What’s a ‘true’ Alfa Romeo? Well, if it’s anything like the GTs and Giulias of the 1960s – regarded by many as the classic embodiment of the triangle grille – then a proper Alfa is low-slung and long-nosed, rear-wheel-drive, moved by a keen engine. If that’s right, there hasn’t been a real Alfa for a long time. Sure, the Milanese brand penned some of the sexiest designs of the 1990s and 2000s in timeless vehicles like the 156 and the Brera – but hobbled with front-wheel-drive, dynamically, the drive never quite lived up to the looks.
That’s why a new generation of Alfas that restore the old front-engine, rear-drive formula is such a big deal. Enter the 2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia, the brand’s new sedan that picks up a name with plenty of heritage. On paper at least, the new Giulia returns to a true Alfa recipe in an effort to stick it to the class leadership – capable but conservative vehicles like the BMW 3 Series and the top-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
But can an Alfa Romeo be taken seriously by an audience wider than just Italian car tragics? Is the new Giulia a buy you can make with your head as well as your heart? Quite possibly. There are so few immediate compromises to the Giulia experience that you can’t help but wonder if it was even designed by Italians. Inside, the ergonomics are solid; there is adequate cargo space; the front seats are large and comfortable – anybody who’s owned an Alfa will greet these facts with wide-eyed surprise. There are really only two areas where the Giulia’s clear Italian heritage shines through – and that’s where it counts, in the emotional design and excellent handling. But we’ll get to the driving in a minute.
On the dealership floor, the Giulia makes a good case for itself: it’s keenly priced compared to key rivals while offering decent specification. But don’t gip yourself: we tested the $59,895 base model (simply called ‘Giulia’, $65,178 driveaway), but this isn’t the model to buy. The base car may have navigation, 18-inch wheels, and keyless entry and start, but it comes up short in important ways. The standard model’s low-grade leather seats, hard interior trims and poor driver’s seat adjustment alloys will leave you feeling like you’ve bought something that isn’t quite premium.
No – forget the base model and buy either of the two mid-spec grades, which are called Super and Veloce. The Super ($64,195, $69,693 driveaway) keeps the base car’s two-litre 147kW/330Nm turbo petrol four; it’s $4,300 extra but critically, the Super has seriously supple, luxurious Pieno Fore leather worthy of Alfa badges stitched into the headrests. They’re heated and available in black, red, tan or beige, and the driver’s pew has 10 (rather than 6) ways of adjustment. Then you factor in a leather dash, better secondary interior surfaces, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert and it’s four grand well spent. They’ll also sell you a super-frugal Super diesel for a further $1,700 ($71,478 driveaway).
For the price of a Giulia Super, a BMW 320i Luxury Line ($65,380, $71,468 driveaway) uses a slower 135kW/270Nm two-litre. The BMW’s interior leather and materials are notably less plush and it lacks adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear traffic-alert. That said, the BMW uniquely gains adaptive dampers, a 360-degree parking camera, a head-up display and LED headlights. So, it’s a much-of-a-muchness there, given that a BMW 3 Series offers similar charms out on the road, though with far less design flair outside or in.
The aforementioned Giulia Veloce ($71,895, $77,778 driveaway) costs another $7,700 over the Super petrol and turns the wick on the two-litre up to 206kW/400Nm, which is plenty for this featherweight four-door that barely clocks 1.4 tonnes. But the value argument is a bit less clear here, though the Veloce’s more aggressive styling with 19-inch five-hole wheels, more sporty seats, and adaptive dampers that help the ride will appeal to the more showy.
Finally, performance addicts with cash to burn will have to consider the Giulia Quadrifoglio ($143,900, $154,169 driveaway), which is a rival to the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S. The Quadrifoglio uses half a Ferrari V12 engine – a bespoke 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 nutcase producing 375kW/600Nm. The four-leaf clover Giulia QV sprints to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds but actually, the standard models are hardly slow: the base petrol only needs 6.6 seconds for the run.
On paper, then, the Giulia looks well-positioned against its rivals. The competition isn’t only German – in the form of the Mercedes, BMW and Audi, but also English: the Jaguar XE is probably the closest in character to the Alfa. Like the Giulia, the XE is a left-brain choice.
In the real world, the Giulia experience generally comes together well.
