Christmas came early to the Rocky Mountain outpost of Curbside Classic as I was offered the use of an Alfa Romeo Giulia for close to a week by the fine folks at FCA and their agents. Like a kid at Christmas I couldn’t sleep and was pacing around nervously the morning before it was delivered. When it arrived, it was as exciting an event as any Christmas I’ve experienced. I’d been given a sneak peek of what it would be when a copy of the sticker was sent to me a week prior so I could try to visualize it all but sitting there in front of the house it was even more striking than I had imagined.
Now, I’ve been an Alfa fan for pretty much forever, had a 1985 Spider Veloce for a while that ended up spending more time in the garage than it should have (my fault, not the car’s), was upset when they left these shores, and elated when they announced their return a few years back. A couple of years ago I got the chance to drive the Giulia Quadrifoglio on a track for a few laps and was astounded by the performance, but was always interested in what the more “normal” machinery was like these days.
So what exactly was it that I lived with for the better part of a week and a bit under 500 miles? Well, the Giulia is the sedan portion of what Alfa is building its future on here in the United States. The other main part of the equation is the Stelvio CUV and then a tiny little bit is left over for the 4C Spider, a very small but exquisite open topped two-seater.
Before we go on, I want to point out that this particular test car had just over 10,000 miles on it when I got it and is absolutely loaded with technology – I added almost 500 more miles, started it many dozens of times both cold and hot, drove it in all manners and there was not a single rattle, nothing fell off, everything worked perfectly, it started every time, there were zero electronic glitches, nothing had to be “re-booted”, and while I am sure this car is extremely well cared for, I am just as sure that as a press car it has lived a life of test-drives and not just commuting to the office and idling at the drive-through etc. Giulias are built in Cassino, Italy, and use precisely zero content from over here (no surprise) while 69% of the bits within are of Italian manufacture which is actually pretty impressive, Italy isn’t all that large.
Giulia is a name that Alfa has obviously used before on a car with a very similar mission many decades ago starting in 1962 and has of course been covered on these digital pages previously. A fair number of them came to America back in the day and while not seen every day are not as rare as one might think.
The current Giulia seen here is near the top of the range (apart from the Quadrifoglio version which starts some $30k higher and is on a whole ‘nother level). However the rest of the entire range shares the same Italian-built turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine that produces a very healthy 280hp and 306 lb-ft of torque and an 8-speed German-built ZF transmission.
The “Ti Sport AWD” version that I got started at $41,995 in the 2018 model year and with a plethora of options including the AWD Sport Package ended up at $50,590 before destination charges. The current 2019 model has very similar pricing with a few minor changes in option availability (an absolute “base” RWD Giulia starts at $38,295 for 2019). Now I know some of you will be choking at the price just on general principle but put in perspective I believe it is less (perhaps much less) than a comparable vehicle from Audi or BMW could be sourced for. We’ll talk more about the options in a bit so stick around.
First impressions when walking up to the car are that this is a svelte shape with sensuous curves while not being overly flamboyant. However, the beauty of this Alfa not being as ubiquitous as the competition is one of its strongest attributes; the shape is fresh and not seen multiple times in every parking lot and as such you can find yourself lingering and taking in the details.
During the time I had it we had several nearby neighbors come up our driveway and finally introduce themselves as we had moved into this house less than six months ago but really it was the car that got them over the property line to finally say hello – they were very interested in it.
Alfas (and Audi, BMW, Mercedes etc) aren’t necessarily the car for those that are looking for the lowest Total Cost of Ownership experience. Nor are they necessarily for those who view cars as appliances. A car like this is oftentimes a personal reward for succeeding at something meaningful in life, hitting a milestone, achieving the corner office, or whatever else one sets their mind to achieving. Or just because you can or want to or of the way it makes you feel.
Like a very nice watch can be so much more than just a timekeeping device, it’s more than just transportation; the journeys one takes in it (and other cars like it) often times ARE the whole point of the voyages and the actual destinations are secondary if not flat out just excuses to begin with…Otherwise Toyota would sell right around 17 million Corollas in the US every year instead of sharing the volume with others, including this one.
Beyond the paint (in this case Vesuvio Gray Metallic at $600; white and red are no charge, the metallic colors including several blues, a green, another red, black and several silver/grays are extra cost), the interior was simply stunning in red leather which notably does NOT incur an upcharge and frankly takes the car from very intriguing to “I really gotta know this thing” and had my daughter posting non-stop selfies while she rode in it and answered questions from friends about it.
While I don’t disagree that every Alfa really should be red on the outside, having red on the inside instead is possibly, if anything, an even better thing. While this car also sports the “Ti Leather Package” at $995, that gets you a leather covered dashboard and upper door panels with red stitching on the black leather which is quite subtle and not at all over the top but also makes the interior really feel even more special.
