TOYBOX

ALFA RO­MANCE AND GODZILLA – THE SE­QUEL

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS - WORDS MARK HIGGINS PHO­TOS ALAS­TAIR BROOK

WHEN YOU ASK peo­ple to name premium mid-size sedans you get the usual Mercedes, BMW or Audi, with some throw­ing in Jaguar or Lexus and a few even spout­ing Volvo.

But very, very few would have the words Alfa and Romeo sit­ting on the tip of their tongue. How­ever, that could well change.

The first rear-wheel drive Alfa to emerge in 25 years, lauded with the Giulia badge, re-in­tro­duced af­ter four decades, shows how se­ri­ous Alfa Romeo is. They claim this all-new Gior­gio de­signed Ital­ian en­gi­neered and pro­duced sedan is the re­nais­sance of the 107-year old brand.

When Al­fas were the rage in the 60s and 70s the sporty four-door Giulia sedan, launched in 1962, was one of its big­gest sell­ers. A Giulia even won the in­au­gu­ral Sandown Six-Hour tour­ing car race in 1964.

In more re­cent times Alfa Romeo has coughed up noth­ing more than mun­dane of­fer­ings.

How­ever the new Giulia is any­thing but mun­dane; what’s more it is a gen­uine chal­lenger to its more ex­pen­sive Ger­man ri­vals the Mercedes C200 and BMW 320i.

It is achingly gor­geous from ev­ery an­gle and one of those very few cars that you can’t help con­stantly look­ing at, like the As­ton Martin DB11 I drove last year.

And there is plenty of sub­stance to back up its al­lur­ing style.

For starters, in the base model seen here

there’s a snappy all-alu­minium, four-cylin­der, di­rect in­jected, twin-scroll tur­bocharged 2.0-litre pro­vid­ing 147 kW and 330Nm, with spades of mid-range torque and like Al­fas of old it pro­duces a pleas­ingly raspy ex­haust note.

It’s bolted to a sweet shift­ing eight-speed ZF auto gear­box with enough cogs to keep it in the meat of the torque band and ready for ac­tion. It can be driven man­u­ally with the gear lever or by (one of my very few gripes), ridicu­lously over­sized shift pad­dles. They get in the way when you try to use the in­di­ca­tor or wipers and they don’t move when you turn the wheel.

Af­ter get­ting set up – ad­just­ing steer­ing, seat, mir­rors, pair­ing phone and mu­sic – I pushed the starter but­ton on the leather-wrapped, steer­ing wheel, lis­tened to the en­gine bur­ble for a mo­ment, and eased out of the carpark.

The thing that got me the first time I turned into a cor­ner was how sen­si­tive and di­rect the Giulia’s steer­ing is. Its seam­less­ness com­bined with a won­der­fully bal­anced chas­sis means the Giulia is best driven by fin­ger­tips with gen­tle in­puts, wheter you are fir­ing through sweep­ers or fling­ing it through switch­backs. It hugs apexes tighter than a mum hugs a new­born, with ex­cel­lent body con­trol. If you mash the throt­tle on exit the tail dances in a very con­trol­lable way. The brakes are su­per strong but also sen­sti­tive and grab quickly like the steer­ing, re­quir­ing a lit­tle get­ting used to. These qual­i­ties re­mind me of an open wheel race car, not a sedan, but the Giulia is bet­ter for them. Play­ing a bril­liant sup­port­ing role are Pirelli’s finest P Zero di­rec­tional hoops that pro­vide phe­nom­i­nal grip.

Twid­dling the DNA drive-mode se­lec­tor lets you pick one of the pre-set modes or you can cre­ate your own. Be­ing a red Alfa it seemed ap­pro­pri­ate to have it in ‘Dy­namic’ and savour its 50/50 weight bal­ance and to hell with the ride qual­ity. But in­stead of a rock-hard spine-bash­ing re­sult it was firm but pli­ant, cop­ing ef­fort­lessly with our crap roads.

Then I gave ‘Com­fort’ a go and was de­lighted that the Giulia kept its live­lier throt­tle and gearshift re­sponses and beefier steer­ing, yet soft­ened the ride ap­pre­cia­bly. Bril­liant.

Like the out­side, the classy in­te­rior boasts

ABOVE Brakes in­clude au­tonomous emer­gency ac­tu­a­tion.RIGHT El­e­gant Ital­ians ex­hibit a time­less eras­pan­ning beauty.

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