Price: from £28,979
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.1 seconds
Let’s pretend the midsize executive car market is, in fact, a sweaty freshers’ disco. Everyone’s necking cheap wine and shouting over the dreadful music. Over in the corner you can see three expensively dressed third year students. They’re sipping champagne and tossing their blonde hair as they laugh among themselves… You aren’t allowed near them. In car terms those three are BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4. They’re the queens, the untroubled and undisputed rulers of their sector.
You have to be bold and possess a real sense of purpose to demand a seat at their top table. Step forward Alfa Romeo Giulia – a saloon that’s been created almost specifically as a counterpoint to anyone bored with the usual Teutonic triumvirate. Even its name sets out its mission. The others are just joyless numbers and letters, but the Alfa has gone all romantic. This is actually the third Alfa to be called Giulia. The story goes that when the 1900 Series was introduced in 1950, an Italian journalist commented that he saw “lots of Romeos but no Giuliettas,” meaning that the cars all looked too masculine. When Alfa Romeo later introduced a range of smaller cars they dubbed them the Giuliettas, then when the displacement of the basic engine was boosted, they dropped the diminutive in favour of the more grown-up Giulia.
Today’s Giulia is certainly a head turner. Graceful lines flow from the shield-shaped grill past the unusual rimless headlamps and make the car appear elegantly stretched. At the back the wedged tail is topped by a curvaceous lip and flat-topped lamps, which save it from being just another boring rear end. The aero-spoke wheels and glintings of red brake blocks hint at its lightness and power. But looks only carry you so far. This Alfa is built on a new rear-wheel drive platform, and the Giulia is the first to benefit from a range overhaul that will boost the performance and handling of the full line-up.
The engine choice is from a pair of 2.2-litre diesels with either 148 or 178bhp, a 2-litre turbocharged petrol with 197bhp, and a range-topping twin-turbo V6 Quadrifoglio version with 503bhp. All come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard – you can’t go for a manual even if you want to. I drove the turbocharged petrol version. Words like supple, balance and fluency are often bandied about in car reviews, but they’re hard won here. The Giulia is a lovely drive – brawny yet sweet-tempered.
Inside the car is generously luxurious. To beat the Germans, the Italians know they can’t just offer a slightly cheaper car – it has to punch above its weight in terms of spec and tech. The rotary controlled infotainment screen fits neatly into the sweep of the dash. Other standard inclusions involve a host of driver and safety aids. The one that will make you smile is the warning the car emits when you unexpectedly switch lanes: three baritone honks from a tuba. A muted beep would have been far too German. Looks like someone new is about to clear the dance floor.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010