Photos by Terry Shea and Kurt Ernst.
Alfa Romeo hasn’t offered a sedan in the U.S. market since 1995, the final year its 164 was sold on these shores. Though the brand has offered niche-market sports cars to American customers (on and off) since 2008, it’s been slow to market a mainstream vehicle on these shores. In the words of FCA’s Berj Alexanian, “We knew we had just one chance to get it right with the Giulia sedan,” which launched in late 2016. At Amelia Island, we had a chance to (briefly) drive the range-topping Giulia Quadrifoglio; did Alfa Romeo get it right?
According to the manufacturer, the Giulia model “reflects a 55-year heritage of Alfa Romeo’s lightweight, performance sedan tradition,” along with “over 105 years of brand history.” That’s a lot for anything to carry on its shoulders, or in the case of the Giulia, on its fenders. Worse, perhaps, the Giulia is designed and priced to go head to head against class leaders like the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Doing so requires a full portfolio of offerings, and here the Alfa Romeo Giulia doesn’t disappoint. In addition to rear-drive offerings in four trim levels (Giulia, Giulia Ti, Giulia Ti Sport and Giulia Quadrifoglio), the model offers optional all-wheel drive on the first two versions. Even base models get a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which produces 280-horsepower and can dash from 0-60 MPH in 5.1 seconds. Those wanting to row their own gears, however, will be disappointed: the only transmission is an eight-speed automatic, though paddle shifters are available for those wanting to put at least some fun into the daily commute.
And then there’s the Giulia Quadrifoglio, which comes with a twin-turbo V-6 producing 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, the most powerful engine ever used in a production Alfa Romeo. The Quadrifoglio (Italian for four-leaf clover, used on racing and sporting Alfa Romeos since Ugo Sivocci painted it on his Targa Florio-winning car in 1923) also gets a carbon fiber hood, roof and rear spoiler in the name of weight savings, along with an adaptive suspension and active front aerodynamics to increase downforce at speed.
Performance-wise, the Quadrifoglio can sprint from 0-60 MPH in 3.8 seconds, while the available Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes (featuring six-piston front calipers grabbing 15.4-inch two-piece rotors paired with four-piston rear calipers and 14.2-inch rear rotors) can stop the Giulia from 60 MPH in 102 feet. For street use only, these may be overkill; we found them to be a bit sensitive, prompting us to keep an eye on traffic behind us before applying the brakes with any enthusiasm.
The 0-60 MPH metric isn’t really a relevant benchmark for a performance sedan, though a lap time that can be compared to others is. On Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife, the Giulia Quadrifoglio set a time of 7:32 on the 20,600-meter course, establishing (temporarily, at least) a new record for a production sedan. By way of comparison, a 2010 Corvette ZR1 ran the same track in 7:38, while the next-closest sedan, a 2016 Porsche Panamera Turbo, also took 7:38 to complete the lap. By any measurable standard, that’s fast for a production car.
Which also raises the Achilles heel of many modern performance cars: The very things (stiff suspension, powerful brakes, grippy tires, and neck-snapping acceleration) that deliver low lap times often makes driving them burdensome in real-world stop-and-go traffic. Some manufacturers, such as BMW and Cadillac, do a surprisingly good job at blending the two. Others, like Lexus (and notably its GS F), have gotten better over the years, while some continue to struggle with finding the right blend of performance and civility. On the Giulia Quadrifoglio, the adaptive suspension and DNA Drive Mode Selector (which allows a driver to choose between Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency modes) do an impressive job of taming a potentially uncivilized sedan.
A 10-minute jaunt isn’t enough time to offer much in the way of driving impressions, but the Giulia pulls hard under full-throttle acceleration (barking nicely on up-shifts in Dynamic mode) and paddle shifts are executed far quicker than a human driver could accomplish. In Natural mode, throttle response is a bit more subdued, making it a more sensible choice for the rush hour commute. Steering remains unchanged in the various modes, and the relatively straight roads of Amelia Island gave us no opportunity to get a sense for the car’s handling. As for the ride, we’d call it firm but not harsh, further evidence of the work Alfa Romeo put into the Quadrifoglio’s development.
Fit and finish, both inside and out, is on par with what one would expect in the segment. Seats were both comfortable and supportive, and even the rear seat offered up reasonable leg room and adequate head room for the average adult. Aside from the too-effective carbon ceramic brakes, we would have preferred a thicker steering wheel, but otherwise found little not to our liking.
The Giulia range begins at $38,990 (including destination charge) for the base model, while the range-topping Giulia Quadrifoglio is priced from $73,595. Checking the option boxes can quickly drive up the price, and as-equipped the Quadrifoglio we drove carried a sticker price of $84,295 (with $5,500 of that going towards the brake system upgrade).
Whether the Giulia will resonate with U.S. buyers remains to be seen, but Alfa Romeo deserves credit for delaying the launch until the product was well-sorted. The sedan also helps pave the way for the upcoming Stelvio, a compact luxury SUV built on the Giulia’s platform, and it’s a safe bet that this will deliver the brand recognition that Alfa Romeo needs to survive in this market.