Late summer of 1984, my family moved to a new neighborhood. I was 11 years old, and soon got myself a newspaper route. One afternoon after school I was delivering the local daily paper and in the driveway sat a car that looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Since the house was on my route, I was able to get up close to this mysterious vehicle and the badge read GTV-6. The red paint was so lustrous, so deep it looked like you could dive into it. The well bolstered front seats were swathed in gorgeous Italian hides in a shade of tan that made tan exotic. The angled steering wheel, the font of the gauges so unique. I was experiencing my first Alfa Romeo.
With two daughters, the GTV-6 later gave way to a Milano, and finally a 164S. So taken was I with Alfa Romeo I vowed I would own one myself. While still in high school, I bought my own 1986 Alfa Romeo Spyder that I daily drove to school everyday in every kind of weather. Looking back now it is incredible how lucky I was to own that car, and it was such a joy to drive. Continental Motors in New Haven was the local dealer. Housed in an old brick garage, even the dealer itself was dripping with charm and character that no other cookie cutter dealership could match.
Here I am in Cape Cod, and there couldn’t have been many cars I’d rather have been driving. In college, I’d drive my Alfa the 250 miles to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One winter in 1994, the area was hit with a blizzard with arctic winds and mountains of snow. It must have taken a week until I could get into my car. Bless her, she started right up, but within minutes the parking lot was engulfed in smoke. A trip to the dealer gave the fatal diagnosis-the engine block had cracked from the cold, and my joyous years with my Alfa Romeo had come to an end. The next year, 1995, Alfa Romeo quietly withdrew from North America.
Thirty five years after falling in love with my neighbor’s GTV-6, Alfa Romeo delivered a Giulia to my doorstep. And yes, I was excited. It is a sedan, yes, but it is a small one. And a rather striking, handsome one at that. From the front, it looks like nothing else on the road. Out for dinner in a sea of 3-series, the Giulia is a breath of Mediterranean air. Like a well designed Italian suit, there is no excess or gaudiness. The Giulia looks sophisticated, and self assured.
Inside, the Giulia is charming, and its own cabin to experience. The main gauge cluster with its hooded tach and speedo recall the Alfa Romeo Duetto. While many luxury cars revert to dark wood accents for a serious look, the Giulia sports light walnut that would have looked natural in a 1960’s Ferrari touring coupe. Leather dash, door caps with aluminum trim and pedals compliment the elegant cabin. Crema hides and our car’s panoramic sunroof combine to provide a light, airy cabin. Tasked with taking me to Atlantic City for Labor Day weekend, the Giulia was supremely comfortable, and the Harmon Kardon stereo was a welcome companion. I appreciated the knobs for the climate control.
However, I do have some reservations. Room in the backseat is at a premium, and getting in and out is not graceful. The trunk looked very small, and with a narrow opening, the Giulia’s practicality seems limited to grocery shopping or a weekend couple’s getaway. The graphics on the 8.8″ screen look hopelessly outdated; the navigation screen would have looked old compared to a ten year old Honda. Thankfully, the Giulia has Apple CarPlay and Andoid Auto, so you can overlook this flaw as long as you hook up your phone.
While other markets have different displacement engines and a choice of gas or diesel, North America gets a 2.0L turbo charged four, rated at 280hp. The wild Quadrifoglio is another story, for (hopefully) another review. All Giulia’s come with an 8-speed automatic. For a brand that is all about passion and driving engagement, I find it disappointing enthusiasts are not offered a manual. Thankfully, the Giulia is an entertaining car to drive. This is the first Alfa Romeo sedan designed as a rear wheel drive car since the 75/Milano was discontinued in 1992. All wheel drive is available, but unless traction is called for on the front axle, the Giulia is always in rear wheel drive. Boasting perfect 50/50 weight distribution, handling is delightful, and well controlled. You’d have to be pretty reckless to upset this car. With a 0-60mph time of 5.3 seconds, the Giulia is sufficiently quick off the line and in passing. Steering and brake feel (Brembo brakes BTW) should satisfy nearly any driving enthusiast. The automatic is a willing partner when it’s in the mood, but there were instances when the transmission software seemed at a loss of what it should do.
The Giulia is available in six different trim levels, each of which offer all wheel drive. Our TI Lusso AWD stands as the Giulia with an emphasis on luxury. While the Giulia comes standard with about what you would expect for a car starting at $42,495USD, our test car had nearly every option available. Including delivery, our Giulia cost $55,290USD. What’s more, the features I enjoyed most of our car-that light walnut wood, the aluminum pedals, Harmon Kardon audio, and panoramic moon roof were all options, and their absence would have taken away from the car. While I liked our Giulia, $55,000 seems just a bit too pricey.
Alfa Romeo’s return to North America is still too recent to predict its outcome. Many Gen X’er’s were still in school when Alfa left our shores, and its dealer network is small. Not known for Lexus levels of reliability when they left, buyers are likely gun shy about what modern Alfa Romeo reliability is like today. For some, however, the Giulia is a compelling alternative when every other small sport sedan on the road is either a 3-series or a C-class. Those willing to take the plunge will be rewarded with an engaging driver’s car, handsome looks inside and out, and of course, Italian character. Will it enrapture an 11 year old the way the first GTV-6 did with me? Probably not, but Alfa Romeo has the 4C for that kind of experience!