The global launch of the 2017 Alfa Romeo is a must-win event for the century-old Italian carmaker. So what's it like?
The global launch of the all new Alfa Romeo Giulia isn’t just a big deal, it’s quite possibly a make or break moment for the century-old Italian car manufacturer.
None of Alfa’s top-line executives were prepared to put a precise figure on the investment in the model, suffice to say that billions have been invested in a completely new modular architecture dubbed ‘Giorgio’, which not only underpins the rear-wheel drive Giulia, but an entire Alfa Romeo family including a raft of new sedans, coupes, and SUVs that will soon follow.
It’s nothing less than a full-scale Italian automotive renaissance and to properly understand its significance it pays to go back in time – to 1910 when the company was founded as A.L.F.A (Anonima Lombarda Fabrica Automobile). Five years after founding, it was purchased by Nicola Romeo and the Alfa Romeo badge was born and housed in Milan.
It’s a brand steeped in motorsports history, long before even Ferrari opened its doors for the first time. In fact, Enzo Ferrari even raced an Alfa Romeo works car. They won the first two Formula One World Championships before pulling out to focus on large scale production.
Style and performance were two key Alfa attributes from day one and it built some truly stunning cars. The original 8C, the Giulia Junior 1300, 33 Stradale, Alfa Romeo Montreal, and of course, the famous Alfa Spider were some of the highlights.
There were dark times too when the company lost its identity – forgot about the things that made Alfa Romeo so special, instead producing uninspiring front-wheel drive designs that did little to uphold Alfa’s pedigree.
But all that is about to change. Alfa has launched a global comeback and it starts with the 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia. It’s a model that is expected to stand toe-to-toe with the indomitable German trio; Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Jaguar is there too, with the XE, while Lexus has its IS range.
Australia will get a range of turbocharged petrol and diesel variants in a choice of three trim levels: Giulia, Super and and range-topping Quadrifoglio. The local launch is still some time away though, pencilled in for early 2017. This drive was based in Europe.
Entry level will be the 2.0-litre Giulia petrol with 147kW and 330Nm, followed by a mid-spec Super version with the same drivetrain. Next up is a 2.2-litre diesel with 132kW and 450Nm in Super trim, followed by the top-of-the-range Quadrifoglio, which uses a 375kW/600Nm 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine.
Australian cars will arrive exclusively with an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, despite other markets able to choose between it and a six-speed manual gearbox. That’s fair enough as there’s not much demand for stick shifts in the luxury sedan segment in this market.
There’s also a US-bound ‘high-power’ 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine armed with 206kW and 400Nm of torque that Australia will miss out on when it launches locally, but expect Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia to have already submitted a business case for this particular engine variant.
Much of the investment in the new Giulia has been spent on engineering, specifically handling and ride, two key objectives for the new model, along with styling and the latest technology.
The entire Giulia range is underpinned by a brand new longitudinal-engine, rear-wheel drive platform developed specifically for Alfa Romeo known as ‘Giorgio’, with an even 50 per cent front and 50 per cent rear weight distribution. Suspension is independent all-round, boasting a double wishbone set-up at the front and multilink at the rear.
All Giulia models employ a carbon-fibre drive shaft as well as lightweight aluminium suspension components, front guards and doors. Steering accuracy and feel has also been addressed, with the Giulia benefiting from the most direct ratio in its segment.
It’s light too. Extensive use of these lightweight materials has led to a class-leading kerb weight of 1374kg for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel we drove. Even the top-of-the-range Quadrifoglio, with its twin-turbo V6 engine, is still one of the lightest vehicles in the segment, tipping the scales at 1524kg.
While the powerhouse Giulia Quadrifoglio was universally lauded by the world’s media who drove it on track at Balocco in Italy, for it’s outstanding drivability and performance attributes, the real acid test for any all-new model is how well the rest of the range stacks up. In Giulia’s case, better than expected, at least with the high-power 2.2-litre turbo-diesel we drove at the launch.
Read our Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review here.
There’s no disguising the diesel clatter, at least on start-up, but it soon settles into a surprisingly refined idle and stays that way throughout most of the rev range. It’s not short on go either, when opportunity arises to wind it up a notch or two. Actually, it’s deceptively quick as 2.2-litre diesels go. Equipped with 132kW at 3750rpm and a solid 450Nm from just 1750rpm, Alfa claims it’ll go from 0-100km/h in a lively 7.1 seconds.
It certainly feels that way. It’s simply more inspiring than most diesel-powered rivals packing similar displacement, particularly if Dynamic mode is selected. But if fuel economy is high on your list of priorities with the new Giulia, drivers can choose between Natural and Advanced Efficiency – good for 4.2L/100km on a combined cycle, though throttle response and shift times are deliberately dulled by comparison, as is the exhaust note.
On the twisty back roads around Balocco, the Giulia displayed the kind of poise and agility that made it good fun to drive. The steering is quick and direct, while the car is nicely balanced, too. You’ll want to drive this car with a good deal of enthusiasm when conditions permit, perhaps even more so than the equivalent German cars, as it feels more involving.
Importantly, ride comfort is also pretty good, even over some fairly shoddy road surfaces. There’s a satisfying level of pliancy in Sport, while it’s downright soft in the more relaxed drive modes.
Inside, the clean layout and quality of materials are a big step up on anything Alfa Romeo has done before, and show clear influence from rival German brands. The designers have used a blend of aluminium and leather for a premium feel, though not quite up there with the benchmark Audi A4 in that regard.
Those sporty overtones continue with carryover features from the range-topping Quadrifoglio, like the similarly-styled three-spoke leather steering wheel with integrated stop/start button and Ferrari-style paddleshifters. Taking centre-stage though, is Alfa’s new-generation 8.8-inch Connect 3D Nav system, which we found to be refreshingly quick and intuitive.
Depending on the trim levels, Giulia gets a 3.5 or 7.0-inch instrument display that sits between the two prominent performance dials (speedo and tacho) that shows a range of useful driver information including a large digital speed counter.
The seats on our Giulia Super tester were upholstered in an attractive blend of leather bolsters with fabric inserts, which we found supportive and comfortable. They’re also mounted quite low to the floor, allowing the driver to sit well into the car – in keeping with Giulia’s decidedly sporty attributes.
Rear-seat legroom is generous and supports Giulia’s claim of the longest wheelbase in class. Boot space is also commendable, with a useful 480 litres back there.
Standard across the range is forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, but features such as lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring are optional.
Pricing and final specifications for Australian-bound cars will be decided closer to the local launch scheduled for early 2017, but initial impressions lead me to believe that Alfa has a refreshingly capable contender on its hands with Giulia.
FCA’s substantial investment in the new model shows, both on and off the track. It’s stylish, different, and very well engineered from a dynamic standpoint. Even the diesel is fun to drive, like an Alfa should be, but it’s also competitive on all other fronts.