► New 2.2-litre diesel Alfa Romeo Giulia tested
► Claimed capable of 67.3mpg; CO2 of 109g/km
► On sale in September 2016
Alfa’s scorching Giulia Quadrifoglio has already impressed, but if the new saloon is going to drag the brand firmly into the D-segment limelight – rivalling Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar’s offerings – then the more conventional versions will have to perform similarly well.
Is the diesel Giulia as likeable as the 503bhp monster?
In some ways, yes. For starters, you don’t need to spot that evocative badge to realise this is a car with Italian flair. The neat integration of features at both ends – headlights, tail lamps, exhaust – make for a cohesive design that roundly out-classes everything of a similar size in the company car park.
But is it still gratifying to drive?
Have no fear – even though this isn’t the full-fat QF, it’s still a fine-handling car. It isn’t just thanks to cleverly judged steering weight, either – it’s partly down to new front suspension design that apes a double-wishbone configuration, but with a ‘virtual’ lower wishbone that comprises a pair of rods. These work to optimise the tyre’s contact patch, keeping it close to perfect, improving feel, grip and feedback.
Compared with its rivals (including the impressive 3-series and XE pairing), it impresses. It’s pin sharp and so responsive that it feels like the car’s guessing what you’re going to ask from it. We’d urge you to switch Alfa’s rotary DNA dial to Dynamic, however, because with the lighter weighting in default Normal setting the responses can feel a little erratic. The extra weighting of D mode feels like it’s the best setting.
It can’t corner like a 3-series though, can it?
It’ll have to go to a group test to be sure, but our suspicion is that the Alfa will pip the BMW here. Alfa’s saloon is a neatly balanced car and it has a relatively low centre of gravity.
The Giulia doesn’t roll around much when pressing on through corners, as a result, and its lightweight architecture means it changes direction very swiftly indeed. Let’s not forget it’s rear-wheel drive, either; you can’t totally disengage the traction control on non-Quadrifoglio versions, however, but despite this it dynamically still up there with the best in the class.
Said DNA control also affects throttle mapping and how long the gearbox hangs onto each ratio – so if you do dial it up, expect penalties in comfort and fuel economy.
Wait: who cares about an Alfa’s fuel economy?
Clearly the Italians do. Enough that they’ve built an all-new aluminium diesel engine for this platform. Like the Ingenium in the XE, this 2.1-litre diesel isn’t the last word in refinement, especially when cold. It’s vocal in the Giulia, and not in a nice way. Its spread of torque is wide thanks to the variable-geometry turbo but despite a balancer shaft to smooth out some of the rumblings, it’s still louder and rougher than we expected a modern engine to be.
Thing is, there’s a 2.0-litre petrol coming – and this is a far nicer engine to drive than the diesel. In our minds that’s the best pick in the range if you’ve crossed the 503bhp supersaloon off your wish list. Its rev-happy nature and crisp throttle response felt better-matched to the Giulia’s lively handling.
Isn’t the Giulia auto-only?
For our market yes, but fortunately the ZF eight-speeder performs well. We absolutely adore the paddle-shifters located on the steering column, too, as they’re just like those you’d find in a Ferrari. You only get those on the higher-spec Giulia Super we’re driving here, though.
We drove a manual car on the launch too, but that’s not coming to right-hand drive markets, due to packaging problems. Don’t feel shortchanged, though. It doesn’t drive as well as the auto, with a cheap-feeling gearknob and overly long throw.
And here’s a nice touch for the enthusiast: the carbonfibre propshaft from the Quadrifoglio version is installed on the diesels, too. You’ll never see this and it’s unlikely you’ll even notice its benefits, but you have to admit it’s a stunner of a pub fact.
What’s the catch, then?
Quality. The Giulia lags behind all four of its rivals in terms of the quality of both cabin materials (some odd panel gaps, plastic burrs and cheap-feeling plastics) and the multimedia system – which is dated, slow and controlled by a rotary selector that appears just like the BMW and Audi touchpads, but isn’t fingertip-sensitive and feels flimsy when used.
There are bits we really like about the Alfa Romeo Giulia, and bits we don’t. It isn’t as much of a complete package in the way its rivals are, but in a few crucial aspects for those who love cars and driving, it’s at the top of its class. The quintessential flawed diamond.
Our only slight hesitation here is with regards to pricing. We understand it’ll be aimed towards the upper end of the sector, directly against an equivalent-spec 3er. That’s bold, considering the latter car’s talents.
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