from $40,000-$80,000 suddenly seem reasonable. Photo credit: John Gilbert
With engines designed and built by Ferrari Formula 1 engineers, prices from $40,000-$80,000 suddenly seem reasonable. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The test car had a base price of $39,995 and as-tested at $51,990. The test car had front-engine/rear-wheel drive, and its extremely quick power-steering may have benefitted from that. But the 4-cylinder can be obtained with all-wheel drive for about $1,500 more, and I’d trade a few of the finer options for the AWD unit. Let’s see how it take the hills in Duluth in January, with a set of Nokians mounted on those 19-inch aluminum wheels. 

Needless to say, when the opportunity arrives to spend a few days with the Quadrifoglio and its sizzling-hot V6, I will jump at the chance, even if it doesn’t have an AWD version. Earlier this year, both Motor Trend and Car & Driver magazines conducted thorough comparison tests, with all the fancy testing gear, and I read both stories with considerable interest. Normally, I find both of those magazines can occasionally get pretty full of themselves and it might spill over in the quest to satisfy a major advertising account. The only place I disagreed with their premise was when they kissed off the 2.0-liter 4 as being too shy on power, which is definitly not true, in my view

This time, the topic was interesting, and their findings surprisingly similar, as both of them took a 505-horsepower Giulia Quadrifoglio and ran it against the perceived best in that compact luxury-sport sedan class.

Motor Trend tested the Mercedes Benz C300 Sport, Lexus IS 200t F-Sport, Jaguar XE 25t Prestige, Cadillac ATS 2.0t turbo, Audi A4 2.0 quattro (although both magazines insist on writing it “Quattro” with a capital Q, despite the manufacturer’s pleas), and the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Combining all the features, Motor Trend ranked them: 1. Alfa, 2. Audi A4, 3. Mercedes, 4. Lexus IS, 5, Cadillac ATS, and 6. Jaguar. 

Motor Trend then brought back the top four high-performers and ran their hot-rod upgraded versions through another battery of tests and ranked them, counting down: 4. Mercedes AMG63, 3. Cadillac ATS-V, 2. BMW M3 Competition Package, and 1. Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Remarkable that the car beat all the best luxury-sport sedans, as well as the top specialty upgrade models.

Car & Driver assembled what it had tested as the hottest four sport-luxury sedans, and ranked them for acceleration, chassis, driveline, etc. They drove all four for 1,100 miles across Death Valley, and then gave points in each category. The results were: came out: 4. Cadillac ATS-V, 3. BMW M3, 2. Mercedes AMG C63 S (with 503 horsepower V8), and 1. Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio.

It would be even more interesting if the two magazines humbled themselves to reetest the 4-cylinder version against other real-world cars in that class costing around $40,000, half the price of the hotter models. My suspicion is the Alfa would win by an even greater margin.

On the other hand, maybe it’s better to let the masses seek the V6 model, at $75,000, and we can keep the $45,000 Giulia TI a secret. At least until they get enough of them sent out to dealerships.