The Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti: A sports sedan for people who want to drive

Last year, Alfa Romeo made me a convert with its Giulia Quadrifoglio. The Italian company’s answer to an M3 has found a lot of fans. But considering the recipe it would be hard not to be one: an engine borrowed from Ferrari (minus two cylinders), lashings of carbon fiber bodywork, and an asking price $10,000 less than any of its German rivals.

But there is more to Giulia than the four-leaf clover. The bread and butter of the range comes with a 2.0L four-cylinder engine, and I’m here to tell you that even though it’s significantly cheaper, it’s almost as good as the fire-breathing version. In fact, I can’t remember falling in love with a car quite like this one.

Alfa Romeo’s return to the US began with the 4C, a lightweight two-seater. But this carbon-fiber chassis sports car sells in tiny numbers; to truly make an impact the company needed something a little more mainstream. That involves a pair of vehicles built on a shared platform (called Giorgio); the Stelvio crossover, which we reviewed earlier in the year, and this, the Giulia sedan. The range starts at $38,195 before discounts, but the one we’re reviewing—and the pick of the bunch, in our opinion—is the $42,695 Giulia Ti Sport, in rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is an extra $2,000, which would be better spent on snow tires if winter performance is a concern.

The mechanical bits

Under the hood is a longitudinally mounted 280hp (209kW), 306ft-lb (415Nm) direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s a four-valve-per-cylinder design using only a single overhead camshaft but with variable valve timing courtesy of parent company Fiat Chrysler’s MultiAir2 technology. A more in-depth explanation of how that works can be found here, but briefly, it uses solenoids to control each intake valve, coupling or decoupling it from the cam.

All Giulias use the same ZF8HP eight-speed automatic transmission. Some might wonder why there is no manual or dual-clutch option, but don’t be alarmed or complain; the ZF ‘box is probably the best automatic gearbox available today and will change gears in less than 100 milliseconds. It sends its torque to the rear axle via a carbon fiber prop shaft, and because our test car was equipped with the Performance Package ($1,200), from there to a mechanical limited slip differential.

The Giulia is mostly built from high-strength steel, but aluminum is used for front and rear subframes, the front suspension towers, plus the doors, fenders, hood, and roof. Weight distribution is a perfect 50:50 split, front to rear. How much weight that is seems to vary depending upon where you look; the user manual says the unladen weight is 3,521lbs (1,597kg), and figured one at 3,636lbs (1,649kg). The suspension is all-aluminum, double wishbones up front and multilink at the rear. Thanks to our car’s aforementioned Performance Pack, it also featured active dampers like the Quadrifoglio. The brakes are 13-inch rotors at the front (with four-piston Brembo calipers) and 12.5-inch rotors with one-piston calipers at the rear.

Visually, the four-cylinder Giulia looks very similar to the more expensive Quadrifoglio, particularly when riding on the 19-inch five-spoke wheels. The giveaways—other than the lack of those four-leaf clover badges—are the lack of any vents in the hood and an absence of the naked carbon fiber side strakes or trunk spoiler. You also miss out on the active front splitter; maximizing downforce is less of a concern given the Ti’s top speed is “just” 149mph (240km/h) compared to the halo car’s 191mph (307km/h).

The interior bits

The Giulia Ti Sport’s interior is a less somber place to spend time than the Quadrifoglio, particularly thanks to our test car’s red leather. The sports seats offer plenty of lateral support thanks to hefty side bolsters, although you do sit offset to the left about an inch from the center of the steering wheel. When you fire up the car, the driver’s seat moves forward and up toward the wheel, returning back when you shut things off to make ingress and egress easier. Other than the slightly offset seating position, our other chief complaint about the interior is a hefty blind spot caused by the driver’s side mirror, which gets in the way when you want to make a left turn.

