From £28,6549
Alfa returns to the executive class after a five-year hiatus, and its diesel Giulia proves the Italian firm has its handling mojo well intact
Nic Cackett
17 November 2016

What is it?

The Alfa Romeo Giulia's arrival in the UK, no matter how prolonged the build-up, feels like a watershed moment. For now, the steering wheel remains on the wrong side, but very soon that will change and the nation’s compact exec buyers will have the first option of a proper rear-drive Alfa Romeo since the Alfa 75 of the mid-1980s - coincidentally the last car launched by the firm before Fiat assumed control.  Its successors were uniformly front-wheel drive, uniformly pretty and uniformly undeserving of the model cull that left the Alfa 159 without a successor in 2011. The Giulia, of course, remedies that with not only an expensively developed longitudinal-engined, rear-drive platform (dubbed, rather exquisitely, Giorgio), but also a raft of new engines including the crucial addition of an all-aluminum 2.2-litre MultiJet II four-cylinder diesel unit.

It is available in two formats - 148bhp and 178bhp - and while the lesser model is inevitably cheaper, it is the higher-powered version tested here that suggests itself as a genuine threat to the segment running order. With efficiency at a claimed 67.3mpg and 109g/km; torque at 332lb ft and the national limit dealt with in less than 7.0sec, the Giulia is (for now) technically superior to the equivalent BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE and Audi A4 across the board.

Neither diesel lump can be had in entry-level format (the £29,180 plain Giulia model is offered only with the 197bhp 2.0-litre petrol motor); making the mid-range Super trim the likely sweet spot. The 177bhp variant starts from £31,950 and comes with sat nav, a DAB radio, 17in alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and cruise control as standard. 

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What's it like?

We've previously reported a mixed bag when inspecting the Giulia's interior, and that sentiment continues to ring true. Outwardly, it is rather splendid. Anyone half expecting an Italian sense of style to inform the Alfa's cabin ought to be delighted: the dashboard architecture has clearly been arranged with one eye fixed on what might look beautiful - a useful contrast to the purely functional prettiness its northern European rivals achieve. 

Were its only requirement to be that you sit and admire it like a Botticelli fresco, then the Giulia would be a triumph. Sadly, it's when the process of driving demands that you engage with your surroundings that the niggles surface like rising damp. Some are merely questionable fit and finish; others, more seriously, are functional - like the seemingly low-rent infotainment screen or the unswitchable stability control or the weirdly unhelpful wiper settings. 

Subjectively though, these issues tend to provoke mild dismay rather than outright offence. It’s distressingly easy to forgive the squeak of an ill-fitting cupholder cover when the solid metal paddle shifters look so good or ignore the ridiculous aspect ratio of the 8.8in Connect system because the dash swoops so deliciously low above it.

Such leniency is near impossible to uproot in the evaluation of the Giulia’s driving style either – because here too, in broad strokes, it manages to be compellingly good. The crisp, cultured chassis applauded in Europe arrives in the UK mostly intact, even when saddled here with optional 18in wheels and run flat tyres. Shod thusly, its sophisticated ride quality registers a mite too taut on occasion – but it mostly settles into a wonderfully supple groove, one that eschews the cloying, dull-edged comfort of its major rivals.

Instead, the Giulia feels magnificently passive and clean-limbed on double wishbones and rear multi-link suspension - and in collaboration with its super-rigid new architecture, proves brilliantly adept at telegraphing contact patch information into the driving experience. To suit the fleet-footed change of direction and apparent lack of mass, Alfa has kept the steering light too – rendering a level of ease that might flirt with over-assistance if its rate of response wasn’t tuned to astutely compliment the bite of its front end.

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Combine all this with the usual advantages of 50/50 balance, the subtle poise of a pushed chassis rather than a pulled one and the exemplary keenness of a engine and gearbox that seemed to have been synchronised with enthusiasm in mind rather than abject parsimony, and there are great lumps of time in the Giulia’s company where it rewards a driver just as deftly as anything else in the segment. Perhaps more so.

Nevertheless, there are bubbles in the gloss here too. Typically, the more time you spend in the Giulia’s company, the more readily they crop up. This is a noisier prospect than most other premium options; in wind content mostly, but also from the running gear occasionally, too. Its rivals are probably better at isolating occupants in general – and certainly in the benign cosseting a driver in the business of long motorway journeys.

Should I buy one?

As that is the primary business of the compact exec, it can hardly be overlooked, and reinforces the idea that the Giulia – for all its enormous charm – is not quite the finished article it might have been. That, with any hope, will come as the model matures. But even as it stands, the Giulia is a riveting, idiosyncratic and striking entrant into a class usually defined by an understated brand of superiority. That it is conspicuously flawed too only feels like proof that Turin has finally delivered an Alfa properly worthy of its heritage.

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Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.2d 180 Super

Location Bedfordshire; On sale Now; Price £31,950; Engine 4cyl, 2143cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 178bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox Eight-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1445kg; Top speed 143mph; 0-62mph 7.1sec; Economy (official) 67.3mpg; CO2/BIK tax band 109g/km, 21% Rivals BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE

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Comments
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xansamaff 21 December 2016

I can understand the reliability comments but

Reading one comment calling it ugly... wow, i mean looks are a matter of taste but against the competition. The homely BMW which no one would ever call attractive or the audi whose design concept has bereft it of any discerning feature, or the jelly mould C and E -class which are identical and not necessarily ugly but still very on trend and typically utilitarian. The Alfa is probably many things but it is not ugly and many of its lines can be traced back to the 159 and beyond. Its funny that people are claiming its derivative of the usual german suspects but anyone who knows alfa can see that its very likely the germans were influenced by alfa and not the other way around. Check the rear lights that someone claims are copied, for example, on a 159 and then on the Giulia there is a clear evolution not present in any of the other cars. By far the best looking car in a segment of mundane company plodders which you would struggle to put a playing card between to differentiate. i just hope Alfa don't go the way of Saab. just a shame im stuck with a company A5 for so long
Jaydee408 25 November 2016

Dealer Support

Went to look at the Giulias last week and didn't notice any difference between the inside build quality and my 3 series.....not much of a surprise to me as my 8 year old GT still feels solid and really well built. My concern here is with the dealer network, the salesman had no clue about the car. Questions that I asked could not be answered and the excuse was that they hadn't received any brochures yet. Being passionate about Alfa, I felt extremely let down by the experience, so much so that I haven't bothered contacting them for a test drive even though I was being pushed to have one. Why Alfa is not being retailed alongside Maserati and Ferrari is beyond me but if I were spending £60k on a new car, it would pain to be sold such a magnificent machine by a Fiat salesman who doesn't have the faintest clue about the car, never mind the significance it presents to Alfa re-establishing itself on the global automobile consciousness.
david RS 18 November 2016

Nice car. I could sit it at

Nice car. I could sit it at Paris motorshow.

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