Italian-ness. We know it when we see it, and when we don’t, it is often in a Fiat Chrysler product. When stepping into a Maserati Ghibli only to find a Chrysler touchscreen and switchgear, for instance, we get the sinking feeling that our Italian experience has just taken an Olive Garden turn.
Alfa Romeo didn’t order parts for its new Giulia sedan from Chrysler’s menu. If it did, the Pentastar stuff is well hidden. From what we could see, nothing inside the new Giulia’s cabin is shared with a domestic Dodge, Jeep, or Chrysler. The infotainment system is the Giulia’s own, and although the switchgear has a generic European look and some of the plastics are from the hard-and-cheap bin, everything inside appears to be Giulia specific. Italian-ness inside is good, but what’s even better is that the engines are made and designed in Italy.
Alfa Romeo is offering U.S. customers two engines when the car goes on sale early next year. We’re told a few 505-hp Giulia Quadrifoglios might be sold before the end of the year to some lucky early adopters (FCA actually reported seven of the cars sold in September). The 505-hp engine is a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V-6. Derived from the Ferrari California T’s 3.9-liter V-8, the Alfa engine is odd in that it’s a 90-degree V-6 without a balance shaft to quell vibration created by the inherently unbalanced configuration.
Alfa Romeo engineers tell us they wanted the slightly raucous sound produced by the 90-degree six. Its voice is a bit hoarse and snarly, but it doesn’t have to rely on piped-in noise to fill the cabin with engine sounds. I’m not supposed to review that version—you can read our full review of that one here—but it’s hard to resist talking about the Quadrifoglio; it’s that good. [Bad Quiroga. Get back to the slower Giulias—Ed.]
Turbo Four: All New and Filled with Spirit
The four-cylinder Giulia has a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, and it will sell in far greater numbers than the Quadrifoglio. Alfa tells us that the 2.0-liter is all new and made in Italy. We find it curious that this aluminum-block-and-head 16-valve engine has only one camshaft, utilizing the crafty MultiAir variable-valve-lift system, but it makes 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque. It will come to the States paired only with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Automatics are the norm for this segment, but an Alfa Romeo shouldn’t be normal. A stick-shift version would be consistent with the brand and, you know, Save the Manuals! and all.
Even after a drive in the Quadrifoglio, the 2.0-liter radiates spirit. While Alfa’s engine lacks the smooth and rev-happy character of the four-cylinder turbos from Audi or BMW, this one sounds grittier and angrier and provides good thrust. A twin-scroll turbo works to minimize lag, and Alfa claims a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds with the standard rear-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive alike. The latter is denoted by a Q4 badge that, in one example of possible parts sharing, looks an awful lot like the one that Maserati sticks to the back of its Ghibli.
What really sets the Alfa Romeo apart from the competition is its steering. A quick, 11.8:1-ratio rack translates to 2.3 turns lock-to-lock, and even better than the responsiveness is the intuitive feedback and road feel. Ride quality is excellent on the optional 18-inch wheels, and the structure is as solid as any in the segment. Alive and graced with some of the rawness of the 4C sports car, the Giulia steers with a precision and purity that BMW has retreated from and Audi and Mercedes-Benz have yet to figure out. In the Giulia’s segment, the Cadillac ATS’s steering comes closest.
Trimmed and Packaged
Unfortunately, Cadillac’s ATS seems to have been the bogey in rear-seat space. Next to the BMW 3-series and the Audi A4, the Alfa’s back seat lacks legroom. Front-seat occupants enjoy more space, and a relatively low cowl provides a clear view ahead.
The front seats in four-cylinder models to be overly firm, and the seat bottom is way too short for proper thigh support. Trunk space appears to be in line with the competition, but the opening is so small that loading and unloading suitcases is akin to playing Operation.
Alfa Romeo hasn’t announced pricing, but we’re expecting the base Giulia to start at just under $40,000 with a fully loaded all-wheel-drive edition cresting $50,000. Base versions come well equipped with leather seats, bixenon headlights, LED taillights, dual exhaust, two-zone automatic climate control, four-piston front calipers, a six-way power driver’s seat, parking sensors, a rearview camera, and a proximity key with push-button start. Moving up to the Ti trim level adds heated front seats, a larger (8.8-inch) touchscreen, wood dashboard trim, and 18-inch wheels.
While the differences between the base Giulia and the Ti are minor, opting for the Ti allows for the addition of the Lusso package, which brings softer leather seats, different wood trim, and Lusso-specific 18-inch wheels. What we found more compelling was the available Sport package; it gives both the base Giulia and the Giulia Ti the exterior appearance of the Quadrifoglio model. Ti versions with the Sport package also get Quadrifoglio-style upgrades to the interior and offer an optional limited-slip differential and three-mode adaptive dampers.
We didn’t have much more than an hour or so with the four-cylinder Giulia, but in that short amount of time, it made us believe that it will be a compelling choice in its segment. Buying a first-year Italian car built in a new plant does sound like a gamble considering Alfa’s on-again, off-again history and the brand’s reputation for poor quality here in the States.
We hope the Giulia’s bona fide Italianate experience won’t extend to owners becoming overly familiar with the espresso machine in the dealer’s service department. But at least the Giulia, unlike the Maserati Ghibli and the Fiat 124 Spider, has prescription-strength Italian-ness right where you want it: at your fingertips and under the hood.