The steering wheel is a joy to hold—maybe my favorite steering wheel among all the cars we’ve tested recently. The rim is thin rather than beefy, a trend we wish other OEMs would embrace. Controls for the adaptive cruise control are on the left spoke, the starter button offset below, and infotainment on the right. Behind the wheel and the control stalks are those wonderful aluminum shifter paddles. There’s also a shift lever on the center console, behind the cupholders and ahead of the infotainment jog dial and Alfa Romeo’s “DNA” controller that changes the drive mode (Advanced Efficiency, Normal, and Dynamic) and switches between the damper settings.

The main instrument panel is refreshingly analog, with two big, hooded dials—the tachometer on the left and speedometer on the right. In between these is a seven-inch TFT display. Across in the center stack lives the infotainment system’s 8.8-inch screen. It’s not quite on par with the best systems we’ve tested (top marks still go to Audi and Volvo), but the UI is intuitive and, from 2018, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

As a passenger, you probably want to call shotgun. Leg room up front is good, at 42.4 inches (107.7cm), but in the back things are a little more cramped at just 35.1 inches (89.2cm). That’s on par with BMW’s 3 Series but a little less than the 35.7 inches you’d get in an Audi A4.

Storage space isn’t bad—there’s a small cubby to the left of the steering wheel under the dash, a large one between the front seats on the center console, and a glovebox in front of the passenger seat. The trunk gives you 13 cubic feet (368L), which expands as the rear seats will fold down (a 40/20/40 split). However, there’s a large speaker mounted into the rear parcel shelf that protrudes down into the cargo space, which taller objects might snag on.

The driving bits

The best news about the cheaper Giulia is that it’s almost as good to drive as the more expensive halo car. No, it’s not as fast; in addition to the lower top speed, 0-60mph takes 5.1 seconds when the car is set to Dynamic. But for day-to-day driving that’s more than sufficient. All Giulias use the same rack and pinion electromechanical power steering. It’s a very quick steering rack, and in conjunction with the chassis and suspension stiffness the result is a car that’s extremely eager to change direction. Together with that mechanical limited slip diff at the rear, this really is a true driver’s car, one that makes you look for the long, twisty way home to savor the handling as much as possible.

The only real chink in the Giulia’s armor in this regard is the engine, or more specifically its redline. Peak torque occurs between 2,000 and 4,800rpm, with peak power at 5,200rpm. But the party’s all over once you hit 5,500 on the dial. It’s not something you really notice if you’re driving in automatic, but those big flappy paddles do encourage you to pick your own gears, and if you’re it’s easy to forget this motor doesn’t spin into the sevens—until the rev limiter intervenes to remind you.

During my week with the Giulia Ti Sport—a week when I didn’t get to drive it nearly as much as I’d have liked—I averaged about 22mpg. That was mostly city driving and not too far from the EPA’s rating of 24mpg. On the highway the EPA scored it at 33mpg, with a combined 27mpg. (This is another reason to opt for rear- rather than all-wheel drive, which scores 1mpg lower.)

Should I buy one?

If you’re looking for a rewarding driver’s car, particularly one with a bit of luxury and good looks, I can’t recommend the Giulia Ti Sport highly enough. One word of advice: you definitely want the Performance Package, with its limited slip diff; the car’s standard equipment is generous, and so many of the other options are just that.

But for whatever reason—probably the brand’s reputation for reliability—the Giulia is a car not enough people consider when looking for a sporty sedan. FCA boss Sergio Marchionne set some bold sales targets a few years back, ones which it has struggled to meet. The upshot is that there are some cracking deals available; just playing around on the Alfa Romeo online configurator I was offered an immediate $1,750 discount, and I’m pretty sure calling a dealer or two would improve that a bit. And Autotrader has plenty more with a few miles on the clock, many under the $40,000 barrier.

Sure, conventional wisdom would recommend an A4 or 3 Series. But neither of those cars will put a smile on your face the way the Giulia can. Like the Kia Stinger, it’s a driver’s car of the sort BMW used to build in the E30 or E36 days. So try it—I promise you’ll like it.

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