After what seems like forever, the all-new Giulia has landed in the UK. No question, this is Alfa’s most significant car in a generation – but how well does it perform on British roads?
It’s time. Exiting the driveway of a hotel in the Cotswolds, I’m about to find out whether the Giulia has what it takes to usher in a new golden era for Alfa Romeo, or whether it’s a case of ‘close but no cigar’.
Alfa Romeo really needs to impress the sort of owner-drivers who are currently happy with their Audis, Mercs, BMWs and Jags. If it impresses them, the Giulia will fly. (And by the way, Alfa calculates that 80 per cent of Giulia customers will be new to the brand.) Well, having driven all the Giulia’s main rivals, and having tested most of the Giulia line-up on UK roads, I can confidently say that it does have what it takes.
So here I am on that Cotswolds driveway. I’m holding the steering wheel of the Giulia Quadrifoglio and I’ve started out with the DNA drive-mode controller in its gentlest ‘A’ setting. Yet as I accelerate out of the T-junction, the rear tyres scrabble and the tail starts to wag. Hello! If this is what it’s like in ‘A’ mode, what’s it going to be like with the dial in Normal, Dynamic and Race modes?
The roads around here are twisty A- and B-roads, where the Giulia feels perfectly at home. The first thing I notice is just how fast-acting the steering is. With just 2.2 turns between locks, it’s actually the fastest in its class; some drivers might find it too nervous but you very soon get used to it. The steering is electric and has what Alfa calls a “semi-virtual steering axis” that basically keeps the caster constant in corners – and it really works. The feel is sharp, consistent and offers a whole lot more feedback than most electric systems.
The Giulia’s big revolution – or more accurately, a devolution to the past – is rear-wheel drive. Hooray! This is the first rear-drive Alfa saloon since the 75 left production way back in 1992. (Our continental friends also get the option of Q4 four-wheel drive but it’s not compatible with right-hand drive, so for UK buyers the Giulia is exclusively a rear-driver). Equally significantly, the Giulia has perfect 50/50 weight distribution, so the template is just right – and it delivers.
The handling is wonderfully incisive. Turn-in is confident and concise. Body roll is contained. It all feels tight and together, yet the ride quality is far from board-stiff; in fact it’s very compliant. OK, time to engage the ‘N’ and ‘D’ modes on Alfa’s familiar DNA selectable drive system. Doing so sharpens up the throttle response, suspension, steering, transmission, rear differential settings, stability control and even the brakes, in phased steps. The instrument display also changes, with a coloured representation of the car telling you what’s altering as you engage each mode. You can play around with the dampers, too: a button in the middle of the DNA rotary knob lets you select either soft or hard settings. It’s at its delicious sharpest in Dynamic mode – when it sounds its most fabulous too. As for the ‘R’ (or Race) mode beyond this, I’m keeping that for my track session to come…
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