by Gerhard Horn
The Alfa Romeo Giulia has been a revelation for the Italian brand. Back in 2014, Alfa Romeo sold a grand total of 67 new vehicles in the USA. There's one very good reason for this: it only had one model on offer, the 4C sports car, and it catered to a very specific market. But to turn the brand around, the late Sergio Marchionne had a plan...
First, grab some attention by introducing something interesting (the 4C). Then you introduce something for the masses - the new Alfa Romeo Giulia. It's a car you simply can't ignore if you're a gearhead and has been a hit from the start, offering something completely different than the clinical Germans. Sure, it has some flaws, but the compact luxury sports sedan is so good to drive that you can forgive it almost anything. Restrictive rear seats, a relatively small trunk, technology a step behind the rest, and sub-par build quality? Yup, all present and accounted for. But once you drive it, you soon realize that it offers something different to what you'll find in a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That makes it extremely charming, and quite hard to resist. It's been key to the brand's renewed success that has seen figures climb into the thousands, and Alfa isn't stopping now.
Part of the reason why the Giulia remains such a success is Alfa's insistence on improving the car on a fairly regular basis. After two years on sale, Alfa made some style improvements. In 2020 it made some significant changes, restyling the cabin, upgrading the materials and infotainment, and adding some much-needed advanced safety features that were pretty much standard on its German competition. Now, a year later, Alfa is once again making some big changes. For 2021, the range and the optional content packages have been restructured. By studying buying patterns, Alfa noticed what options were popular, and have made them standard fare. The Ti Sport, for example, now comes as standard with a dual-pane sunroof. This allowed them to trim the Alfa Romeo Giulia model line-up from five to three while introducing a new trim base trim line called the Sprint.
See trim levels and configurations:
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Not much has changed exterior wise, mostly because it didn't have to. The Guilia is aging extremely well, not to mention the fact that the people who buy these things love the fact that it is so evocatively styled. It looks like nothing else on the market, and you can have it in a range of colors that suit its extrovert nature perfectly. LED taillamps, LED daytime running lights, and dual-tip exhaust outlets. The new base Sprint model retains the 17-inch alloy wheels, while the Ti and Ti Sport are equipped with 18- and 19-inch wheels respectively.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a similar car in size to the BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. In terms of dimensions, the wheelbase is 111 inches long, while the entire body length comes in at 182.8 inches. It measures 73.2 inches in width, and the height is 56.5 inches and 57.1 inches for the rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models respectively. In terms of weight, you're looking at between 3,522 pounds for the rear-wheel-drive model, and just 100 lbs more for the all-wheel-drive derivative. That puts it on par with the 3 Series as far as weight is concerned. The 3 Series has a wheelbase of 112.2 inches and a total length of 185.7 inches, however. That explains why the Alfa feels so cramped in the back compared to its German rival.
What's the point of having a flamboyant Italian car if you can't have it in an equally flamboyant color? That seems to be the Alfa Romeo ethos. The base Sprint Trim is available in no less than 12 exterior hues, three of which are standard. The standard colors are black, white, and red. The metallic options for the Sprint-trimmed Alfa Romeo Giulia all cost $600 and include Lunare White, Vulcano Black, Vesuvio Gray, Stromboli Gray, Silverstone Gray, Montecarlo Blue, Anodized Blue, Misano Blue, and Verde Visconti (green). The Ti and Ti Sport can be ordered in the same colors, but add two tri-coat options named Rosso Competizione and Trofeo White. These hues are a costly optional extra, however, priced at $2,200. For 2021, Alfa is adding four new exterior colors, with alluring names like Ocra GT Junior, Rosso GTA, Rosso Villa d'Este, and Verde Montreal, but these appear to be subject to late availability.
The 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot under the hood. But since this sedan is aimed at enthusiasts, it's not your normal run-of-the-mill four-pot. This unit develops 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque. The standard eight-speed automatic transmission is also tuned to get the most out of this engine, which is why it can sprint to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds in the rear-wheel-drive configuration. The Giulia is also available with an all-wheel-drive system. The additional grip afforded by the optional all-wheel-drive system brings that 0 to 60 mph sprint time down to 5.1 seconds. The top speed is electronically limited to 149 mph.
These figures are class-leading, but they only tell half the story. Performance is about more than just sprint times and top speed. It's also about the noise, and how the car feels. This four-pot has been tuned to sound as good as possible, while the suspension and steering ensure that the Giulia feels engaging at all times. Ultimately, that matters more to us than the impressive sprint times.
