Alfa Romeo Giulia is almost awesome

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The line of people ducking responsibility for pricing and feature decisions on the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is destined to be a long one.

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I guarantee there will not be three more exciting or beautiful cars than the Giulia introduced this year, but those decisions — nearly $86,000 for a car with manually adjustable seats? Controls that are years behind the competition in ease of use? — will prevent Giulia from being the hit its performance and looks deserve.

This is corporate malpractice. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) engineers and designers did their job, but the rest of the organization failed to understand the competitive reality. The result is a car that can run with the BMW M3, Cadillac ATS-V, Mercedes AMG C 63 S and other great sport sedans, but fails at simple tasks like tuning the radio and adjusting the front seats.

The Giulia is the first fruit of a $5-billion program to make Alfa Romeo a leading luxury brand and a cash cow for the struggling automaker. Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne bet money FCA cannot afford to lose that Alfa can morph from irrelevance into a brand that can compete with Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Jaguar and Mercedes.

Giulia prices start at $37,995 for a rear-wheel-drive model with a turbocharged 280-horsepower four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine. A base all-wheel-drive Giulia with the same drivetrain costs $39,995. All Giulias get the latest version of ZF’s outstanding eight-speed automatic transmission.

The top model is the rear-drive Giulia Quadrifoglio, recognizable by the enamel four-leaf clovers on its front fenders and an astounding 505-hp 2.9-liter V6 bi-turbo under the hood. Giulia Quadrifoglio prices start at $72,000.

I tested a Quadrifoglio with blind spot alert, USB ports, Harman Kardon audio, lane departure and front collision alerts, navigation, carbon-fiber Sparco racing seats, carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes, 19-inch wheels, active carbon-fiber front spoiler and more. It stickered at $86,850. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Giulia is more powerful and costs more than competitors like the Audi S4, M3, ATS-V and Infiniti Q50 Red Sport. It’s got a bare two horsepower more, but a substantial 73 pound-feet (99 Newton-meters) more torque than the slightly more expensive twin-turbo V8-powered Mercedes AMG C 63 S.

The demanding Marchionne delayed FCA’s new Giorgio architecture several times because the vehicles in development weren’t good enough to compete with those outstanding cars.

The extra time paid off. The Giulia’s handling and acceleration are outstanding. The steering may be the sharpest and most responsive of any sedan on the road, but it’s not touchy, with a clear on-center feel. The suspension clings to the road in fast turns and hunkers down for acceleration. Even with aggressive sport tires, the adaptive suspension also absorbs bumps reasonably well, and road noise is acceptable.

Ferrari influence
Alfa’s corporate sibling Ferrari engineered the Quadrifoglio’s 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 to produce a whopping 505 hp and 443 pound-feet (602 Nm) of torque. The exhaust note is unobtrusive until you floor it or activate the dynamic or race modes. Then it delivers a satisfying rumble and back-pressure burps.

The interior is snug and attractive, trimmed with attractive leather, contrasting stitching and carbon-fiber trim. Storage for phones, cups, and other items is good. Rear legroom is fine.

The trunk has a narrow opening that makes it hard to load large objects, but its size is competitive.

The seats are comfortable, though the optional racing front seats have manual adjustments that offer fewer choices than the competition. They also lack memory for the driver’s settings. If you don’t think that matters, count how many $87,000 sedans you see parked on the street. Everybody else used the valet, and valets often adjust seats.

Power seats are available, but not with the Sparco carbon-fiber sport seats. Note to Alfa product planning: Rich Americans who’ll shell out $2,750 for carbon-fiber seat backs will also want a decent range of adjustment and memory for their settings. Heated and maybe cooled front seats, too.

The display screen for navigation and audio is small. Unlike leading competitors, it’s not a touch screen. You have to use a cumbersome rotary controller to access many features. Combined with iffy voice recognition, the controls can be frustrating.

Poor controls expected
The poor controls are inexplicable. FCA’s Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands have the auto industry’s simplest and best controls, the combo of touch screen, buttons, dials and voice called Uconnect.

There’s no excuse for using a third-rate version of BMW’s iDrive with Uconnect in FCA’s corporate parts bin.

Despite those frustrations, the Giulia is a wonderfully engineered sport sedan and a joy to drive. It’s easy to forget its failings as you slice through traffic, hug curves and delight at the exhaust note.

To enjoy that, though, you have to get past the annoying controls, pricing and feature packaging. Buyers faced with terrific competing sport sedans from brands they know and trust are not likely to do that.

When Fiat Chrysler’s history is written, the Giulia won’t be the car that saved the company, but it comes maddeningly close.

DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS

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1 Comment

  1. Stephen Wainwright on

    Oh dear no electric seats? If you base your view of a magnificent driver’s car on that then stick to driving flabby American jalopies or anodyne far east wagons. The Guila is great and the QV a tour de force. Forza Alfa!