The promise of the Alfa Romeo badge is a passionate driving experience, and it’s here where the Giulia most clearly delivers. The 147kW petrol is linear, quiet and quick-enough (though nothing to write home about) – instead, the Giulia story is all about its supremely balanced handling. The progressive steering is lush: the quick ratio is delightful. Turn-in is immediate, darty and crisp. The light mass means the four-door Alfa rotates with energy and enthusiasm. You can prod at the rear wheels with the throttle, though the torquier Veloce (let alone the bonkers Quadrifoglio) will be more adept at inducing oversteer.
You sit low in the Giulia, with a good view through a narrow-aperture windscreen and over the very long bonnet. The key touchpoint of the car – the steering wheel – is frankly beautiful, with a near-ideal diameter, soft leather surfacing, and big, cold metal paddle shifters with a long throw and a defined click: very sexy. The engine start button is playfully located on the steering wheel itself.
The base car and the Super model share fixed-rate damping for the suspension, and the ride quality has been tuned to be firmer rather than softer to bolster the keen handling. We get it – that’s largely what you’d expect from an Alfa, but it is annoying on longer drives that the Giulia never truly settles down, the ride always feeling fidgetty. The Veloce’s adaptive dampers might fix that: we’ll have to assess that version separately.
The luxury sedan class has a few dynamic standouts in the form of the BMW 3 Series and, especially, the Jaguar XE. The Alfa Romeo Giulia joins that pair to form a trio of true driver’s cars that also deliver the trimmings of a proper premium saloon. That is a grand achievement for a brand that has, up until now, only tiptoed around the edges of this important segment.
The Giulia’s dynamics also give us plenty of hope for the forthcoming Stelvio, an SUV model that shares the Giulia’s platform and many driveline and chassis components while being sized like an Audi Q5 – undoubtedly, a more relevant and important car than the Giulia in terms of recouping the enormous €1 billion spent in developing this line of new Alfas.
Inside, the highlights continue. We’ve already mentioned the steering wheel, but the rest of the cabin design is passionate and original: the Giulia’s sweeping dashboard is unlike anything else in this segment. In particular, the 8.8-inch central screen, controlled by a rotary dial between the seats, looks fantastic, in-set in the console, disappearing into the surround when turned off. The software it runs is easy to understand, but it is a bit low-resolution in appearance and slow to react. The lack of CarPlay on 2018 Giulias is a shame – but the hooded analogue driver dials look great.
Back seat space is usable, though you’ll want to wait for the Stelvio SUV if you plan on carrying taller teenagers or adults in the second row regularly. For six-footers, knee room is tight – it’s the same story in the BMW or the Jaguar. The Audi A4 is more generous. The Alfa’s 480-litre boot is on par with this segment for capacity but the aperture in which to feed stuff into the boot is narrower than most.
To drive, the Giulia gets a big tick and it’s fairly easy to live with, too. However, it’s in the interior details that the Giulia experience unravels to some degree. The just-average fitment and quality, finicky technology and tight space wouldn’t turn us off buying a Giulia, but they are enough to show that the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4 and even the Lexus IS (if not the Jaguar XE) have been in the ‘serious luxury sedan’ business for a long time, and that experience counts.
In our base-model test car, and a Super diesel we drove, interior fitment, joins and shut-lines, especially on the passenger side, were inconsistent. Many switches and dials feel a bit loose in their sockets – there isn’t Audi solidity here. The self-centring gear shifter looks like a BMW knockoff and feels plasticky, and there was a persistent rattle from a back door in our tester. And while the Super gets lovely, upgraded hide, the base car’s standard leather feels and looks like vinyl and shouldn’t have been signed off.
Quality needs a second look when it comes time for the Giulia’s mid-life update.
That said, many will be content to ignore what are essentially slim pickings – accept those, and you own an Italian car that we think looks great and drives like a proper sports sedan should, even if you don’t have the cash to splash on the Quadrifoglio.
Ownership concerns would be bolstered if Alfa Romeo upped their warranty – three years/150,000 kilometres is starting to look a bit thin when many mainstream brands have adopted five year, unlimited kilometre programmes.
Servicing, at least, is convenient: the gaps are annual or every 15,000 kilometres, and the cost is reasonable. Three years’ scheduled maintenance will cost $1,455, which is competitive for this segment.
On the whole, we like the Alfa Giulia. Skip the base model, which feels a bit sparsely-equipped for an Alfa, and go for at least the Super – and you’ll be rewarded with a relatively sumptuous, fun-to-drive car that evokes memories of the best of this Italian marque.
Key specs (as tested)
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