I overwhelmingly prefer Italian in life—style, wine, fine art—and as a language to learn, useless as it is outside of the ole’ boot. Surely my choice of transportation (in the form of the all-new 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan) could follow that theme too?
The country has a flavorful history of automotive production, under nameplates like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Fiat, and Maserati. They’re collectively known for their design and speed, a joy to drive along twisty bits, but not much else. Expensive upkeep, perhaps.
And then there is Alfa Romeo, which I have written about previously, when I visited their archival museum outside Milan. Awesome experience, in case you have the opportunity and are a niche car nut.
At the time I compared Alfa to Saab, to the displeasure of some of my Italian classmates. The parallels are there, though: specialist marques, known for quirky features and designs, lauded by enthusiasts and loved by wistful owners, who often dealt with unreliability, parts shortages, and fat repair bills.
Nevertheless, their appeal endured. Unfortunately Saab is gone thanks to its botched management by GM. FCA (Fiat-Chrysler) owns Alfa now, and will hopefully avoid making the same mistake.
With the Giulia, and a network of new dealers co-branded with Maserati, also owned by FCA, Alfa Romeo is gunning for a market dominated by German and Japanese brands that sell, at least in some consumers eyes, commoditized products. This is the first lesson in building a brand: don’t sell a commodity.
If you’re in search of something unique, the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia is unlike much else on the road. It looks different, drives differently, and exudes exotic. Not for the driver who likes to blend in.
How does it drive?
Well. Equipped with an 8-speed automatic transmission and a 280-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the Giulia is quick. Some of its body is also made of carbon fiber and aluminum, helping it be very light. Even on 19-inch wheels, its ride is well-dampened while still in touch with the road’s surface. The most notable feature is a pleasant engine note and precision-sharp steering, made possible through a gorgeous leather and aluminum steering wheel.
Everything feels very weighty, exacting, and solid. The large (also aluminum) paddle shifters forward of the steering rim are lovely to touch and look at, but I mostly ignored them.
The start button, flat-bottom steering wheel, and aluminum pedals do give a distinctively racecar feel, though.
Dynamically, there is little to complain about, minus the lack of a 6-speed manual option. I would have to drive it on a longer test to determine its true comfort for extended trips and use in typical driving, which isn’t on twisty roads through an empty business park.
After driving, my attention is focused on the fit, finish, and quality of construction of a car. While no car is perfect, some do better than others to insulate, coddle, and please drivers and passengers, especially after miles of pothole abuse.
The 2017 Giulia is a gorgeous car inside and out. Upgraded leather on our tester was beautifully stitched and perforated and the red was certainly not dull. Plastics are generally good with soft-touches the further up you go, and doors shut with a satisfying thunk. The matte wood on our white-over-red tester was especially nice to look at.
But, bits and pieces can seem non-sequitur for such an upmarket car, like the shifter and other center console knobs, which feel rubbery and cheap. Plenty has been lifted from other FCA products, like switches for the windows, the key fob, and the rearview mirror.
The 8.8 inch center screen for navigation, audio, etc. is closer to the driver and passenger’s faces than in other vehicles, where it is often mounted high up on the dash, but it is disappointingly low-resolution, which makes it look fuzzier and less crisp than German rivals’ screens.
I also wish, for no other reason than they look more modern, that the Giulia had at least the option of LED headlamps. Bi-xenons with LED DRLs are standard.
The 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia is a compelling value proposition. At around $40,000 (for Ti model), it is generously kitted considering most of its standard features are optional on its rivals, like front and rear parking sensors with camera, leather seats, remote start, and heated front seats + steering wheel. Options can send its MSRP past $50,000, some of which are are performance-related, and can be omitted if you’re simply looking for an athletic, comfortable daily driver.
You might however want to think about the dual-pane sunroof, Harman/Kardon 14-speaker audio system, and the luxury package, which adds more leather and wood trim and an air quality system.
Oh, and it has a pretty capacious trunk.
I read an article recently asserting that the Italians are so good at marketing because they are unabashedly true to themselves and their passions, however flawed their execution may sometimes be. After living in Milan, I understand what is so intoxicating about visiting the country and enjoying its exports, but so infuriating about living there.
Since the 1990s, when Alfa exited America, the brand has hobbled along with mediocre models aimed at the European stylish compact car market. Nothing to write home about. With a soul made of sport, it introduced models like the 4C, which is like a Lotus in its relevance to US consumers.
In any case, the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia is a great example of the Italian tradition of design, dynamism, with some quirk mixed in. With the help of FCA’s capital, the Giulia is a legitimate entrant to the crowded small-mid executive sedan (saloon) segment, and the first truly mainstream, worthwhile model Alfa has sold in the US in many years. It is capable and charming, and refreshingly different without sacrificing conveniences we expect from vehicles in this price range.
See Nick Gruse at Alfa Romeo of St. Petersburg to drive one, and bask in their beautiful new space on Gandy Boulevard, just off I-275. Many thanks for allowing me to drop in and take one for a spin!