26 Feb 2018

2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia

Crow served best with a side of Marinara

To set the stage, my father was an avid Alfa Romeo owner. Throughout the 1960’s his Alfa Giulietta Spyder was his daily driver and took him every morning to the train station some five miles away for his commute to NYC. Rain, sleet, snow or sun, the ’64 Giulietta performed as planned delivering entertainment with every twist of the key. While never neck-snappingly quick, my father delighted with the tiny car’s ability to overtake in the corner, especially when challenged by the behemoth machines that traversed the terrain in that era.

So when Alfa left the US Market back in 1995, it reminded me of that little red Spyder that sat patiently in the driveway of my New Jersey home waiting for the next hairpin to stretch its legs.

Alfa returned to the US market in 2016 with the 4C.  Frankly, I was still a little bitter about their 20-year absence and thought their first effort in America really missed the mark. While I liked the fact that it was really small and lightweight, it was just ugly and quirky. I touted loudly on Drivers Talk Radio that Alfa would not last a year in the US. I was clearly wrong.

Enter the Guilia

Redemption of the Alfa brand has arrived. The new Giulia boasts a clear linkage to Pinin Farina throwback styling of the 1960’s. But while the front end is a work of art, the tail section appears uninspired – nothing exciting here. Regardless of this shortcoming, the little Alfa has evolved significantly during its 20-year American timeout. The tiny 2.8-liter four-cylinder engine with a turbo was an interesting choice for the platform but the all wheel drive suspension a home run for performance drivers.

The automotive scientist that I am, I reluctantly took a chance and decided to try out the new Alfa Giulia. My fear was that the experience would damage my perception of the brand, memories of riding with my father a delicate remembrance of my youth. Not long after I made the request, a Base level Giulia with AWD in Italian blood red rolled up to my door.

To match the red exterior, our test vehicle sported red leather upholstery and door accents. The 8-speed automatic transmission seemed out of place – an Alfa without a clutch was just odd for many reasons. Huge paddle shifters jutted from the back of the leather-wrapped heated steering wheel (now there’s an option my father would certainly have loved on those snowy New Jersey mornings!). The instrument panel was clear and well designed, the center-mounted display easy to read but not very intuitive even with easy chores like trying to locate stations not previously locked into your list of pre-programmed favorite stations. Honestly, the operation of this panel should be revised – it is just that cumbersome.

A delightful surprise, however, was the high level of content from the heated seating surfaces, heated windshield washers, adaptive cruise control and powerful sound system featuring Bluetooth and one year of free SiriusXM radio. Six-way power seats are there for both driver and passenger along with lumbar support, all standard. Rain sensing wipers and heated exterior mirrors, again, are standard faire.

A quick note about handling

A car that truly exhibits great handling is a product of many things working well together. To start with, the steering must be generally quick lock to lock but exhibit stable on-center controllability. But handling also requires proper caster, camber, suspension design, shock valving and other key features. On this car, they all work in perfect harmony. The new Alfa handles like few vehicles I have ever driven with a stickiness in the corners that begs for more input. The vehicle’s overall lightweight in tandem with the advanced suspension architecture combine to deliver classic Alfa handling excitement.

The Alfa’s AWD system features three modes that affect shifting points and traction. The three levels are labeled Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency  (Yep, that stands for DNA) and are controlled by a console-mounted knob. Each level comes with a colorful but rather unclear graphic that is displayed on in center monitor. Natural provides the best balance of all with great gear shifting and excellent road manners. Dynamic mode generally short shifts the transmission for quicker gear changes and Advanced Efficiency is designed to generate the best fuel mileage. For the most part, we left the selector in Natural. Mileage during out test averaged 28 mpg combined with up to 35 mpg highway.

While the new Alfa may only have four cylinders, it hits on all of them with regards to performance with an amazingly smart transmission that intuitively knew when I wanted the next gear. While the paddle shifters stand ready for action, in most cases, they were unnecessary. Under power through the canyon road, the automatic quickly picked out gears based on throttle input (both up and down), the tires connecting without a lick of squeal. Engine torque was excellent throughout the gear changes. The Alfa’s automatic transmission is so good, I’m not sure I could have done better with a manual transmission – and I have a lot of experience in that operation.

Stationed at the four corners of our test vehicle were up-scale bronze-colored 18 x 8-inch wide alloy wheels wrapped 225/45-18 high-performance tires. Stopping power is handled by four-wheel disc brakes, each Brembo caliper painted with the Alfa Romeo lettering. Cosmetic benefits include front and rear sport fascias are a nice optional exterior touch.

Priced Right

While most would believe that the Alfa Romeo Giulia would be well over the $50,000 mark, the base 2.0 liter turbocharged Inline four cylinder vehicle sells for $39,900 – $45,500 for the vehicle we tested. That’s a screaming deal for anyone looking for a car that is a stand out handling vehicle with four-doors, a huge trunk and classic styling cues.

My father would be proud.

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