Exactly a decade ago, the Motor News team ran an Alfa Romeo 159 alongside the E90 BMW 325i. It was rather interesting, to see how the two sports sedans went about their respective business.
The Italian was a front-wheel drive with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine allied to a slick six-speed manual gearbox, while the German was a rear-wheel drive, 2.5-litre straight-six powerplant allied to an equally sneaky six-speed manual transmission.
The latter was, hands down, the more powerful and rewarding car to drive while the 159 was the better looking and had the most delicious and communicative steering of the two. Sadly, the 159’s lack of build quality became the bone of contention.
It reminds you of the adage, beauty without substance, but here’s the thing — it still appealed to the heart and not the brain and I suspect that is why many an Alfisti will continue to rally behind the brand. Yes, while the 159 was a thing to behold it never quite held a candle against the 3 Series where it matters most.
Enter the new Giulia, the company’s interpretation of the modern, medium sports sedan, and it becomes clear that the Italian marque wanted to go back to its glory days. For starters, unlike the 159 the Giulia is rear-wheel drive and, in our test unit, powered by a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that pushes out 147kW and 330Nm through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. It represents the entry point to the range, while on the sharper end of the spectrum sits the flagship Quadrifoglio Verde.
Styling wise, the Giulia is a sharp dresser with well-judged proportions and a wide, hunkered down stance that looks more planted than anything else in the segment and while the 17-inch wheels look decidedly small, they contribute to the exceptional ride quality.
Then there is the cabin, a giant leap forward for the brand, offering better tactile and quality materials, even if these are not quite up to German standards. The infotainment system, which takes some getting used to, is operated via an iDrive-type rotary switch that becomes more intuitive with use. Overall space is similar to that of the 3 Series, however, the front door apertures are narrower than the German’s which could prove a challenge for lankier frames.
Slip behind that sporty three-spoke steering wheel and things start to become rather intriguing. Beemer fans will want to look away because the Italian knocks the German right out of the park when it comes to driver ergonomics. The Giulia offers one of the best seating positions in the business and the scope for adjustment ensures any driver will find a perfect position.
It has what I can only describe as some of the best paddle shifters I have ever used and that includes some exotics I have driven in recent months. Milled from aluminium, they are the perfect length, a joy to use and add a huge dollop of sportiness to the cabin ambience.
Then there’s the drive. Granted, while all 2.0-litre engines in this segment suffer from initial turbo lag, the Giulia included, it pulls strongly in the mid rev range. It feels sprightlier than an equivalent 320i throughout and is only marred by the rather high 10.4l/100km consumption figure we achieved in the test.
Back to the ride quality: I feel that the Italians have got it waxed here. It copes far better with ruts and speed bumps, all the while not detracting from its dynamic handling abilities. Point it into a corner with verve and the front end grips prodigiously. In Dynamic mode, the rear becomes more playful, adding a dose of rear-wheel drive fun.
There are a few shortcomings, though. Much like the 159, the Giulia has a poor turning circle in spite of its rear-wheel drive underpinnings. And then there is the price tag. At R555 000 it commands a slight premium over its rivals, but it does come with a comprehensive list of standard equipment. That aside, the Giulia is a well sorted executive sedan with a sporty streak. – Lerato Matebese
Fast Facts: Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0 Base
Engine: 1999cc turbo petrol
Power: 147kW at 5000rpm
Torque: 330Nm @at 1750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Auto
0-100km/h: 6.6-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 235km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 5.9l/100km (claimed combined)
Price: From R555 000