Lashings of La Dolce Vita
With both the Giulia and the newest Stelvio SUV hitting UK forecourts, these are exciting times for Alfa Romeo and any petrol head with an ounce of romance and history in their veins
Review by Marc Stickley
Back in March, I attended the UK launch of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia – and liked what I saw and drove. I liked it a lot. I travelled to the launch location – Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire – in a 2.2 diesel and thought that it would stack up well against the other offerings in the premium saloon segment from BMW, Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes. I then thrashed the top of the range Quadrifoglio (QF – Italian for Four leaf, referring to the Alfa Racing team’s clover insignia) up and down the runway and around a driving course to get a taster of the M4, S4 and AMG equivalent from Alfa. I was impressed. Rear wheel drive, 500+bhp and a fantastic interior. But with such a short exposure to the new cars, I was keen to find out more. The nice people at Alfa Romeo UK knew this and provided me with a Giulia to review for a week – this time a 2.0 petrol with 200PS, specced in Super trim and finished in dark “Monte Carlo” blue with tan leather. Nice.
First up then is the exterior. There’s no denying the Alfa is a good looking car – more curves than a Playboy centrefold, in all the right places, but still purposeful. With the distinctive grill, it’s recognisably an Alfa. Thin headlights lead around to the cockpit rear stance of the car. Although this makes the boot look small, it’s plenty big enough when you open it up. And that almost Kamm flick to the boot lid looks great. This Giulia Super was fitted with 18″ turbine alloys, that were good looking, but a £750 extra. To my mind the £350 17″ 7 hole teledial wheels give a much more classic Alfa look, especially in the gunmetal finish, matching the review car’s blue paintwork.
Inside that tan leather looks great – you can rely on the Italians to properly trim a car interior and the Giulia didn’t disappoint. The upgrade from the standard trim gives the centre of the seats bibendum-esque (he’s the Michelin man, don’t you know) horizontal panels. They’re great to sit on and great to look at. The cabin plastics are a good blend of piano black and carbon effect inserts (also an uplift from standard). The key feature to the Giulia’s cockpit is the large central screen. Actually 2 screens side by side, beneath a single piece cover, the screen is certainly imposing, but to my mind Alfa missed a trick here. In trying to make it a wowing centrepiece, it created what it is – it looks like 2 small screens beneath an oversize cover. They could have better presented the individual screens and it could have worked better (as could actually having a 12″ wide screen, rather than 2 smaller ones adding up to 8.8 inches). However, the Alfa Connect system works well, clearly displaying all the information you need and coupled with the colour TFT instruments, gives a good blend of driving data, nav and tertiary information. All Giulias are automatic, so you get the short gearstick to select between P, R, N, D and S and some rotary controllers on the centre stack. Otherwise, aside from heating and aircon controls, the cabin is button light – most controls are through the touch screen. The steering wheel doesn’t get a button fest, just controls for audio and cruise control. The flappy paddles behind the steering wheel are good quality, either in standard form or the optional aluminium. You probably won’t use them much, but the 8 speed auto gearbox shifts well and can be hustled with the paddles, or in sport mode, hold on to gears for longer.
So a pretty face and a fresh cabin inside. Two Alfa staple requirements met. The next requirement is for a great drive. Well, 200PS (that’s about 197bhp) isn’t the most you’ll find in a family car these days, but it’s still a respectable figure. The turbo’d four cylinder is enthusiastic enough, but now the 280PS (276bhp) Veloce has been released, that might be the better bet for keen drivers. You can also opt for the diesel Giulia, in either 150 or 180PS versions. As with all Alfa, the Giulia gets the DNA switch to alter drive modes. D is for Dynamic and the best mode for spirited response and snappy upshifts. N is Natural and A for All Weather. The rear wheel drive set up leaves the front wheels to concentrate on steering and gripping, so you’ll rarely feel near the limit in the 200PS model. On the move, the Giulia feels competent on B roads and cruises comfortably on A roads and motorways. It will hit 60mph in 6.6 seconds and carry on pulling to 146mph. This probably leaves space above in the regular Giulia range for the Veloce and way higher, the QF.