As mentioned earlier, the 2.0-liter four-pot under the Giulia's hood delivers 280 hp and 306 lb-ft. It's mated to an eight-speed gearbox, sourced from ZF. It's a magnificent automatic transmission, used by a number of manufacturers. When used in combination with the zestful engine and its magnificent soundtrack, it provides an eager, somewhat naughty package. Unlike many other four-pot cars of this ilk, the Alfa feels like it wants to play, even in its most docile driving mode. It'll happily light up the tires if you're a bit too enthusiastic with the throttle at a traffic light, but not too much so as the ESC quickly intervenes.
Even at higher speeds, the engine never seems to run out of steam. The gearbox is only too happy to drop down a cog or three when the need arises, making highway journeys a joy.
On its own, the gearbox does a magnificent job. It's always a good sign when a gearbox simply blends into the background, allowing the driver to enjoy the ride. But the Giulia also wants to provide an engaging experience, which is why you get beautifully crafted paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel. One glance at those and you can't help but engage the manual override. The paddles are an optional extra on the Sprint entry-level model.
The first thing you notice about the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan is the fast and direct steering. It's so responsive that it can be quite unnerving at first. We've grown so accustomed to lifeless electric steering that it's a shock to the system to drive a car that darts so effortlessly. This is not the kind of car that allows you to quickly glance down at your phone, because the smallest movement on the steering wheel could easily lead to a lane change.
In terms of traction, the rear-end can step out quite easily if the driver is too aggressive with the throttle. Even the all-wheel-drive model is rear-biased and will do the same. Luckily, there are safety nannies that will intervene and save the day. It's a good thing the braking system is so powerful, having no trouble reigning it back in if you get a tad overzealous.
Being more sporty in its setup, the Alfa may be too firm for some. We think it's a worthy trade for the amount of fun it ultimately provides. If you're the kind of person who wants every trip to be an adventure, this is the car for you. If, however, you want a sensory deprivation tank that places comfort above all else, you'd be a lot better off opting for an Audi A4, or BMW 3 Series.
There's another side to the Giulia's engine as well. It can be practical and frugal when it needs to be. The rear-wheel-drive model has EPA mileage figures of 24/33/27 mpg city/highway/combined. The all-wheel-drive model is slightly thirstier, returning 23/31/26. Comparatively, BMW's 2.0-liter four-pot turbocharged 330i is more efficient, however. The rear-wheel-drive variant of the German has an EPA-rating of 26/36/30 mpg.
The Giulia has a 15.3-gallon gas tank, which results in a 413-mile range for the most efficient RWD model.
The changes Alfa Romeo made to the 2020 Giulia included a new shifter, more high-end materials, and a larger infotainment display. It closed the quality gap between the Italian and the Germans, but it's still not 100% there.
Being a sporty offering, the Giula's major controls are all aimed at the driver. At the center of it all is one of the most beautiful steering wheels, not just in this segment, but in the automotive world in general. The starter button is placed on the steering wheel, and the dials are housed within two stunning circular housings. The paddle shifters deserve to be mentioned separately. Most manufacturers in this segment get paddle shifters completely wrong, so you eventually forget they even exist. The shifters in the Alfa are so prominent, for reasons we shall delve into later, that you regularly feel the urge to engage with them.
The seats up front are spectacular, offering support in all the right places. You never feel as if you might fall out, even when driving enthusiastically. There are 42.4 inches of front legroom, 38.6 inches of headroom, and large doors. The rear seats are less accomplished; those in the back only get 35.1 inches of legroom, but at least the headroom is still decent enough at 37.6 inches.
The main problem, in addition to the lack of rear legroom, is the location of the side pillars. They feel further back than they should be. It's part of what gives the Alfa its alluring side profile, but it means rear entry is compromised. With the rear doors stretching about a third of the way down the rear wheels, rear passengers don't get much space to work with.
As you'd expect from an Italian car, the interior is a thing of beauty, even though the quality is below par in certain places.
Having said that, the designers paid attention to all the right places. Leather seats are standard, as are the 10-way power-adjustable seats in the front. You can go the conventional route and select a black interior, or black leather with contrasting white inserts, but white leather with white inserts that contrast nicely with the black steering wheel and upper console trim is also on offer. The most stunning combinations are the red/black, and tan/black interior options. These trim options are available at no cost across the entire range
The two interior options you absolutely have to have are the $995 Performance Pack (standard on the Ti Sport), adding those beautiful steering-column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters, and the $2,200 Lusso Package, which adds numerous interior extras, like heating for the rear seats, and a unique leather color.
In most cars, paddle shifters are just something a car needs to have these days, but in the Giulia, they are a work of art. They're mounted on the steering column, as opposed to the steering wheel, which means they stay in place even when you turn the steering wheel. It's more expensive than simply mounting them on the steering wheel itself, but it's the kind of thing that matters to a gearhead. Because they're made of aluminum, they're also cool to the touch. And they make the most satisfying clicking sound when you use them.
