By ALEXANDRU PASCUTIU, Guest Writer
Many times in life, we experience situations that we wish could have happened differently. From school to personal life, I always have experiences that I know could have been different if I acted differently in the moment. In the automotive industry, unfortunately, this happens quite often. From over anticipated cars that do not live up to the hype afforded them, to cars that don’t deliver on the manufacturer’s promises, there are many disappointments. Regrettably, I had a similar experience with the Giulia.
Let’s start with what makes this car great. First, the styling. In looking at Rosso Alfa, this car truly looks spectacular. Many of the press cars given out are white or black which does not really express the wonderful lines that this car has. During the car’s stay, it made my 3 series look so tame and ordinary in comparison. From the short overhangs in the front and back to the way that the lines converge in the rear of the vehicle, there is nothing like it in this class of car. Its low stance on the road commands attention, and it certainly has received many looks during its stay. Since so many people own the typical German luxury sports sedan, such as the BMW 3 series, Audi A4, and Mercedes C class, this was a breath of fresh air.
Going on to the interior, the car gave vibes that are truly missing in most of its competitors. Sadly, most new cars are getting bigger and bigger. While this allows for more space in the car, it negatively affects vehicle dynamics and fuel economy because of the additional weight. As soon as I sat in the interior, my immediate remark was, “Wow, this feels like it was designed 10 years ago.” That remark is meant in the most positive way possible, because the car feels as if it’s much smaller than it actually is. This plays enormous dividends on the road (more on that later).
Lastly, the car comes with a few key features that most of its competitors don’t provide as standard. The test car was a base model, yet, it still came with xenon headlamps, leather, and, surprisingly, a carbon fiber driveshaft. It’s so tiring to see a luxury sports sedan not have xenon headlamps. In the case of the BMW 3 series and the Mercedes C Class, both of these cars have projector style halogen headlamps standard. Not only does this negatively impact safety, but it ruins the look of the car tremendously. In the case of the carbon fiber driveshaft, this is a technology that is only used on cars that cost much more than the Giulia because it reduces reciprocating mass and drivetrain losses due to the decreased weight. In the case of styling and standard features, the Giulia does really well.
Moving on to the driving experience, this is where the Giulia could use some revisions. As soon as the start button is activated on the sporty steering wheel, you’re expecting to hear a sporty and enticing exhaust note. Unfortunately, what isn’t expected to be heard is an unrefined and clattery start up noise. Yes, this car comes standard with a 2 liter turbocharged engine, as all the other competitors do. With the BMW, Audi, and Mercedes 2 liter engines, the noises entering the cabin on start up are much more subdued and refined. In those cars, the engine is saying: “yes, I am a 4 cylinder, but I will try my best to behave like a larger engine.” In the Giulia, the engine is shouting: “I’m a 4 cylinder! Hear me in all my unbalanced glory!” As soon as the drive begins, two things are noticed. First, there are some unpleasant harmonics going on in the cabin coming from the engine when it is being driven at a constant speed.
Again, in competitor vehicles, these noises are mostly silenced. Second, there are acres of turbo lag. In case you don’t know, a turbo needs to spool up with exhaust gases in order to increase engine power. In all turbocharged cars, there is a little lag. In the Giulia, it is very noticeable. Granted, if the engine is higher in the RPM range, the response is very good. The lag is apparent in traffic and when driving at slower speeds. Speaking of being in traffic, the brake pedal must be discussed. In the Giulia, it’s a drive by wire system, meaning that the brake pedal doesn’t have a direct connection to the brakes as in most other cars. Driving in traffic is not a smooth experience because of it being impossible to modulate the brakes smoothly. This creates a very jerky experience, and it becomes tiring quickly.
However, the driving experience is not all bad. The driving experience has two aspects to it that make this car shine when compared to its competitors. A highway on-ramp is all that is needed to show the where the car’s true brilliance lies. For a modern car, the steering is very good. Its precision is unmatched by any other car in its price range. Just a little steering input results in a very large change of direction, and this makes the car feel much smaller than it actually is. Body control is another high point. In many of its competitors, there is too much roll in the corners because the suspension tuning is focused too much on comfort.
The Giulia manages a firm but comfortable ride while offering very sporty levels of body control. This isn’t even the higher end version of the car, it’s the base fixed suspension dampers set up. This is a balance that BMW used to be famous for, however, they are currently too focused on making their cars comfortable in order to please a larger customer base. If the Giulia’s engine and brake modulation refinement were on the level that the body control and steering response are on, this would be the perfect car. Unfortunately, the Giulia needs work in those two areas in order for it to be more competitive.
To conclude, the Alfa Romeo Giulia is a perfect example of “what if.” If the entire package was as good as the steering and suspension calibration, this could have easily been the best car in the segment. To be successful in the luxury sports sedan segment, the car must be a luxurious experience on a daily basis while being really fun to drive. With the Giulia, the lack of refinement from the engine and the difficult brake pedal really detracts from the luxury side of the equation. I really appreciate that Alfa seriously focused on making it so fun to drive close to the limit and at the limit, but when it comes to driving it to work and commuting in traffic, which is how this car will spend most of its life, it doesn’t perform as well as it should. Italy has made some tremendously stylish cars, and the Giulia is definitely one of them. It has so much more soul than its competitors, however, that isn’t enough to be the leader in the luxury sports sedan segment. It’s an amazing attempt by Alfa, but in my mind it still needs work in order to be the ideal sports sedan.