The Alfa Romeo Giulia is the first real fruit of a major brand renaissance. The Italian rival to BMW's 3 Series is an exceptionally assured premium sedan, though the diesel version comes with a caveat.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia is not simply another new premium rear-wheel drive sedan to rival the BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE, Audi A4 and top-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Because more than being a direct successor to the Alfa 159, the reborn Giulia symbolises the rescue of one of motoring's most iconic brands from precarious near-irrelevance.
Alfa Romeo was founded in Milan in 1910 as Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (ALFA). When entrepreneur Nicola Romeo took over in 1915, the company took on the familiar name.
It was Alfa Romeo development driver Enzo Ferrari who founded his eponymous company in 1929, and it was Alfa Romeo that gave us all-time classics from the 1931 8C to the 1951 Type 159 Alfetta, 1952 Disco Volante, 1963 Giulia Super TI, 1966 Duetto Spider... you get the point.
After decades of hit-and-miss fare that has seen Alfa Romeo fall miles behind the Germans, Fiat Chrysler, led by polarising chief Sergio Marchionne, has made it a stated mission to return Alfa to its halcyon days as a lusted-after brand making driver-focused luxury cars.
In this way it mirrors British equivalent Jaguar, on its own journey back into the hearts and minds of more than just those rusted-on enthusiasts wearing blinkers rather than glasses.
Much like the Jaguar XE, the Giulia is clearly most of all aimed at BMW, with a dynamic driving experience considered key. But just as important is glamour and image, and one look at the Giulia's understated but classical design and RWD-style proportions is reassuring.
Indeed, the Giulia’s chief exterior designer Alessandro Maccolini credits Alfa's RWD platform with giving the car "important dynamic and athletic proportions and aspects" that are clearly an evolution of the 1950s Giulietta Sprint.
Much of the early fuss over the Alfa Romeo Giulia for the 21st century has rightly been made over the 375kW Quadrifoglio range-topper. But it's the bread-and-butter volume-sellers that are more integral to the brand's rebirth.
By this we refer to variants such as the $65,895 (plus on-road costs) Alfa Giulia Super diesel tested here, plus its $64,195 Super petrol sibling. For comparison a BMW 320d costs $64,900, meaning the Alfa needs to be objectively as good as the class toppers.
Verdict: the cynic in me half expected Alfa to merely phone-in the base Giulia versions and coast on the badge, while putting all its comparatively meagre resources into the flagship. But thank the heavens, it hasn't.
Diesel is increasingly on the nose among passenger car buyers, but there's still a market for it, particularly those that travel long distances with regularity, or perhaps call a regional centre home.
Under the Giulia Super diesel's bonnet is a new Euro 6-compliant 2.2-litre turbo making 132kW of power and a healthy 450Nm of torque from 1750rpm, and which uses a claimed 4.2L/100km (our 600km test yielded a more realistic 5.9L/100km).
Interestingly this diesel unit is said to be the lightest in its class – lighter even than JLR's new Ingenium diesel – at only 148kg.
Drive is sent to the rear wheels from an eight-speed automatic gearbox made by German company ZF (which also supplies BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and many others) via a driveshaft made of carbon-fibre.
Alfa claims it'll dash to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds, which squares well with our 7.4sec crack on the first go. In typical diesel fashion it offers a muscular surge from about 2000rpm onwards to the 4500rpm redline, while in its element cruising at 110km/h at 1400rpm (barely above idle).
The diesel is an exceptional choice for anyone who does a lot of miles, given the economy gains. However it cannot hope to be as refined around town as the petrol, where it's a little rattly, while start-up from the idle-stop system is on the jittery side.
Vibrations and noise are well suppressed once you're rolling however, while the DNA driving mode system gives you three modes to mess with, the D-for-Dynamic mode sharpening the throttle response and instructing the 8AT to hold lower gears longer.
The gearbox is generally pretty well behaved, and the huge metal paddles attached to the steering column rather than the wheel are an absolute delight. You'll drive around in manual mode just for the hell of it.