Here the Alfa is on par with its rivals. Offering 13 cubic feet of space, the trunk is much smaller than the trunks of its main rivals. The BMW 3 Series, for example, offers 13 cubic feet. The rear seats do fold flat in a 40/20/40 configuration, for the odd occasion you need to transport something large.
While Alfa can't do much to change the rear legroom, it listened to the original criticisms and made some changes to the interior storage spaces. From 2020, the Alfa has larger cupholders and more storage spaces for the front passengers.
As mentioned earlier, the model range has been cut down. The new entry-level model is called Sprint, which is a name first used on the 1954 Giulietta Sprint, and then the 1965 Giulia Sprint GTA. When you look at the standard features, there's nothing entry-level about it. As standard, it has leather seats, steering wheel and shifter, 10-way power front seats, remote start, and keyless entry. The Giulia Ti specification adds a dual-pane sunroof. Other niceties on this model include heated front seats, and illuminated door sills.
All models come standard with an 8.8-inch color touchscreen that offers a selection of widgets on a scrolling horizontal layout. The display can also be customized to include shortcuts to the driver's favorite menus for quick access. As an added bonus, the driver also gets a seven-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster for a quick glance down.
The infotainment features voice recognition and a media hub in the center armrest. An eight-speaker sound system is standard, but you can upgrade to a 10- or 14-speaker sound system. Navigation is only available on Ti models and upwards, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard across the range, there's really no need for this feature anymore.
Historically, the downfall of many Alfa Romeo models has been reliability, but so far the Giulia hasn't had a bad run. The J.D. Power rating (for 2019 and 2020) was 74 out of 100. That's not far off the 2020 BMW 3 Series, which scored 77, but still not close to the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class's 80.
As for recalls, there were two in 2019. The first was the adaptive cruise control, which failed to deactivate. The second recall was for a fuel gauge that may have read higher than the actual level. There was one recall in 2020 for rear brake discs that may fracture, causing a loss in braking performance.
The Giulia remains unrated by the NHTSA, but in the IIHS's review of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, it scored Good ratings across the various categories. Only the standard headlights were rated as poor in certain trims.
Alfa adds a lot of the traditional safety kit across the entire range. From Sprint trim upwards, the Giulia is equipped with eight airbags including front knee airbags, traction control, stability control, forward collision warning, hill-start assist, rear park assist sensors, tire-pressure monitoring, and a rear camera with dynamic guidelines. The Active Assist 1 Package ($595) is now a combination of two separate safety packages that existed before. It offers active blind-spot assist, automatic-dimming exterior mirrors, front and rear park assist sensors, adaptive cruise control with full-speed stop and go, automatic high-beams for the lights, and lane departure warning.
In this segment, the game is particularly tough because you have competitors like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, and Audi A4. They all offer more or less the same thing: five seats, a plush interior, and decent, predictable handling. Exactly what you'd expect from cars hailing from Germany where cars are developed over a seven-year lifecycle, and every part is triple-checked before they leave the factory floor.
The Italian car was not developed this way. You can tell just from where the side pillar is located that it follows a form over function philosophy. Yes, the trunk and rear legroom are compromised, but have you seen how great it looks? The same is true of the interior. It's a bit shoddy in certain places, but have you seen what it looks like.
And then we get to the way it drives. It's not as comfortable or compliant as its main rivals thanks to its firm suspension setup, but then you drive it and it makes sense. If you want a comfortable, sensible, efficient, quiet, and brisk car, get any one of the German rivals. But if you're after a driving experience that will thrill you every time you get behind the wheel, you should definitely try one of these before you buy.
The cheapest model in the revised Giulia lineup is the Sprint, which has an MSRP starting at $39,450. The mid-spec Ti starts at $42,700, while the top-spec Ti Sport starts at $45,900. The all-wheel-drive system is an optional extra, available across the entire range, retailing for $2,000. Over and above the base price of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Alfa adds a further $1,495 as a destination and handling fee, which is a little expensive compared to the equivalent prices for the same fees from rival brands.
Three configurations make up the 2021 Giulia roster: Sprint, TI, and TI Sport. All feature the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with standard RWD and optional AWD.
The lineup starts with the base model Sprint. It comes as standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, leather-trimmed seats with 10-way power-adjustable front seats, remote vehicle start, keyless entry, start/stop ignition button on the steering wheel, 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, and forward-collision warning.
The Ti comes with all of the above but adds a dual-pane panoramic sunroof and 3D navigation. The wheels are also upgraded to 18-inch, while the leather seats and steering wheel include a heating function.
