By Miles Downard
There are very few manufacturers who have ever attempted to take on the big three German’s at the executive saloon game, certainly none that I’d consider to have achieved it successfully. But that may be about to change. Alfa Romeo has launched yet another comeback campaign, the flagship of which is called the Giulia. It has been touted as a real competitor by the world press – and now it’s here in South Africa.
I was fortunate enough to be hosted by Alfa Romeo South Africa in Franschhoek for the launch of the new car…and my, what a car it is.
There are four derivatives of the Giulia available in South Africa. The flagship is called the Quadrifoglio Verde, or QV for short. Then there’s a base model, called the Base, followed by the Super and rounding things off is the Stile. These all come with a 2.0 litre turbocharged four pot with varying levels of exterior and interior trim. Need I go on about how the Giulia looks? Suffice to say that it’s unmistakably an Alfa Romeo and accordingly stands out in the segment.
The QV has a 2.9 litre twin turbocharged V6 engine that carries strong ties to Ferrari. Accordingly it is nothing short of an engineering masterpiece capable of 375kW and 600 Newtons, 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds. As a reference point that kind of power is only matched by Mercedes with their bi-turbo 4.0 litre V8. Some have argued that it doesn’t sound terribly good. I’d like to agree that from inside the cabin it’s a bit muted, but at least it isn’t synthetic noise, and from the outside it’s pretty glorious in my books. The motor doesn’t quite shove you in the back from low in the rev range like a BMW M3 might, but it rev’s out better at the top end and ends up producing a more linear (read more natural) power curve.
Transmitting power to the rear wheels is an 8 speed ZF automatic gearbox that’s as quick as you like through the gears and tuned well for the V6’s power delivery. Rather nice are the big column mounted flappy paddles, like you get in a Ferrari.
I’ve delved into the extensive engineering brilliance of the Quadrifoglio Verde before, so I’ll keep it short. The Giulia is quite light for a vehicle of this size, that’s thanks to extensive use of aluminium and to a lesser extent carbon fibre for things like the prop shaft, bonnet and roof. Brakes can be specified as carbon ceramic, while braking itself is fly by wire. There is, of course, a limited slip differential to keep traction across the rear axle in check.
Then there are bits that are shared across the range. The front suspension setup is rather unique and the steering ratio is exceptionally quick, all providing unique accuracy and razor sharp turn in. Lightweight engine and gearbox together with clever positioning perfects the Giulia’s weight distribution.
Having had the opportunity to thrash the Quadrifoglio Verde around the private racetrack at the Franschhoek Motor Museum I can tell you that it’s sublime. I’ve driven a few German performance cars around a racetrack before and honestly they don’t hold a candle to this Alfa. I actually walked away from the event feeling that the closest comparison I could make was a McLaren I drove around Kyalami last year. It’s that good.
That quick steering rack makes the Giulia come alive in your hands. The power is brutal but never overcomes the competence of the chassis unless you want it to. All that work achieving the ideal weight distribution front to rear is very apparent, while the grip once you get back on the loud pedal is quite remarkable. The fact that the Giulia QV’s chief engineer Philippe Krief worked extensively on the development of the Ferrari 458 gives some insight into the levels Alfa Romeo went to for this project.
Inside you’ll find some of the coolest looking seats I’ve seen in a long while, with exposed carbon fibre backing. They’re supportive and comfortable. The steering wheel couldn’t be better sized. There’s liberal use of alcantara and other nice materials too. It’s a very very pleasant place to be.
The 2.0 Range
The 2.0 litre unit available in the rest of the range is good for 147kW and 330 Newtons. That’s class leading on the Base side of the scale and honestly more than enough for an executive saloon. It really gets down the road at quite a lick – a 6.6 second 0-100 km/h time gives some indication. Here too is that ZF 8 speed automatic gearbox and it’s a great combination.
The three derivatives offer varying levels of specification on the inside and outside, where the Base offers everything you need while heading up to the Stile offers everything you’d want. Alfa has covered all the bases in my books. The infotainment system deserves mention due to its relatively simple and intuitive operation (by comparison to the Germans).
On the road you can feel the elements shared with the QV. Again things like the sophisticated front suspension shine through, along with that weight distribution. Opt for the bigger wheels (refer to point 1 below) and I don’t think you’ll find another exec saloon that offers this level of confidence on a spirited drive, but settle things down and it’ll whisk you along in comfort too. With the longest wheelbase in the class there’s plenty space in the cabin, most notably in the rear. The boot opening is a bit narrow, but once you’re inside it’ll hold as much as its rivals. The cabin itself is quite minimalist and doesn’t hold many quirks that one might normally associate with an Italian car. In fact all the dials and controls (aircon etc) are well laid out – no mess and no fuss.
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Things I don’t like
This is a rather short list, but honestly after a day with the car I couldn’t find things to dislike and not for lack of trying. So here goes:
- The base model’s wheels are too small and look a bit odd. The 16” tyre doesn’t work very well if you enjoy the odd spirited drive – the car seems to roll a lot more than the rest of the range.
- The three toggles positioned below the gear lever that control the radio volume, the infotainment system and the vehicle’s drive modes don’t feel quite as nice to use as I’d have liked.
The Base model starts at R555,000, the Super version at R625,000 and the Stile completes the range with a price of R695,000. The Giulia Quadrafolio Verde is only available in limited numbers from R1.4m. The entire range comes standard with a 6 year / 100,000km maintenance plan.
Alfa Romeo has had a rocky time over the last 20-30 years, but thanks to an illustrious history maintains a following that few in the motoring world can match. Thanks to this you probably would find that a comeback of this nature would have been met with positivity even if the result wasn’t 100% there. What makes this so special however is the fact that the Giulia is a strong competitor across the range, often class leading. Prospective buyers from the Base through to the QV therefore enjoy the benefit of not only driving something different, something special, but also something that is an exceptional motor vehicle. And that is what Alfa Romeo is once again all about. La meccanica delle emozioni…Alfa Romeo is back.