A saloon with the pas­sion and per­for­mance of a su­per­car


HOW MANY TIMES HAD WE BEEN there? How many times had we lis­tened to the hype, crossed our fingers and dared to be­lieve that, yes, the new Alfa Romeo was go­ing to be the one: the one that sig­nalled the tri­umphant re­turn of this once glo­ri­ous brand af­ter decades in the dol­drums? Too many times, is the an­swer. And yet, when Alfa re­vealed that it was re­viv­ing the Gi­u­lia name for its new com­pact saloon, we all felt that fa­mil­iar feel­ing of hope ris­ing once again. Then it was re­vealed that it would be rear-wheel drive, and there would be a 503bhp Quadri­foglio ver­sion. This had to be it. Fi­nally Alfa was go­ing to de­liver the sort of car that its rich back-cat­a­logue so des­per­ately de­served. For once, we weren’t dis­ap­pointed.

So what’s so good about this Alfa? For starters, just look at it. Com­pared with the ag­gres­sive and steroidal con­tenders from BMW M and Mercedes-AMG, the sub­tly en­hanced Gi­u­lia strikes the per­fect bal­ance of style and sport­ing in­tent. Look closely and you’ll find plenty of neat de­tails, in­clud­ing the black mesh bon­net vents, the quad ex­hausts and, of course, the gor­geous enamel clover­leaf badges on the front wings. To make the most of the Gi­u­lia’s curves it re­ally needs to be fin­ished in Com­pe­tizione Red with sil­ver wheels,

as pic­tured here. That’s not an opin­ion – it’s a fact.

The Alfa’s claim to great­ness is bol­stered when you climb aboard. The driv­ing po­si­tion is rem­i­nis­cent of a McLaren’s, as you sit be­hind a vir­tu­ally up­right wheel (thin-rimmed and exquisitel­y con­toured) while adopt­ing a race car-style straight-legged pos­ture. Then there are the op­tional car­bon­fi­bre-shelled Sparco front seats, which are as good to look at as they are hugely sup­port­ive. Glance ahead and you’ll spot the car­bon­fi­bre weave in the trail­ing edge of the bon­net – an­other in­di­ca­tor that this Alfa is some­thing spe­cial. The same light­weight ma­te­rial is also used for the bootlid, roof and prop­shaft, while the wings and door-skins are alu­minium.

Philippe Krief, the en­gi­neer be­hind Fer­rari’s 458 Spe­ciale, had a hand in the Gi­u­lia’s de­vel­op­ment, and it doesn’t take long be­fore you see and feel his in­flu­ence. There’s the bright red starter but­ton that sits on the steer­ing wheel and the huge metal gearshift pad­dles that are linked to a slick and speedy eight-speed au­to­matic gear­box. Then there’s the steer­ing it­self, which is ex­tremely quick, with lit­tle more than a quar­ter of a turn needed for most round­abouts and junc­tions. The ride is sup­ple, too, just like a Fer­rari’s in its bumpy road set­ting.

Af­ter the stiff-legged gaits of the Alfa’s Ger­man ri­vals, this easy­go­ing nature is wel­come on the long drag along the M4 to our photo lo­ca­tion in the Bre­con Bea­cons. As is the Gi­u­lia’s ef­fort­less per­for­mance, the twin-tur­bocharged 2.9-litre V6 (Fer­rari-based – although nei­ther side likes to talk about it) pro­pel­ling the Gi­u­lia for­ward with a mus­cu­lar and lag-free de­liv­ery. There’s no sense of in­er­tia – sim­ply squeeze the throt­tle an inch to pick off slower traf­fic at will. It’s not the most charis­matic-sound­ing of en­gines, but on a long, three-lane schlep I’ll take ret­i­cent over rau­cous any day.

Leav­ing the monotony of the mo­tor­way and point­ing the Alfa’s cur­va­ceous nose to­wards mid-Wales re­veals an­other side to its char­ac­ter – one that’s sur­pris­ingly easy to ac­cess. Switch­ing be­tween the Gi­u­lia’s driver modes is a piece of panet­tone. The seem­ingly in­fi­nite vari­a­tions of en­gine, steer­ing, throt­tle and damper set­tings of its ri­vals are nowhere to be seen. In­stead there’s the straight­for­ward DNA ro­tary con­troller, which gives you a choice be­tween Ad­vanced Ef­fi­ciency, Nat­u­ral, Dy­namic and Race, each one ramp­ing up the damper stiff­ness, throt­tle sharpness and steer­ing weight (you can also man­u­ally over­ride the damper set­tings for a softer ride while in the more ag­gres­sive modes). And that’s it. No mul­ti­ple but­tons to press and none of the end­less pick ‘n’ mix com­bi­na­tions to choose from.

Even in Nat­u­ral, the Gi­u­lia feels alive and con­nected across these sin­u­ous and un­du­lat­ing Welsh roads. The steer­ing is light, but it de­liv­ers just enough use­ful feed­back, and once I’ve got used to its elec­tri­fy­ing rate of re­sponse, I’m soon trust­ing the mes­sages it sends, all of which are telling me there’s limpet-like front-end grip. Trac­tion is im­pres­sive, too, and the adap­tive dampers soak up bumps while keep­ing body move­ments well in check, mean­ing the Alfa glides over these roads with a rare fluidity.

Switch to Dy­namic and things get a lit­tle more se­ri­ous. The en­gine note changes to a deeper tim­bre, the dampers tense up, there’s greater heft to the wheel, the sta­bil­ity con­trol takes a step

back and the throt­tle be­comes more alert. Now the Alfa picks these roads apart with some real in­tent. It never bul­lies the tar­mac into sub­mis­sion; it sim­ply feels taut, re­spon­sive and very, very fast. There’s more free­dom to use the com­bi­na­tion of quick steer­ing, quick gearshifts and the prodi­gious poke of the en­gine to tweak your cor­ner-exit tra­jec­tory with the throt­tle, too.

Now twist the DNA knob around to Race and the ESP’s shack­les are re­moved com­pletely and the dampers are at their stiffest – although on these roads it’s just a lit­tle too firm, so they need knock­ing back to ‘mid’. Yet there’s noth­ing to fear from the elec­tron­i­cally un­fet­tered Alfa, be­cause the tran­si­tion from grip to slip is so pro­gres­sive, while that wrist-flick rack makes light work of any way­ward­ness. And while the Gi­u­lia will play the lairy lout, its elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled dif­fer­en­tial prefers to drive out of the corners as quickly as pos­si­ble – side­ways is the slow way, as any racer will tell you.

The Alfa’s not per­fect, mind. That twin-turbo en­gine serves up blis­ter­ing pace, but it doesn’t have the sound­track to match. Its bassy woofle at idle and muted roar when ex­tended add a lit­tle drama, but I long for the cry of the com­pany’s iconic Busso V6s. And while the op­tional car­bon-ce­ramic brakes serve up stu­pen­dous stop­ping power when warmed through, they’re as snatchy as a tired tod­dler when tak­ing it easy.

But these nig­gles can’t dull our im­mense af­fec­tion for the glo­ri­ous Gi­u­lia, the su­per­sa­loon that’s shot through with the soul of a su­per­car. Wel­come back, Alfa Romeo – the wait has been ag­o­nis­ing, but oh-so worth it.

Above: Twin-turbo V6 has Fer­rari in its DNA and it shows, with lag-free re­sponse and a tor­rent of power as revs rise. Left: Steer­ing is su­per-quick and gives just enough feed­back to build con­fi­dence

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