That is a good thing, given the dynamic alacrity the Giulia demonstrates. This is one well-sorted chassis, balanced and rigid, giving the car superb turn-in and body control. Alfa romantically calls the platform Giorgio, and its 50/50 weight distribution is self-evident.
The suspension comprises a double-wishbone setup at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear, both using extensive aluminium and composite materials to keep the tare mass to a light-ish 1410kg.
Its ride is firm, a necessary trade-off for the excellent body control through corners. While never uncomfortable, the car in Super spec has a tendency to crash over sharp inputs such as cobbles more than the $6000 more expensive, faster and better-specified Veloce.
This is because the higher-grade 206kW petrol Veloce ($71,895) gets BMW-matching adjustable active dampers paired to the DNA dial, which work thanks to a solenoid valve that modifies the hydraulic flow inside the shock.
There's also the fact the Giulia Super rides on 18-inch alloys shod with Pirelli Cinturato run-flat tyres, stiff in the sidewall.
The motor-driven electric power steering, which you operate via a simply gorgeous thin-rimmed steering wheel with ample rake and reach adjustability, has various resistance levels (again controlled by the DNA dial) and an extremely direct ratio of 11.8:1.
Indeed, much liker the Jaguar XE, you'll need to tone down your steering inputs at times on account of this extreme directness and sharpness from centre. What'd take it from 'good' to 'great' is a tiny but more feedback (and the Quadrifoglio's four-wheel active torque vectoring).
As with the exterior design, the Giulia's cabin is sensational to behold, snug and driver-focused like a sports car, with a low-slung seating position, round dials and – the coolest touch – a starter button on the steering wheel.
The Super also comes with an appropriate level of standard equipment: proximity key, heated leather seats and steering wheel, digital display, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights (bi-xenons rather than LEDs though), satellite-navigation, DAB+, and front/rear USB inputs.
There's also an 8.8-inch horizontal screen controlled by a BMW iDrive-style rotary dial that has a much easier interface to navigate than we're used to from Alfa. We'd like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though.
There's also a heap of modern safety tech beyond the eight airbags and five-star Euro NCAP rating, including adaptive cruise control, AEB, audible lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, all-round sensors and a tyre-pressure monitor.
Alfa has kept the options list to a relative minimum. There's a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system ($1400), a sunroof ($2200), and the Veloce Pack that adds that sportier car's styling elements including 19s, and the much-needed active suspension, for $3000. Tempting.
The material quality inside is more of a mixed bag – better than the Jag, but below the Germans and Lexus. The leather and wood highlights are great, ditto the paddles, but some of the switches and dials, plus the gear shifter, all feel a little below-par to the tactile-minded.
On the plus side you can choose from a plethora of seat leather colours (black, beige, tan or red) and various types of wood on the veneers. Outside you can also choose between 13 paint colours: some free, some $1300 and some $3500 (Trofeo White and Competizione Red).
As with most rivals, the 4683mm long Giulia is tight in the back, though the seats are comfy, there are rear vents, top-tether and ISOFIX anchors, a rear USB input and a 60:40 seat-folding mechanism to expand on the average-for-the-class 480-litre boot.
Alfa Romeo has also made some steps in addressing its ownership experience here. You get a three-year/100,000km warranty with roadside assistance – about average – but advertised servicing prices and great 20,000km annual service intervals (15,000km for the petrol).
Alfa's Australian site advertises service prices at $395 for year one, $695 for year two and $1095 for year three. First three years = $2185. By comparison a Jaguar XE 2.0d with massive and ambitious 34,000km/two-year intervals has a three-year plan costing $1100.
It should be clear after this review that Alfa Romeo has done a sensational job with the Giulia – though the Veloce would be our choice – and it bodes well for the company's future, which it has confirmed, includes eight new models by 2020.
The first of these beyond the Giulia is the Stelvio crossover to rival the Jaguar F-pace due in early 2018, plus two other SUVs, a large luxury sedan, a new premium hatchback and two specialty sports models.
Finally the future looks bright for this Italian icon. The Giulia is a legitimate rival for the 3 Series, C-Class and XE that competes on merit rather than badge. Buone notizie.
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