Despite looking fantastic and feeling good on short journeys, those seats could have done with a bit more padding towards the front for longer journeys, or offered adjustment to tilt the base. There’s plenty of room in the back seats and the boot is a deceptive size for what looks like a short compartment from the exterior. It feels premium, I don’t know how it stacks up to all of the competition, but it’s certainly not a poor relation compared to those I have experienced.
So, good looking, good to drive, plenty of space. What more could you want? Well… as tested, the Giulia isn’t cheap. An on the road price of £31,000 was swollen to just over £41,000 on the test car. Some £4,000 of that increase comes from the delicious interior, the paint choice (still a major bugbear of mine – who honestly orders a flat paint car?) and the optional wheels. But selecting some of those options demands others to be ticked – run flat tyres add another £200. There must have been some other option packs added to the test car, but I couldn’t find anything deserving of a price increase. So would I have a Giulia? Yes and no. I think the Veloce would be the sweet spot of the range, with 280PS, it must be quicker than the Super and the driving prowess I saw would certainly not be strained by an extra 80 or so horses. Obviously, everyone would really hanker after the twin-turbo V6 of the Quadrifoglio, but not everyone would want to stomach the £55,000 starting price. To get a good looking, brand new design on your drive, rather than one of the usual suspects might be all the persuasion you need to help Alfa in their brand relaunch.
Scott Krugger interview – Stelvio reveal, Goodwood
I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time chatting with Alfa Romeo executives at recent events and I spoke again with Scott Krugger at the Goodwood reveal of the brand new Stelvio SUV. Scott is the Head of Design for Alfa Romeo and was obviously excited to launch the Giulia earlier this year – that excitement had intensified when we spoke about the Stelvio.
First, the car. It’s a design development from the Giulia – lines are carried across, to give a family lineage, but as an SUV, it is it’s own vehicle. Scott was keen to impress the sculpted exterior features, matched to the cockpit focus of the interior. The exterior lines of the Stelvio give a coupe profile, but inside, practicality is not sacrificed. Although an SUV, with true off-road capability, there is no doubt from Scott that this is a driver and therefore road focussed car – “It’s extremely Alfa,” he explains; “there is a handling focus, but the Stelvio stands out in the segment stylistically. The driver is key, but passengers were also a priority. It had to be a more functional car than the Giulia.”
As is familiar from other brands, Scott pointed out how the Utility Vehicle market is growing and Alfa Romeo wanted to break into it with their brand relaunch. It’s also incredibly important for Alfa as a global marque, to have a car in this segment. The aim for Scott was to design something obviously dynamic, but still obtainable. The appearance was driven by Alfa’s design principles – talked of at length at the Giulia launch, but echoed in the Stelvio. It really is a handsome car, especially in the launch shade of Rosso. “People will be surprised,” explains Scott; “we have a vehicle that capable on all roads, with a perfect balance between handling and space, occupants and cargo”. Scott has been driving his design at launch and since – from mountain terrain to beach trips with accoutrements (a tough life it must be…!) and he claims the car has been impeccable. No doubt you could cry, “he would say that” – but I could see the glint in his eye. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and I can’t wait to try the Stelvio myself.
The Stelvio will be offered at the September launch in Limited or Super trims, either with Q2 or Q4 and the 280PS petrol or 210PS diesel, with a QF model to be confirmed later. All will come with the 8 speed automatic gearbox and other trims and engine options will follow later. It really is a handsome car – reminiscent of a Porsche Macan, so will certainly out strut the competition from appearance’s perspective. Scott insists the dynamics and technology have been thoroughly considered to give a really capable vehicle – not just a crossover or cladded road car – the Stelvio will be competent in snow and ice, tracks and ruts. In Q2 guise it will be rear-wheel drive, in Q4 a rear-biased four wheel drive system. It’s not going to worry the full Land Rover Defender green lane set, but the Stelvio isn’t there for that. These are exciting times for Alfa Romeo and petrol heads alike.