After the QV storm comes the calm. After the brawn comes the brains. Meet the Alfa Romeo that’s courting sensible Mercedes money. Damon Sinclair asks if the Italians have a winner on their hands with the Giulia Super
So, let’s get one thing straight. It’s all very well roping in the guy who engineered the breathtaking Ferrari 458, getting him to bring along the engine blueprints from Maranello, having him produce a money-is-no-object sports saloon like the Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde, charging consumers a-million-and-a-half randelas for it, and then basking in the limelight of a segment turned inside out. It’s a whole other thing making a great mass-market car. After all, tyre-shredding, white-knuckle excitement can only take you so far. And this is Alfa Romeo’s ultima sfida: while it may have vanquished all comers with its super-saloon, that’s not where the real volume lies. In order to succeed on a grand scale, it needs to forget about soul and passion for just a second and work to ensure fundamentals such as fuel economy, practicality, reliability and connectivity are woven into the Giulia’s armoury. However, the Italian marque seems to shy away from such utilitarian matters. The vehicle’s dynamics – and, more importantly, the visual representation thereof – are of utmost importance here. That’s why it has ditched the Giulietta-based front-wheel-drive platform in favour of rear-wheel drive, so even the base car could run toe-to-toe with the much-vaunted BMW 3 Series. It’s also why the visuals of our Giulia Super test car – full of Italian elegance – render us instantly smitten. It’s sleek, as if the cabin is leaning back over the rear haunches in order to fully emphasise its right-wheel-driveness. Squint hard and there’s a passing nod in its aesthetic to the Maserati Ghibli. No mean feat when our Super starts life at R625 000, and the big-brother Mazza asks R1.6 million from its keeper. The Super is peppered with a host of nice-to-haves that confirm its status as a premium conveyance: a speedier-themed body kit, chromed exhaust pipes and 17″ alloys (the Base’s 16″ wheels are laughably small). Safe to say that – in the metal – the Giulia is a total original, one to melt the hearts of even the coldest, most cynical Beemer and Benz fans. But there’s just no comparison between seeing a leopard in captivity versus seeing one in the wild. This Alfa’s shape is next to nil without motion. Parked on the side of the road, kicking its tyres, sure, it’s an expression of style, but when you allow its sensuous curves to flow with action, only then do you truly behold its beauty. Best of all, it’s as if this motion infects the cabin with emotion, like some sort of potent Italian juju. It’s tricky to explain: BMWs feel a certain way – a great way, a precise way –but Alfas have a different feeling altogether. It’s a sense of excitement, a quickening of the pulse, a certain rhythm in driving them that is simply indulgent. The first takeaway is the immediacy of the steering (which is faster lock-to-lock than its competitors); then the absence of any front-wheel-drive scrabble as the torque is delivered to the road just so by the rear wheels. At anything above moderate speeds, the steering is a tad over-light, but that also gives the sense of the car casually tossing aside its kerb weight. Courtesy of double- wishbone suspension there’s agility here, as if it can do things more run-of-the-mill vehicles just cannot. Which is perfect for moments like this, when I am tucking its chiselled nose between sheer rock faces and stark canyon drop-offs, prodding the throttle to deliver a slug of torque from its turbocharged motor. The 47 kW/330 Nm is deployed in
a composed, entertaining manner; never skiddy or frenzied – you’ll rarely edge the rear tyres out of line on the road unless it’s wet. The ESP cannot be deactivated completely anyway, so it’s good to know that you’re always safe. The eight-speed ZF transmission – which is identical to that of the BMW 3 Series – is refined and magnificent, whether you take on gearshift duties yourself with the paddles or twiddle the DNA rotary knob between Eco and Dynamic and let the tweakable shift-map do its own thing. Even the four-cylinder engine – hardly the most emotive of power plants – has a lovely gruff noise at low rpm and revs determinedly all the way to the red line. It hits 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 235 km/h only underlines this Alfa’s intrinsic sporting nature. Fun and fluid as they may be, compact sedans need to be about more than just dynamism; the cabin needs to be both a refuge from and a conduit to the always-connected world we live in, and I’m happy to report the Giulia Super doesn’t drop the ball here. The seats are part leather, part cloth and the cabin execution on the whole is smart, only bested by an Audi A4 specced with Virtual Cockpit – but that beats pretty much anything these days. The larger satnav screen gives the fascia a look of substance; otherwise twin circular gauges in front of the driver are quite conventional, almost traditional. The pulsing starter button on the steering wheel is a special touch, once again evoking that link to Alfa Romeo’s sister company, Ferrari. In my estimation, that’s no coincidence. Like any expression of national pride, Alfa is genuinely fostering a bond with the great Italian supercar marque. In doing so, the Giulia Super displays a skill set that puts it on par with the refinement and quality of the Germans. But it is in the realm of styling and dynamic appeal that the emotive Italian encourages huge partisan loyalty amongst enthusiasts. Why ‘partisan’, you ask? Well, it might surprise you to hear – as it did me – that, thanks to the legacy of decades of local production, South Africa is the country with the highest number of Alfa Romeos on the road after Italy. Translation: that’s a whole lot of Alfisti clamouring for this charismatic addition to the marketplace. This is indeed the mass-market winner Alfa Romeo has been dreaming of.
For more information, visit alfaromeo.co.za.
Text: Curtis Tissen; PHOTOGRAPHY: QUICKPIC