Based on a new platform called “Giorgio”, the Giulia remains rear-drive based.
Staying relevant in the compact sport-luxury sedan market is a very tedious task. For decades now, the BMW 3-series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Audi A4 have led the segment from an image standpoint. The 3-series has been the perennial choice for enthusiasts, but has been de-throned in recent years thanks to softer dynamics. This year there’s a new player from Italy, and it’s trying to change the game. This is the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti Q4 AWD, painted in a $2,500 shade of Rosso Competizione and oozing of Italian passion.
This is not the range-topping 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio (reviewed here), but its more entry-level cousin. This is the model that Canadians will buy, and it’s the sweet spot in the Giulia lineup. With a base price of $52,995 for the AWD and this test vehicle loaded up to just over $63,000, it plays ball with the likes of the top-trim levels of the BMW 330i (reviewed here), Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C 300. Yes, critics argue that this four-cylinder Giulia is encroaching on the price point of six-cylinder rivals, but we recently tested a 330i and A4 (reviewed here), both of which pushed $60,000. Skip the Rosso paint and the Giulia is right there.
Plus, the Alfa Romeo is clearly the more interesting choice. I know that’s a statement that’s almost been played out at this point, but anyone who has spent any significant time in a major urban core has seen the plethora of white BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz sedans. Even though the Alfa is still a new entry, I highly doubt that we’ll reach a point where their sales volume will be significant enough to out-populate the Germans. The Giulia is a beautiful thing, too, with its traditional Alfa Romeo fascia and smooth lines. Even the rear end is aesthetically pleasing, though more simplistic than the front.
The punchy powertrain that moves the “base” Giulia is a 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine. This is the exact same displacement that powers every single entry-level competitor, from the Volvo S60 to the Lexus IS 200t. The Giulia has the most output though, with 280 horsepower at 5,200RPM and 306 lb-ft. of torque between 2,000 and 4,800RPM. In a straight line, it’s seriously quick, and feels markedly faster than the Germans. Power delivery isn’t quite as smooth as the Audi though, with notable turbo lag until boost kicks in.
An eight-speed automatic gearbox is the only choice for Canadians, though other markets get a six-speed manual. While it’s a well-calibrated transmission with plenty of quick response, the best part of it is easily the paddle shifters. They’re mounted to the steering column instead of the wheel itself, so they’re stationary no matter what the position of the wheel is. They also feel excellent and every upshift or downshift is reinforced with a satisfying “click”.
Where the Giulia really shines isn’t in its transmission, but the handling characteristics of the sedan. The steering response is razor-sharp, with a fast ratio and even faster turn-in. There is no dead zone on-center, and some semblance of feel through the electrically assisted power steering rack. Long story short, it’s one of the best handling sedans around right now, and certainly within its class. The wheel itself is very small in diameter with a thin rim, but a pleasure to hold and the car feels very lively and effortless in everyday settings.
The chassis of this new Giulia is just spectacular. Overall lightness is one of the engineering team’s top priorities, and this means materials such as carbon fiber, high-strength composite, and aluminum are all there. An optional Performance Package priced at $1,750 will add adaptive damping suspension and a limited-slip differential – both must-haves on a car with a platform this agile. One interesting quirk – the brake-by-wire system means there is no physical feel in the brake pedal, and this means stopping the car takes some getting used to. We’re not entirely sure why Alfa Romeo thought this was mandatory, but it’s a setup that takes away from the purist nature of the car and adds some unnecessary digitization.
Based on a new platform called “Giorgio”, the Giulia remains rear-drive based. This Ti Q4 test vehicle is equipped with an all-wheel-drive system that most Canadians have come to desire, almost to a point of it being a “necessity” for an upscale vehicle of any sort. The system is rear-based and a slip-and-grip system, only sending power to the front wheels when it needs to. Those opting for the Quadrifoglio model may choose to keep it as a summer-only toy, but there is no real sense in storing the Giulia Ti Q4 during the colder months. Our recommendation as always is to invest in a good set of winter tires.
Being a 2.0L turbo-four, the Giulia remains a very efficient car when driven conservatively. Alfa Romeo estimates 10.2L/100km and as thrifty as 6.0L/100km highway, and a combined rating of just 8.3L/100km. Obviously the all-wheel-drive model will take a toll on this number, but we still had no issues keeping it in the 9.0L/100km range in winter conditions. A longer highway haul during our test week consisted of approximately 300km and resulted in a generous 7.4L/100km. The Giulia’s fuel tank can hold up to 58L and requires premium 91-octane fuel.
Where the perfection starts to fall a little bit short is once the door of the Giulia opens and you take a peek at the cabin. The steering wheel is very nice, with major control buttons easy to find. The rest of the interior is rather Spartan, with an infotainment system that is among the least intuitive currently available. It doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, it’s slow to respond, and the controller knob is clunky and not as slick as the German applications. Major controls are easy to find but materials aren’t the greatest and it feels a bit less upscale than its rivals.
From a space standpoint, the Giulia is surprisingly roomy. There is adequate space for front passengers, and two adults will fit snugly in the back with ample head and legroom as well. I wasn’t able to get the perfect driving position, as I found the front seat wouldn’t tilt enough for my liking. There is a thigh support extension for taller folks, and the sport seats equipped on our test vehicle add adjustable side bolsters as well, which are very nice. Sightlines all around are quite good, though the B-pillar is a bit too far forward which means drivers over six feet like myself would have it right in the blind spot.
When comparing how the Giulia feels against the likes of the “benchmark” 3-series, it’s not all that far off. It’s more agile than the C-Class and definitely more tossable than the Lexus IS (reviewed here). The 3-series may not be quite as crisp strictly from the driver’s perspective, but the interior is a far nicer place to be, and is likely to be more reliable in the long run. The Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50 aren’t quite up there with the Germans in the current crop of sedans, so there’s no real competition there. Plus, those perusing the Japanese luxury makes aren’t all that likely to cross-shop the crazy Italian.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti Q4 AWD has entered the North American market with a bang. Last year at this time, the Alfa name was only synonymous with the 4C (reviewed here), an exceptionally fun toy that will sell in very small numbers. Now, Alfa Romeo has the Giulia sedan and has just started selling the Stelvio luxury crossover, something that will be doing battle against the Porsche Macan and BMW X4. The future is bright for the Italians, and each of their offerings offer a real character that’s seldom seen in a world of semi-autonomous driving aids.