Few new vehicles have entered the market with greater expectations than this Alfa sedan. Alfa Romeo departed our market with its proverbial tail between its legs in 1995 after its products proved uncompetitive and unreliable—though undeniably exciting to drive and listen to. Nine years ago, Alfa teased us with a handful of hand-me-down Maseratis (the 8C Competizione coupe). Then the delightfully light and impractical 4C came along in 2014. Cars like those don’t sustain a starving dealer network peddling Fiat 500s as hard as it can. Nor, frankly, do 505-hp boutique fire-breathers such as the Giulia Quadrifoglio. No, the future success of Alfa Romeo in the U.S. market rests for now on the shoulders of this 2.0-liter Giulia. To be successful, it must do three things: 1) be the best-driving, best-handling, most exciting entrant in a crowding 3 Series/C-Class/A4 field, 2) offer competitive space, comfort, and ergonomics with no crazy Italian quirkiness, and 3) approach Acura/Lexus levels of quality and reliability.
Our first drive experience indicated strong evidence of success on item one, and now that we’ve gotten a Giulia out of captivity and strapped our gear onto it, we have verified Alfa’s promise of a 0–60 time of 5.1 seconds. It managed this en route to a quarter-mile time of 13.6 seconds at 103.7 mph, which has the base Giulia running at the head of a crowded pack of 2.0-liter turbo sport sedans. (The Audi A4 Quattro nips most closely at its heels running 13.7 seconds at 100.4 mph). The Giulia’s engine delivers a stirring wail on its way to each redline shift, which the ZF eight-speed automatic executes smartly whether under orders from a computer that’s uncommonly savvy at selecting the optimal gear or when directed by the Ferrari-esque column-mounted aluminum elephant-ear shift paddles. Downshifts even provoke throttle blips. (It should be noted that this paddle arrangement sometimes puts the desired paddle out of reach when turning the wheel, and it relocates the turn signal to a farther reach than normal, all of which prompted some grumbling among the staff.)
Head out on a twisty road, and dial up Dynamic mode from the DNA selector, and from the first twirl of the smaller-than-usual steering wheel, you’ll enjoy the quick turn-in and feedback through the steering wheel rim. This reinforces the impression made by the eager engine’s snarl and the Ferrari lookalike steering wheel–mounted start button that this is a car that encourages aggressive driving. After admonishing our readers to be sure to select the $1,250 Sport package, our base rear-drive tester arrived so equipped with 8-inch-by-18-inch sport wheels wrapped in 225/45R18 Pirelli Cinturato P7 rubber. Those all-season tires scream in the corners. Along with a stability control system that can’t be completely switched off, the tires hobbled the Giulia’s handling numbers.
Testing director Kim Reynolds reported that it was difficult to enter or leave the curves on the figure eight without inciting either lift-throttle or throttle-on oversteer, both of which prompted aggressive, lap-time-killing stability-control intervention. The resulting 26.8-second lap at 0.67 average g ranks below all the obvious competitors, as does the max lateral grip of 0.84 g. And none of those stats jibe with what you’ll experience at the wheel. Plying real-world roads with all systems engaged, few drivers reported any stability meddling, and nearly everyone who thrashed the Giulia agreed that its neutral balance and poise make it the best-driving sedan in the class. Several also praised its ride quality as approaching that of class leaders such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Let’s check off item one as done.
As for the second item on the Giulia’s must-do list, many of us who’ve struggled to master Ferrari and Maserati user interfaces were delighted by how normally Alfa’s twist-and-push knob with finger-writing interpretation on its top surface worked despite lacking the menu-button shortcuts that perfected iDrive. Interior styling meets Italian expectations and complements the gorgeous exterior, but some knocked the red leather for seeming a bit too pleathery. Others criticized the graining and gloss of some plastic bits. The trunk opening is smaller than most, and the volume inside is just barely class competitive, but as Italian sedans go—well, let’s just say no old-timers from the Alfa 164 team appear to have helped with the packaging and ergonomics of this one. So if not a slam dunk on space, comfort, and ergo-quirkiness, at least it’s darned competitive.
It’s that third item that nobody can assess yet. This car behaved perfectly for two weeks but for an errant car alarm incident. Alfa Romeo as a company ranked near the bottom of J.D. Power’s 2016 Dependability Study for the U.K., reporting 235 problems per car—just behind BMW (196), Jag (173), and Audi (169). But this is an all-new car. A fresh start? Nobody knows. Watch this space in a year or so, when we hope to have some long-term results to share. In the meantime, hurry out and lease a Giulia now before your left brain gets any ammunition that might help it talk you out of it.