There are plenty of options on the market for a compact luxury sedan. There are the big three Germans; BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, and Audi A4. There are also the not so popular but still good options in the Cadillac CT4, Genesis G70 and Lexus IS300. But since 2016, Alfa Romeo has tried to join this club of compact luxury sedans as they made their North American return. So does the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia have what it takes to be among the established competitors?
Engine – Powering this beautiful machine is an engine that doesn’t really invoke a flamboyant Italian flare that Alfa Romeos of the past are known for. At times when driving around a city, it almost sounds like a diesel. But exhaust noises aside, it is a powerful engine. It’s a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque (209 kW & 415 Nm). Alfa claims a 0-100 km/h time of 5.3 seconds which is around the same times as its German rivals. This engine gets more into its stride at the higher rpm range. Boost comes on hard and pulls the nearly 1,650 kg (3,632 lbs) body almost right up to the 5,500 rpm redline. I know, pretty low redline for a gasoline engine.
There are three drive modes to choose from; Dynamic, Natural, and Advanced Efficiency. They spell out the acronym for “DNA”. Most of the time you’ll be in the Natural mode with the Advanced Efficiency mode making the throttle response very slow and a bit frustrating at times. At the other end, Dynamic mode sharpens the throttle response along with steering and transmission shifts.
Fuel economy is not quite on par with its competitors. The 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia receives a rating of 7.7 L/100km (30.5 MPG) on a highway and 10.5 L/100km (22.4 MPG) in a city. The German and American rivals all have better fuel economy numbers. Only the Genesis G70 and Lexus IS300 have worse ratings than the Alfa Giulia. During my time with the Alfa Giulia, I averaged 10.2 L/100km (23 MPG).
Transmission – Mated to the engine is one of the best transmissions out there; a ZF 8-speed automatic. In the Natural drive mode, the shifts between gears are silky smooth both on upshifts and downshifts. Switch to Dynamic mode and the shifts are faster but also a bit more noticeable. Great thing is though, that the massive column mounted paddle shifters are nearly instantaneously responsive to a pull of the paddle.
Braking – An Italian car must have Italian brakes. As such, 4-piston front Brembo calipers provide the bulk of the stopping force. They are overly assisted, however, because it takes almost no effort from your right foot to bring the car to a stop. So if you do have a heavy foot, it’ll take you a while to get used to them.
Handling – This is by far the best non-high performance handling luxury sedan on the market at the moment. The Giulia has a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution and super fast & precise steering. The car instantly goes wherever you point the steering wheel. The steering weight is a bit on the light side and the thickness of the steering wheel is a bit too small for me but I do have large hands. So I’m sure that most others will find it perfectly fine for them.
In Canada the Giulia is only available with AWD. In the United States you have the option of getting the Giulia with either RWD or AWD. But even with the AWD system, the car still feels very much like a RWD sports car. If you push it too hard through a corner, the back end will step out of line until the traction & stability control systems interfere. By the way, there is no button to switch off those systems.
Ride Comfort – For a sporty sedan, the ride is quite good. The suspension is compliant over most road imperfections and potholes but you may want to avoid hitting the really deep potholes. Not only to give yourself a smoother ride but to also avoid damaging the beautiful 19-inch wheels.
Interior Space – The 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia has an almost identical amount of headroom and legroom, across both rows of seats, as the BMW 3-Series. The Audi A4 is the only one that has more headroom than both – but similar legroom.
In the front, my 6’4” stature fits snuggly into the large bucket seats. I did have to lower the seat to its lowest position for more headroom but with the lowered seat, visibility is still good. The back seats are a different story. Legroom and headroom are very tight for someone of my height sitting behind my driving position.
As for cargo capacity, it is on the small side. It has 368 L (13 cu-ft) of space in the trunk which is over 100 L less than the BMW 3-Series. Happily you can fold the rear seats 40/20/40 for a bit more space.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – As I said earlier, the engine doesn’t sound particularly exciting but at least it’s not too intrusive into the cabin. You do hear it when accelerating from a stop but you can still carry a conversation with your passengers. Wind noise is well subdued but a hint of road noise from the tires on highways is evident inside the Giulia.
Odds and Ends
Pricing – The 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia has a slightly higher starting price than a vast majority of its competitors. It starts at $53,090 CAD ($42,350 USD) for the base Sprint trim and $59,990 CAD ($48,400 USD) for this Ti Sport trim. But this being a demo vehicle, it came pretty much fully loaded which raised the price to $68,190 CAD ($55,750 USD). All of these prices are with the AWD system.
Gadgets – This being a luxury vehicle, it comes equipped as one. But it is missing one or two things. Firstly, it has an 8.8” touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto integration, a double sunroof (though only the front portion opens), front & rear parking sensors, heated seats, heated steering wheel, fully adjustable power seats with thigh extensions, a full suite of advanced safety & driver aids (which include automatic emergency braking, lane keep system, adaptive cruise control, & blind spot sensors), and wireless phone charging to name a few.
What’s missing and would have been nice add-ons are features such as a head-up display and surround view cameras. But of course those would just increase the price of an already expensive car.
As for how the gadgets work, most of them are flawless but there are dents in the Alfa’s armor. The Infotainment system is a touchscreen – previous model years were not – but it’s not as responsive as other systems and the graphics look laggy. Also, the blind spot sensors are overly sensitive. Sometimes when making a right turn at an intersection, the sensors detect the vehicle behind the Giulia and think that it’s a car to the right of me.
Interior Design – The interior of the Alfa Romeo Giulia is matched by no other in this category. The leather is soft and all encompassing in the cabin. The buttons and knobs have a premium, tactile feel. Visually it looks stunning especially in the Tan leather colour that this demo vehicle came equipped with.
But I do wish that one thing, in particular, would be changed. The paddle shifters are great to touch and behold but they are the exact same outer diameter as the steering wheel. When you go to use the wipers or indicator stalk, the paddles get in the way of your fingers. Furthermore, it’s hard to see the paddles when looking dead center at the steering wheel. If only they were a bit smaller.
Exterior Design – From every angle this car is gorgeous to behold. It has just enough sharp lines merging with smooth flowing curves all over the body. I especially love the 19-inch wheels and yellow brake calipers (a no charge extra). I’m not the biggest fan of the green paint though but at least it’s unique just like the rest of this car. It is a headturner wherever it goes.
Warranty – This is where it all falls apart for the Alfa Romeo Giulia. They are not known for being the most reliable cars on the market. But Alfa Romeo still covers their vehicles with the same warranty as the other luxury brands; 4 years / 80,000 km new vehicle & powertrain warranty. For more information on Canadian warranty, click here. For information on USA warranty, click here.
So how does the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia compare against other luxury sedans? First and foremost, it feels like a proper driver’s car. The engine may be lacking a bit of Italian flare and character but it’s powerful and the chassis more than makes up for it. It is a bit more pricey than most others but once you pile on the options in a BMW or Mercedes, their prices will hover around the cost of this Alfa.
As for the elephant in the room – reliability – it is a bit of a risk that you’d be taking. But here’s what I’d do if I had this much money. I’d lease the Alfa Romeo Giulia for 3 or 4 years and if at the end of the term I had no major issues with the car, I’d pay the buyout price and also purchase an extended warranty for the major powertrain components. This is a fantastic car but I think that most people are sticking with the German brands because of the poor reliability reputation that Alfa Romeo gained here in North America.
Thank you to Alfa Romeo Canada for providing the vehicle. www.AlfaRomeo.ca