Published on July 13th, 2017 | by Seán Ward0
The Giulia Is Special, Even Without 500bhp
If I say the words ‘Alfa Romeo Giulia’ you’ll likely think of the 500bhp Giulia Quadrifoglio. With a 2.9 litre, twin-turbo V6, rear-wheel drive, a limited-slip differential and a brilliant eight-speed automatic gearbox, it’s the car that’s really marked a proper return to form for Alfa Romeo. But there’s more to the Giulia than the Quadrifoglio.
The Quadrifoglio is the halo of the range, in the same way the RS4 is for the A4, the M3 is for the 3 Series and the C63 is for the C Class. So what’s the rest of the Giulia range like? To find out I spent a week with the car you see pictured here, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Super, with a 180bhp diesel engine and a very gentle dusting of options.
Excluding the Quadrifoglio’s V6, there are four engines to chose from in the Giulia range, two petrols and two diesels. The petrols are both turbocharged 2.0 litre four-cylinders, one with 200bhp and the other with 280bhp, whereas the diesels are turbo 2.2 litres, one with 150bhp and the other with 180bhp. My car was the 2.2 litre diesel with 180bhp, and while a diesel might not sound hugely exciting it is important to remember what engines power most of the Giulia’s competitors. Diesel is important.
Torque stands at 332lb/ft, while 0-60mph is over in 7.1 seconds and the top speed is 143mph. It’s a very good engine, being both quiet and refined. The redline is around 4,500rpm, but it’s worth keeping the engine below 3,500rpm as it feels strained for the last 1,000rpm. Besides, there’s loads of low down torque, so changing gear at 3,500rpm keeps you perfectly in the engine’s sweet spot.
In Europe you’re given the choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic, but here in the UK we’re stuck with the automatic. That’s no bad thing, however, as the gearbox really is superb. The changes are quick and smooth, and because there are eight ratios you’re always able to stay in the power. Another advantage is that you’ll sit at around 1,500rpm at 70mph and get 67mpg as a result – what’s not to like about that?
The beautiful metal paddles behind the steering wheel are a £275 option, but they’re essential. Yes, they are intolerably hot if they’ve been in the sun (you know that feeling when you touch a metal spoon that’s been in boiling water?), but they are stunning looking items.
In manual mode the paddles are responsive and the changes quick, and they behave in the same way as the paddles you’ll find behind the steering wheel of another famous Italian car: Ferrari. If the gearbox is in neutral you pull the right paddle to engage drive, you use the left paddle to change down, the right paddle to change up, and pull both paddles at the same time to engage neutral.
It’s worth noting the paddles come included as part of the £1,950 ‘Performance Pack’, which essentially adds the paddles and a limited-slip differential, but annoyingly there is no way of turning off the traction or stability controls; after the slightest hint of slip the systems cut in a kill the engine’s power, which even in a diesel Giulia is a deeply frustrating feeling. What’s the point of a LSD if you’re never be able to take advantage of it?
Thankfully, though, the Giulia feels balanced. You might not be able to exploit the rear-wheel drive chassis very far but it wouldn’t be as nice to drive if it was front-wheel drive, I’m certain of that. The suspension is firm but the ride quality is very good, for the most part absorbing flaws in the road with ease, albeit with the occasional little panicked wobble if there’s too much going on.
The firm suspension means the Giulia corners flat, though, and the front end really does feel pinned. The steering is very quick and the nose darts wherever you want it to, but it would be nice if it wasn’t so light. It’s not a deal breaker, but with more weight I’d feel much more comfortable trusting the front tyres.
Just behind the gear selector you’ll find a little rotating dial labelled with the letters ‘D’, ‘N’ and ‘A’. ‘D’ stands for Dynamic, ‘N’ for Normal and ‘A’ for Advanced Economy. ‘A’ numbs the engine and throttle responses as far as they’ll go to boost economy, ‘N’ sets everything to a happy middle ground for a balance of response and efficiency, and ‘D’ sets the engine and throttle to maximum attack, and adds some weight to the steering.
Dynamic mode makes everything noticeably sharper, while Normal keeps a good level of response for day-to-day driving. Advanced Economy, on the other hand, should only be used if you’re on a real mission to save fuel, as it slackens off the car’s responses too much to have any sort of fun.
Driving aside, just look at it. I got up at 6am one morning to take some photos as the sun rose, and after a few minutes I just stood there in total amazement. Even without the flares and vents of the Quadrifoglio, it is a gorgeous, gorgeous machine, particularly at the rear, and to my eyes the most attractive saloon car in its class. People turn their heads to look at it as you’re driving past, something I doubt many would do for other saloons.
The interior is good, too, with a really lovely shaped steering wheel and those brilliant paddles, but the materials aren’t quite as good as those in an A4, for example, and I feel like some of the design sparkle you used to see on Alfa interiors of old (look at the interior of a Brera or a 159) has been lost.
The Giulia isn’t perfect, but I just don’t think it matters. No one will buy the Giulia because they’ve looked at the stats and can see it’s the best on paper, they’ll buy it because they look at how competent its rivals are and they walk to the Alfa dealership anyway.
It might be ‘just another diesel saloon’, but every time I pulled the keys out of my pocket to unlock it and go for a drive I got excited, I’m not sure I could ask for much more.