Of course the biggest option, both monetarily as well as content-wise, is the “Ti Sport AWD Package” which at $2,500 seems a steal as it includes (deep breath here): All Wheel Drive, 19” dark colored wheels, 225/40-19 tires, Sport Front and Rear Fascias, Gloss Black Window Moldings, Colored Brake Calipers (Red with white “Alfa Romeo” script in this case), Sport Leather Seats with extendable thigh cushion AND 4way lumbar AND power adjustable side bolsters, Aluminum Trim, Sport Leather Steering Wheel, Steering Column Mounted Aluminum Paddle Shifters, and Aluminum Pedals.
At Audi I believe AWD is usually around $1,600, the excellent sport seats with full power on both sides of the car are easily worth at least another $1,000 if not more, and now you’re already over the price that Alfa is asking without any of the other stuff they add… Alfa Romeo, the value choice!
You’ll note that this car has silver instead of dark wheels, the silver curiously adds another $500 (but the same style wheels) which I’d be happy to pay as I personally am over the dark wheel thing. It also had both safety packages (Static – Blind Spot with Cross-Traffic Alert at $500 and Dynamic – Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise with Full Stop Capability, and Automatic High Beams at $1,500.
The 8.5” screen that is extremely well integrated into the instrument panel includes 3D Nav for $950 (replaced for 2019 with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), and lastly the Harmon Kardon Premium Audio System for $900 really lets things ”bump” as the kids these days say.
Ok, enough of Mr. Finance Manager here, it’s an Alfa, let’s go for a ride! Approaching the car, the key stays in the pocket, as soon as you slip a hand behind the door handle they all unlock with a “thunk” but no delay and the door pulls open in your hand.
Sitting down you realize this is not a huge car but it’s wide enough that you are nowhere near your passenger and both elbows have plenty of room on the wide center console lid without any fisticuffs. As you poise your right index finger near your knee to find and hit the start button, you realize that oops, wrong finger! It’s your left finger that you need and the button is on the wheel itself which is a novel placement but works well in practice.
The wheel itself is a superb shape, with multiple textures; beyond the leather and the stitch pattern parts of the inside rim are of a textured material that give the wheel an interesting and welcome feel. Of course a number of buttons (adaptive cruise, radio, voice command, phone etc) are arrayed on it along with a very Audi-esque scroll wheel for volume that I love in the A4 and am happy it was replicated here.
The shifter (alas, auto-only for the Giulia) is a monostatic device that you push down on top for Park, pull back while pressing the button in back for Drive, and push forward while depressing the same button for Reverse. It takes a bit of time to get used to but does work just fine and the selected gear and mode lights up in the handle.
Pretty much everything you touch above maybe mid-calf level is soft to the touch, the sides of the center console are padded, all the red bits satisfyingly squish to the touch, there are two cupholders in front with a lovely sliding cover, two more in the back center armrest, and bottle holders in the doors. USB ports are several in number, with one visible in front, another for the rear, and more tucked away under the center console armrest along with aux inputs etc.
Seating position? Perfect, the seats adjust in a multitude of ways as does the steering wheel. Comfort was no problem for me. I also tried sitting “behind myself” – I am 6’1” with a 32” inseam and when in back with the front positioned how I wanted it, I still had around three inches between my kneecaps and the seatback with plenty of headroom both front and back – this car did NOT have a sunroof which is how I prefer my cars anyway and thankfully the Italians agree that a sunroof adds weight in exactly the wrong place.
At around 3600 pounds the car isn’t a featherweight but it’s very competitive these days in that regard. Of course, a panoramic sunroof is an option but would likely rob some headroom and add weight while simultaneously lightening the wallet. Perhaps the weight would cancel out there…
Anway, the engine fired up with a little stutter and a rasp, snick the shifter into drive and hit the gas. While this turbo-four does exhibit a tiny bit of lag from a dead stop, once the tach reaches 2000rpm, it just takes off like a scalded cat. (You can brake torque the engine a bit to eliminate the lag but I wouldn’t recommend doing so routinely).
60mph is supposedly despatched in a hair over five seconds, and if you are in manual mode you are just as likely to bounce off the rev limiter before pulling the paddle for the next gear as you are to successfully get the shift timing tight until you get used to it, it’s a fast-revving engine but the redline is also fairly low at 6000rpm, thankfully it has a wide powerband and is hard to catch off-boost.
I drove it on several lengthy drives over a couple of days both up in the local foothills and canyons as well as the roads around Estes Park and frankly this is one of the most confidence inspiring chassis’ that I have ever driven. It always seems to want more and after every corner that you may have felt a little trepidation entering, by the exit you wonder how much speed and grip you left on the table.
