by Gabe Beita Kiser
There's a market near Brunelleschi's famous cathedral in Florence, Italy that sells just about any leather good one can imagine. Like the cathedral, the leather goods are distinctly Italian in the sense that the craftsmen use the given medium, hide in this case, as a canvas on which to produce beautiful trinkets. Quality, however, is not a top priority for these artisans, who don't have to deal with complaints once tourists disperse and fly back to their homes and find that their new wallets, purses, and belts disintegrate with alarming ease.
The experience of losing €15 on a butter soft leather wallet that didn't survive a trip back to America was at the forefront of our minds when we picked up a Vulcano Black Metallic Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti from airport parking on a rainy San Francisco night. This wasn't our first rodeo with Alfa Romeo's Giorgio platform in Giulia manifestation, but the last time we drove this athletic and compliant beast, it was powered by a feisty 2.9-liter twin-turbo Ferrari-derived V6 that spit out 505 horsepower with all the drama you'd expect from a red Italian car festooned with carbon fiber and a set of paddle shifters. The engine in the Giulia Ti doesn't boast the same impressive 174 horsepower-per-liter output as the Giulia Quadrifoglio.
However, the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four still pumps a mighty 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque through the eight-speed automatic and out to the wheels. Though American buyers get no other transmission option, Alfa Romeo is kind enough to give customers in the snow belt the choice of going all-wheel drive if standard rear-wheel drive is not suitable for when the weather conditions get slushy. This Giulia came equipped with AWD, what FCA calls "Q4" on high-end Alfa Romeo and Maserati models, so there were no qualms about clicking the Giulia Ti's drive select dial out of "Advanced Efficiency," past "Normal," and into "Dynamic" mode as soon as the engine was warm to take corners at speed.
As the Bridgestone Turanza's dipped their treads into the wet, it immediately became apparent that the marvelous handling-the suspension and steering that couldn't get more communicative if it were surgically attached to your hands and bottom-from the Giulia Quadrifoglio has gone nowhere. Sure, there's less horsepower to throw around and the pause between throttle input and torque output can at times make it feel as though gear changes and turbo lag haven't been ironed out to perfection, but grip the steering wheel and its talkative, always-on-target approach to the world and Giorgio's ability to translate the battle between road surface and tire tread into easy-to-digest terms at fiber optic speeds makes Giulia an enabler.
We repeat: This is not your average luxury car. Any driver with an inkling for G-force will look for excuses to take corners violently. It doesn't matter it its the cul-de-sac at the end of your block or the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, Giulia's badboy persona will coax the troublemaker out of monastery inhabitants. And like Europe's many ancient cathedrals, Giulia's gothic styling tells of how it spoils its the five (but really 4) believers it seats inside with the opulence of a cream white leather interior and a dual-pane sunroof while reserving no compassion for sinners on the outside world, wielding what feels like more than 280 horsepower, a light 3,600-pound body, and a carbon fiber driveshaft to exorcize the roads.
Even when it encounters traffic, the bane of any car, the Giulia can dispatch its adaptive cruise control system with stop-and-go functionality that's included with the $1,500 Driver Assistance Dynamic Plus package to remove the burden of playing an unwanted game of footsie with the throttle and brake pedals during the morning commute. With rain-sensing wipers and automatic Bi-Xenon headlights equipped with auto high beam, the driver has little left to preside over aside from cycling the satellite radio channels using a rotator knob that controls the primitive but useable 8.8-inch infotainment display or switching songs playing through Bluetooth audio (no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on this 2017 model) on the optional $900 Harman Kardon audio system.
It's a shame Alfa Romeo didn't give drivers more toys to play with, though. With the automatic functions taking over all but steering (lane departure warning is as good as it gets here) and without the distraction of a winding road, it doesn't take long before the discerning eye reaches around the cabin for feels of the stitched leather and walnut interior accents only to find that Giulia is cobbled together in a fashion that's not dissimilar from the cowhide goods in Florence's famous leather market. To be fair, nothing on the car broke or skewed from its intended operation during our strenuous testing, but the structural integrity of the overall package felt as though the interior components could break off with too hard a press or worse, after long-term use.
More recently, automakers have been experimenting with clustered architecture, which layers different materials according to strength and mass so that the areas that need the most structural integrity remain strong while unneeded weight is shed from areas that don't require the strength of steel. In this case, Alfa Romeo seems to have layered the quality of the Giulia so that the chassis, steering, and powertrain are tuned to tantalize tastes of perfection while the lower quality components ruin the feel by making this $51,490 luxury sedan feel disposable-not with the sort of planned obsolete Apple uses for its iPhone batteries, but in the same way a soft Florentine wallet erodes more each time it's pulled it out of a pocket.
It's a cruel paradox to have on a car that spends every minute in "Drive" begging to be abused, but at least Alfa Romeo provides basic warranty and powertrain coverage for the first four years or 50,000 miles. But what of the owners that come after? Like the leather vendors in Florence, FCA doesn't seem to have gotten that far, having poured the majority of its investment in the Giorgio platform, those wild looks, and the brand's overall revival. The results of that spending strategy have at least kept Alfa's tradition of majestic driving and questionable quality alive, but it makes it harder to sign a check to the dealership when its your money that hangs in the balance. Maybe check out the leasing options?