The Ti Sport has all of the above features but adds a dark exhaust and a limited-slip differential. Further exterior enhancements include 19-inch alloys, signature colored brake calipers with the Alfa Romeo letters, and gloss black window surrounds. On the inside, it comes as standard with sport leather-trimmed seats with 14-way power-adjustable seats for the driver and front passenger, a sport steering wheel with steering column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters, and genuine aluminum trim throughout the interior.
Now that a lot of the previously optional kit has been made standard, there isn't a lot you can add to the Giulia, and some of the things that you can add are cheaper than ever before. The Active Assist 1 Package ($595), is now a combination of two separate packages, offering active blind-spot assist, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, front and rear park sensors, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beams, and lane departure warning.
On the Sprint you can choose between five packages, including the Active Assist mentioned above. The Sun and Sound package ($1,595) includes a 10-speaker premium audio system with a subwoofer, dual-pane sunroof, and a gloss black shark fin antenna while the Cold Weather package adds heated seats and a heated steering wheel for $800. Available across the range, the Nero Edizione is a style package adding an assortment of blacked-out details for $1,700, but is $200 cheaper on the Ti Sport. Finally, there's the Performance package for the Sprint and Ti, adding aluminum steering column-mounted paddle shifters and a limited-slip differential on the rear axle for $995.
The Ti and Ti Sport additionally have access to the Active Assist 2 Package for $1,695, including everything from the Active Assist 1 Package plus driver attention alert, highway assist system, infrared windshield, intelligent speed assist, lane keep assist, perforated leather shift knob, sport leather-wrapped steering wheel, traffic jam assist, and traffic sign recognition. The $2,300 Premium Package includes a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, heated rear seats, a wireless charging pad, and a few smaller extras. Those looking for more luxury on the Ti will want the Lusso Package at $2,200 with additional power adjustment for the seats and lavish leather and wood trimming. The Ti Sport forgoes these in favor of the sporty Carbon Package, which for $3,500, adds carbon mirror caps, sill plates, rocker panels, grille surrounds, interior trim, and an assortment of blacked-out details.
The base Sprint is a very attractive model. Retailing at $39,450, all you need to add to it to get a proper driver's car is the $995 Performance Package. The result would be a lavishly equipped interior with all the niceties, plus those lovely aluminum paddles and a limited-slip differential.
Having said that, there isn't a large gap between the Sprint and the Ti, and it opens up more optional extras, including the advanced safety kit.
The sweet spot in the range is the $42,700 Ti, equipped with the Performance Package ($995), and Active Assist 2 Package ($1,695). That way you get the best of both worlds. An epic car to drive, yet equipped with all the most advanced safety features Alfa offers. Add the $995 adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, and you have a winner.
The Audi A4 is a fantastic all-round car. It offers a more comfortable, compliant ride, and the interior is a cut above the rest of its rivals in the US. This has always been Audi's forte. Its infotainment system is one generation ahead of its competitors. The virtual cockpit is magnificent because it allows you to control almost everything from the instrument binnacle, which means your eyes never leave the road for more than a split second.
Oddly, the Italian is a bit more practical. The Alfa's front legroom (42.4 inches) and headroom (38.6 Inches) is more than the Audi's 41.3 inches and 37.3 inches respectively. The Alfa's rear legroom is just 0.6 inches shorter than the Audi, so it is a practical sedan. It's just the small door opening, but once you're inside, it's all good.
It's an obvious choice in this segment, but for good reason. It does everything well, and it beats the Alfa in a number of ways, but for those who want to enjoy driving, the Alfa ekes ahead when it comes to the fun factor.
Speaking of fun factor, it's worth noting that Audi's 2.0-liter turbocharged four is available in two outputs. The lesser engine only develops 201 hp, but the high output 45 offers 261 horses. The Audi is outgunned on both fronts by the Alfa in this comparison.
According to historical reviews, the 3 Series used to be the most prolific competitor in this segment, but over the years it has grown in every direction. Where it used to be aimed at enthusiastic drivers, it now offers a more rounded driving experience, with a bias towards comfort. It can still hustle down the road at an alarming pace, but thanks to its lifeless electric steering, it's no longer as fun as it used to be. This does, however, translate into a more refined highway experience. It also makes better use of the space it has available with better ergonomics, beating the Alfa in the practicality stakes. Furthermore, the BMW's 2.0-liter four-cylinder only packs a 255-hp punch, yet it manages to accelerate nearly as hard as the Alfa while using less fuel. BMW also avails a six-cylinder that leaves the Giulia for dead, albeit at a higher price.
Objectively, the BMW is the better car. Add emotion into the mix, however, and the Alfa comes out tops as a car that actually excites you and makes you want to drive. But in every other way, the BMW is a few steps ahead.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia: