Snap-Happy Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo review
(C) Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo has been missing from the compact executive car market since the axe fell on the 159 in 2011. You’d hope then that over the last six years the Italian manufacturer might have got its new car right. If you have read the hype elsewhere, believe it!

Thankfully the Giulia isn’t perfect, and there are still some questionable bits here and there. It’s the sort of things you’d not accept from an Audi. If Alfa Romeo had made it perfect, then it wouldn’t be an Alfa Romeo at all. The world would have stopped spinning on its axes and we would all be engulfed by a burning sun.

Okay so that might be a little dramatic. I for one however do like a bit of drama from my car. In an Alfa Romeo with its rich history of successes and failures you still expect it to be good and bad with a bucket load of enthusiasm. It makes you feel alive when behind the wheel of the new Giulia Veloce.

I’ll start with the enthusiasm side of the car. It’s a great car to drive. The Veloce model is second to end in a five model line up. Only the ferocious Quadrifoglio (Green Cloverleaf) beats it on all levels of driving dynamics. That said the Veloce, at £22,000 less, is by no means less of a car as a commuter saloon/play thing that will make you happy.

You will be happy.

(C) Alfa Romeo

Before you even get into the Giulia, you’re confronted by a classic design in the making. From the front at least. Its tall grill and side vents add a purposeful look which is then given some Alfa flair with the licence plate mounted to the side. What isn’t so successful is the rear. It’s not like Alfa Romeo don’t have any in-house designs from the past that they can work from. The rear is a bit too BMW for my liking.

The first thing you notice when you get inside the Giulia is the steering. It’s phenomenally direct. The smallest inputs translate to so much on the tarmac. You’ll notice this within about 200 meters of driving in a car park. It sets up the DNA of the cars sporting character.

Speaking of DNA (this is the smoothest transition I have come up with yet!) there is the standard DNA switch on the centre console. On the model tested it was the basic switch for Dynamic, Natural and Advance efficiency. You can spec the car for Alfa’s adaptive suspension set up too. As it is, I found it very engaging to use in motion. In basic terminology it alters the parameter workings of the throttle, steering and gearbox responses. In A it is supposed to make it a little more fuel efficient. I’ll put my hand up and say I didn’t notice any difference on the readout because I didn’t try to get green credentials from my week with the Giulia. There simply wasn’t enough time and I was having far too much fun.

D and N are where you will mostly keep it selected. In D it really does make the throttle responses snap-happy. This will frustrate you in its behaviour while pondering life while stuck in city traffic. Switch the N and normality will ensue. The magic in this switch is that you can select its position when on the move and its responses are pretty much instant. See the opportunity, select it and grasp the enjoyment.

Another return to form for the Giulia is being rear wheel drive. Perhaps it has something to do with Ferrari technical director Philippe Krief coming to Alfa Romeo’s rescue has made the Giulia a true driver’s car in almost every sense. The driving is where the pleasure is.

After years of lacklustre attempts at making a fast car with the wheels pulling it forward, Alfa Romeo has put power back to the rear and set the chassis up with a near 50:50 weight transfer balance. Sounds great on paper and on the road it is even better. Where the previous model would scrabble and understeer when pushed, the Giulia will pilot its way around handsomely. Push it and the traction system kicks in sometimes thwarting the fun but not excessively.

Handling when pushed hard is safe. Having gone pleasure bound for four hours along my favourite road full of all sorts of situations, the A259 from Folkestone to Bognor, and in a mixture of weather, it proved itself to be sure-footed. Push it in the right situation and you could get it into a gentle four-wheeled drift. It doesn’t last long because the grip is phenomenal.

You would expect a car set for the sportier driver to ride have a harsh ride and sometimes become unpleasant. It’s not the worst I have tried. Not being adaptive means it stays in that sports set up all the time. The only problem with this is it’s too engaging and encourages you to be a tad more naughty whenever you can get away with it.

With all the goings on in how it rides I almost forgot to talk about the engine. It’s not a lusty Alfa Romeo V6 (that you’ll find in the Quadrifoglio) It’s a 1995cc four-cylinder turbo unit. It makes 280hp and will throw the Giulia down the road from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds. The way it does it is with little fuss and no turbo lag anywhere within the rev range. The eight-speed automatic gearbox steeps up and down with minimal intrusion. It also has a subdued growl that is more vocal when switched to Dynamic.

In a time when gearshift paddles are getting smaller, Alfa Romeo has bucked the trend and given you two big cold metal shifters to play with. It all boils down to giving you more places to position your hands on the steering wheel to select the gears. The coldness of their metal construction is quite provocative in a way. Their shaped contours felt pleasant to the touch. It’s just another sensual input that makes it feel like a driver’s car.

There are a few problems. Remember this is an Alfa Romeo. For a car with aggressive yet civilised credentials in being all things on the road to man and beast it has a slightly fluffy feeling brake pedal. It doesn’t feel as responsive or as sharp as the rest of the car’s snap-happy weighted inputs and temperament. Thankfully they are more than capable of stopping the car quickly on all surfaces. It’s not often you get to try a car on snow-covered tracks. The ABS stops you with minimal fuss.

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The fuel gauge in relation to how much is left never made any sense at all. I lost 140 miles in one 30 mile trip. The battery cover in the boot was poorly fitted and Alfa has decided to redesign the wiper switch with a butterfly design on the stalk. Let’s just say these are the eccentricities of Alfa Romeo and leave it there.

What I am sad to see missing are the three round gauges pointed towards the driver for oil and water temperature and a clock. With this return to form this good I really would have liked to have seen this little nod to the Alfa Romeo’s I was brought up with.

There is absolutely no doubting Alfa Romeo’s commitment to return where they should be in the sporty saloon segment. Sadly it is in a market that is packed full of German machines that continued to evolve with each model change getting better and better year after year. Alfa Romeo has a big job ahead of them if they are to entice the saloon driver away from the German marques. For my money I’d take a chance on the Alfa Romeo. The motoring press is not wrong in what has been said about the new cars driving appeal so repeat after me; I own an Alfa Romeo.

Now doesn’t that make you feel great!

Loves

Handling and road manners
Large gear paddles on the steering wheel
Engine response

Loathes

Some trim fit was poor
No traction off switch
Fuel range less than accurate

Lowdown
Car – Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
Price – £39,205 (as tested)
MPG – 46.3 (combined)
Power – 280 bhp
0-62mph – 5.7 seconds
Top Speed – 149mph
Co2 – 141 (g/km)