Car-isma: Alfa Romeo’s sparkling new sedan and crossover are making Italian cars great again.
By Steve Siler
A long time has passed—22 years, in fact—since Alfa Romeo st opped selling cars here in the United States, and even longer since Alfa Romeo sold great cars here in the United States.
Sure, a few of its gorgeous, quarter-million-dollar 8C coupes and road-sters made their way into collectors’ hands here circa 2010-2012, and since 2014, Alfa has offered a less expensive but infinitely less satisfying mid-engine sports car called the 4C here, too. But Alfa hasn’t sold any cars of any significance here since the last wedgy 164 sedan rolled off the boat in 1995, so you get a pass for not knowing anything about this storied Italian automaker and the two vehicles that are leading its charge back into the lucrative U.S. luxury automobile market: 1) Alfa Romeo was founded in 1910 in the famously fashionable city of Milan, and 2) it started racing in 1911.
In other words, the new Alfa Romeo Giulia (pronounced “Julia”) sport sedan and Stelvio SUV have style and speed in their very DNA. They may look different in profile and face different competitors, but they share a common platform, are motivated by the same turbo-charged four- and six-engine choices, and after driving both, I can say they’re as rich in character as pasta fagioli is in flavor. Furthermore, at the time of this writing, the high-performance, 505-hp Quadrifoglio models of each held respective world records around Germany’s infamous, 12.9-mile Nürburgring racetrack, effectively earning the Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglios the distinction of being the world’s fastest sedan and SUV, respectively. All this while looking and feeling just so deliciously Italian.
So, ben tornado—or welcome back.
2018 ALFA ROMEO GIULIA
(BASE PRICE: $38,990, QUADRIFOGLIO: $72,995)
While it’s all too fashionable for modern sport sedans and crossovers to don the so-called “predatory look,” the Giulia has a death stare menac-ing enough to send its competitors scrambling away in search of their mommies. Like the Lexus IS, BMW 3-Series and Infiniti Q50 sedans, the Giulia is a rear-wheel-drive compact sedan, a set-up that gives it such a sexy, long hood and a rear-set cabin. To anyone familiar with Alfa Romeo! We’ve missed you.
Alfa Romeo’s stylistic history, the V-shaped grille and lateral lower air intakes make the Giulia unmistakable as such, though the Giulia’s Alfa-ness is expressed with particular intensity with its elongated headlamps that dip down along the bottom yet cut straight across the top. Together with the broad chin, they impart the car with a sense of formidable width. Further back, the design grows more conventional, not unlike that of the 3-Series only more voluptuous, terminating in a ducktail decklid and rear bumper that could have come off a Ferrari.
While Alfa Romeo is ostensibly a luxury brand, the Giulia’s interior is decidedly free of frivolous poofery, no kitschy clocks or gathered leather—that’s the realm of its fellow FCA-owned Maserati brand. Rather, the Giulia’s cabin is all business, with firm but perfectly bol-stered sport seats, low-gloss materials mostly rendered in black, and large round instrument dials nestled in Alfa’s signature dual-pod design. Like the BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS, the Giulia is tight on rear-seat space, and the slick-looking infotainment system is controlled by a dial-type controller that resembles those of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz without working quite as well as any of them, but those gripes pale next to the pleasure of gripping one of the industry’s best steering wheels, with its flat-bottom, thin-rimmed design.
One press of the Engine Start button sprouting from the steering wheel hub fires the standard Giulia’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a 280-hp powerhouse, to life. The standard transmission is an eight-speed automatic with manual shifting enabled by gigantic shift paddles behind the wheel. Turn that wheel and response is immediate, with brilliant body control and copious steering feel even in aggressive corners. Enthusiasts will certainly prefer the more tail-happy rear-drive model, but all-wheel drive is available, too.
And then there’s the aforementioned Giulia Quadrifoglio, with its 505-hp twin-turbo V-6, standard all-wheel drive and choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions. Nearly double the price of the base Giulia, the Quadrifoglio dials everything the base Giulia delivers in terms of looks and feel up to 11, and it only seems pricey until you drive a BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C63 and realize they’re nowhere near as fun yet can cost much more. I only got to drive this one about 20 miles, but they’re 20 miles I won’t soon forget. In a word, it’s bellissimo.
2018 ALFA ROMEO STELVIO
(BASE PRICE: $42,990, QUADRIFOGLIO: TBA)
The Stelvio is basically a Giulia in SUV form. While it’s priced slightly higher, so too is its suspension, giving it greater ground clearance, which, combined with its standard all-wheel drive, affords the Stelvio nominal off-road capability. The longer roof and hatch-style cargo access add some genuine utility, too. That said, it’s no Suburban in terms of space; indeed, the Stelvio should really be considered more of a sport sedan with a backpack than a conventional SUV in designer duds.
If you want to know what the Stelvio is like to drive, just go back and re-read what we said about the Giulia—it’s tight inside, especially in back, and pretty much all of the Giulia’s character-rich interior ele-ments are installed verbatim. The headlamps look even more menacing on the road with the entire span of their brow line illuminated in LEDs. Arriving as it did a few months after the Giulia, the Stelvio may just be hitting dealerships as you read this, but it’s widely expected to be more popular than the Giulia once word gets out how good it is. As for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, those aren’t slated to arrive until 2018 at a price point expected to be a touch higher than its sedan counterpart.
To test drive one of the models reviewed here, visit Rick Case Alfa Romeo, 3500 Weston Rd., Davie.