The AWD is RWD unless it senses the need for more grip at which point it can send up to half the power to the front, there is no discernable understeer, the steering is extremely communicative and quick and the suspension, while stiff and seeming to prevent any lean, is marvelously supple with almost no impact harshness on rough or poorly maintained roads while the damping is superb.
While there is no obvious way to turn off traction or stability control it also wasn’t needed to be turned off; if it intervened it wasn’t noticeable or objectionable and if I was going too slow to engage it, well, let’s just say that you’d have to be a damn fool and should be locked away if it routinely engages for you on dry public roads.
After my first long drive around and past Horsetooth Reservoir (it’s the closest substitute to Lake Como as I can get around here) and then up into the foothills along little back roads and eventually down the Poudre Canyon I examined the tires closely and was surprised to note that they were the All-Season version of Pirelli’s P7 Cinturato. In 225/40-19 size they were extremely grippy and communicative with very little if any slip.
The drive up to Estes Park a few days later was, as usual, a bit of a slog with all the weekend traffic in their lumbering 4Runners, CR-V’s, and Tahoes trundling along, but with well-spaced although rather short passing zones they moved aside and the Alfa just ripped past them, then revealing clear road until the next gaggle. On the day I did that run it was just under 50 degrees Fahrenheit and an unseasonably misty morning, in other words, perfect AWD turbo weather.
In the Alfa one can either push the shifter into manual mode or just pull back on the minus paddle to put it into manual mode temporarily. While cruising at the back of the pack in top gear at basically just past idle speed in Drive, pulling back the paddle several times puts the engine in the meat of its powerband and then it just pulls gloriously as you bang off the upshifts.
The paddles themselves are sublime creations, about 8 or so inches long, made of solid aluminum with no flex and fixed to the column instead of the wheel, they are always in the right place and you can always have at least a finger on them no matter how the wheel is turned. The plus and minus signs aren’t printed on them but carved through them, what looks like dark ink at first is actually void space.
When the drive mode selector knob with D-N-A options is set in D, the accelerator is very sharp and the shifts are extremely abrupt, it’s as close to what you see/hear in a Formula 1 on-board shot as anything I’ve driven and just as fast as a double clutch automatic such as VW’s DSG and Porsche’s PDK transmissions. Old-Skool tiptronic it is not.
About that drive mode knob – The D is the performance setting, named Dynamic. It makes everything much more firm and responsive. For the most part it was my default setting although Alfa seems to think that N (Natural) would be to most people’s preference. I thought D was just right. When I tried N it dulled everything back like most other cars with some sporting character. When I then tentatively tried the A (Advanced Efficiency) setting, I quickly turned it back to D. It became just a commuter car at that point, yeah, not for me, at least not in these particular surroundings.
On my last day with the car I took a drive down to Golden with my daughter to visit my mother for dinner, the way there was mostly stop and go so I took the time to produce a little impromptu “one take” video above explaining the adaptive cruise control (with my camerawoman daughter manning the camera!) and the way back was wide open. I’ve experienced adaptive cruise control before, first in my old Chrysler 300C AWD and also in my new car and now this one. It’s a wonderful technology but it does still make me a bit nervous at first, especially if I don’t “know” the particular car that well and even more so when it’s not my own car. If you’ve never had it, watch the video, and hopefully you’ll find I did a decent job of explaining it.
Gas mileage? I averaged in the lower 20’s overall on premium gasoline which I found quite tolerable considering what I was getting out of the car. My Porsche 996 would get about 16-17mpgs or so if driven similarly.
On this voyage down to Golden and back I had filled up before leaving and did so again when I got back. At right around 150 miles round trip it took just over five gallons to top it back off. So just under 30mpg, which is quite efficient. (The Porsche with its 3.6 H6 would have gotten around 24 mpg in that same circumstance). Officially the Alfa is rated at 23/31 and 26 combined so similar to what I saw in actuality. Premium fuel is recommended (and what I used).
Alfa of course has debuted many technical innovations over the years. Variable Valve Timing? Everyone thinks Honda pioneered it with VTEC (Yo!), but no, Alfa debuted it in 1980 (a mechanical VVT system in the Spider, it became electronic in the 1983 Spider). DOHC engine? 1928 in a road car. Fuel Injection? Race tested as far back as 1940, on production cars in 1969 (mechanical SPICA system, switched to Bosch EFI in 1982, lots of SPICA cars still running). There are plenty more examples, but Alfa Romeo, while not always all that well known in the US, has always punched far above its apparent weight.
Continuing in that vein, the Alfa Romeo Giulia uses a Brake-By-Wire system. Huh? Yeah, the brake pedal does not directly control the master cylinder. Instead it is controlled by a module that incorporates the master cylinder, the ABS, and the Stability Control. Having all of this in one unit reduces weight while increasing performance. (As an aside, Toyota also has some brake by wire systems in some of their Lexus hybrid and non-hybrid portfolio as well).
The brakes can go from zero to full locking brake pressure in a third of the time that a conventional system can (100 milliseconds vs 300 ms). While “feel” can be dialed in (and I didn’t note any “issues”, just noticed and appreciated what I thought was a sharp initial bite) it cannot really replicate the reduction in performance due to heat, thus a warning light may illuminate if needed but if the ABS engages there is also no kickback through the pedal.
Overall I thought it worked great, as I experimented with the DNA system and did find that the brake “bite” was more pronounced in D mode, so that apparently is another factor that the system adjusts.
Quibbles? A couple, but then again Cindy Crawford has a mole and that’s never been a problem for most people. The car has parking sensors that beep and show you in the instrument cluster where an obstacle is. It became annoying when I’d put it in reverse and it started beeping and showed me that an object such as another car was directly in FRONT of me. When in reverse that would be irrelevant and caused me to have to re-verify that I was actually in reverse (it was, every time). That seems like a simple programming fix.
The infotainment system in this 2018 was alright but nothing spectacular. While I appreciated the large screen actually integrated into the fairly low dashboard, the system could be better (and note that it likely is for 2019 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). Setting a navigation address manually was not good, as it required lots of dialing around with the selector knob like a decade-old system.
The voice commands were similarly recalcitrant, needing very specific wording for most commands – at least it would then present a list of suggested verbiage when it didn’t understand but reading that while driving is antithetical to the whole concept of voice commands. However, once the verbiage was used correctly it quickly understood several addresses I tested it with which was good. I did manage to pair my phone with the system very easily and it re-paired itself automatically every time I entered with it afterward. If I can manage to pair a phone on the first try, then anybody can do it.
And lastly, while the engine and exhaust do have a satisfactory burble and “ripping” noise while accelerating, it’s just not loud enough when at full chat in Dynamic mode. While I’m not looking for anything like open pipes nor do I think “piped-in” fake noise is at all desirable, perhaps some kind of baffle in the exhaust system that could be opened in this mode only while at full throttle would be very welcome. Porsche does it in their optional “sports” exhaust systems, I think drivers might enjoy that in this as well.
In the end, this was an extremely satisfying car to drive, both for fun and also for mundane errands, and while I happily admit that I was certainly looking forward to it and predisposed to liking it, it bowled me over in most respects to the point that I am genuinely surprised there aren’t more of them out and about.
Most of you know I was/am a big Audi fan from way back, if I was in the market for an A4 or S4 quattro I think I would have to reconsider that “safe” choice at length. 20- 25 years ago I chose to hang my hat with Audi for a spell because they were NOT the big dog, that underdog positioning appealed to me (along with the cars of course) and I was not disappointed in the product at all. Where do you think Alfa is today? Thinking about it, Audi today has kind of taken over the position that BMW had twenty-five years ago and I believe Alfa could be poised to follow in Audi’s footsteps.
Back then, Audi was the brand for those that were interested in cars and technology, they were definitely an outlier with at least a little bit of baggage and really only had two main car lines (Audi 90/A4 and Audi 100/200/V8/S4/A6/S6 and a coupe/cabrio for most of the 90’s), now they are a very attractive but somewhat default choice, like BMW was back then.
Alfa in the U.S. currently has one sedan line, and one CUV line (and the 4C but that’s quite limited over here just like Audi with their coupe/cabrio line of yore), as such in a similar position as Audi then. They have a huge company backing them, similar to Audi with VW, and they have a deep technical pedigree (as did/does Audi).
Back then Audi pioneered the “Three Year Test Drive” warranty program. Alfas current warranty is 4years, 50k miles bumper to bumper, so they seem to be standing behind and believing in their products as well as pretty much anyone else.
They seem to have a price vs content advantage (Audi did over BMW back then too). Most people who I discussed the car with were pleasantly surprised at the pricing, their guesses were mostly quite a bit higher including one close friend that has a new Audi and had always assumed Alfas were closer to $100k rather than in the same price class as her car.
I can’t buy every car I like and I like a lot of different cars for varied reasons – The car I did recently buy is completely different from this one and I don’t regret that purchase at all. However, it will take me a long while to forget my experience with this Alfa Romeo if it’s even possible to do so. The car exudes passion, as does the brand itself, without being in any way beyond the pale or obnoxious about it. Frankly it’s what more cars and their makers should aspire to – if Alfa Romeo can create this, what is the others’ excuse?
Disclosure: Vehicle and an initial tank of gas was provided by Alfa Romeo/FCA. Extra gas was (very happily) provided by me.