In a segment long dominated by the Germans, the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia is a welcome addition.
It offers all the performance and luxury expected of a proper sport sedan, but with far more style and flair than the competition. Even without stretching up to the range-topping Quadrifoglio version, it’s clear that this car is something special.
You have to hand it to the Italians: in a world full of cookie-cutter shapes and oversized grilles, the Giulia stands out from the crowd in the best ways possible. It’s a gorgeous car with an aggressive sensuality, accented on my test car by bright yellow brake calipers contrasted against dark Verde Visconti metallic green paintwork.
Inside, the look is understated but rich – especially in Sport trim with its deeply bolstered leather seats (and even more so with my test car’s leather dash and door handles, a $1,200 upgrade). The infotainment display is smoothly integrated into the dash rather than being plunked on top like a tablet, and it has a bit of a brow to help keep the sun off the screen. Subtle Italian stylistic flair is evident everywhere, even down to the seat perforations, which have an elongated diamond shape that elevates them from merely functional to functionally fashionable.
With 280 hp and a whopping 306 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Giulia Ti Sport and its 2.0L turbocharged engine is a sizzling performer – and it gets better the harder you drive it. Moseying around town at low rpm, the engine is perfectly mild mannered and provides serene transportation for you and your passengers. Open the taps up, however, and the Giulia lunges forward with a sonorous snarl. The redline isn’t particularly high – only 5,500 rpm – but the engine begs to be pushed into the fun zone and accelerates with gusto, managing the zero-to-100 km/h dash in a snappy 5.3 seconds.
Driving Feel: 9/10
In Ti Sport trim the Giulia has a taut, well-sorted suspension with lively, eager handling and some of the best driver connectedness this side of the Mazda MX-5. The front tires clearly communicate what they’re doing, body roll is minimal, and cornering is crisp and predictable. It all adds up to make the Giulia a superb driver’s car, and best of all, the Giulia manages this while still retaining a comfortably supple ride quality.
Brake performance is more than a match for the engine, and the big four-wheel discs haul the Giulia down from speed with rapid confidence. In normal mode, the eight-speed automatic transmission can be a little slow reacting to shift commands from the big paddle shifters, but when slipped into sport it snaps off crisp, instantaneous shifts, making for a truly entertaining and engaging driving experience. It’s almost enough to forgive Alfa Romeo for not offering a manual transmission, and certainly enough to forgive the automatic’s occasional rough low-speed shifts.
The Giulia is a well-equipped car, with even the base Sprint trim including comfort and convenience features such as heated leather-trimmed seats, multi-zone air-conditioning, heated steering wheel, keyless entry and start, power front seats with adjustable lumbar support, a panoramic sunroof, and much more.
My Ti Sport test car added features including a bigger 8.8-inch infotainment screen, navigation system, heated rear seats, leather-trimmed sport seats up front, aluminum interior trim, a limited-slip differential, coloured brake calipers, unique sport front and rear fascias, bigger 19-inch wheels, and additional driver-assist technology.
My test car was also fitted with additional goodies including a $1,700 Premium package (the big draw in this one is the upgraded audio system and wireless charging pad), $1,395 Nero Edizione blackout appearance package, and $1,200 leather trim package.
User Friendliness: 7/10
Most of the Giulia’s controls and ergonomics follow convention and are perfectly easy to use, but it has enough quirky touches to give it a proper Italian character and cause some confusion for the first couple days. Case in point: the drive mode controller, which spells out “DNA.” It’s cute, but not exactly obvious – not like sport, normal, and eco. I finally figured out that “D” means dynamic, “N” means natural and “A” means – umm, I forget. It’s the efficiency mode, so I just thought of it as “Anemic.”
The old-school analog gauges are a nice touch, as are the steering-wheel-mounted start button (it’s oh-so-Ferrari) and massive column-mounted paddle shifters – in my opinion the best in the business. I wasn’t so keen on the infotainment interface, which is nicely configurable in terms of display setup but has some convoluted menus. It’s also a bit laggy, especially when using the touchscreen (the console-mounted rotary controller offers quicker response). Outward sightlines are generally decent, except when shoulder checking, where I found the B-pillar a little obstructive.
The least user-friendly feature isn’t part of the car itself, but rather the key fob: it has a big centrally located panic button that’s far too easily activated, and on several occasions left me with a loudly-honking car simply because I’d bumped something against my pocket. I’m not the only victim, and there are entire forum threads devoted to fob modifications aimed at reducing false alarms.
Lashings of leather and nicely textured surfaces make the Giulia’s cabin a very pleasant place to spend time, while the standard multi-zone climate control, heated seats, and heated steering wheel ensure you’ll remain properly comfortable.
The sport seats in my test car were firm but supremely supportive, with deep bolsters to hold you in place during spirited cornering. I found them to be perfect, but then I’m someone who wears slim-cut Italian shirts. Folks with more of a linebacker build might find them a trifle restrictive and prefer the base car’s seating. [I feel seen. – Ed.]
Five seats and a decent-sized trunk make the Giulia as practical as any sport sedan is expected to be. Up front offers plenty of room to stretch out, although in-cabin storage space is at a bit of a premium (the glove box is laughably small). The back seat offers good legroom, but the rakish roofline means headroom is tight: I’m 5-foot-11 and my hair was brushing the headliner in the back. Helping add a touch of luxury for rear seat passengers are a panoramic sunroof and, in my test car, heated rear seats.
Alfa Romeo doesn’t list the Giulia’s trunk space anywhere on its web site or available spec sheets, but it’s generally in line with its competition. Compared to my own early-2000s BMW 3 Series, the Alfa offers a similar amount of space but is slightly more difficult to pack due to its shorter, shallower trunk opening. If you need to carry long or awkward items, the Giulia does have folding seatbacks, and my test car had tie-downs, grocery hooks, and a cargo net.
The Giulia scores well on the safety front, with a solid selection of driver-assist technology standard across the range. This includes blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. Ti models and above also get semi-autonomous driver technology with lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, and traffic jam assist.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing the car’s structure performed well, earning good scores in all crash tests. Headlight performance was rated “Good” in models with curve-adaptive lighting, but the base headlights scored poorly for their performance around corners. The upper child seat latches are easy enough to find and use, while the lower latches (equipped for the outboard positions only) are a bit more difficult, being buried somewhat in the seat.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
Rated fuel consumption for the Giulia is 10.5 / 7.7 / 9.2 L/100 km city / highway / combined. It’s a decent mid-pack performance, falling in between the thirstier Genesis G70 2.0T AWD (11.4 / 8.5 city / highway) and the more frugal BMW 330xi (9.5 / 6.9 city / highway). My real-world numbers didn’t quite measure up because I spent my week more concerned with enjoying the Giulia’s stout power delivery than maximizing fuel economy, so after nearly 400 km of mixed driving I’d used an average of 11.6 L/100 km. It was well worth the price of admission, mind you – even when topping up with expensive premium fuel as recommended on the fuel door (the BMW and Genesis are no different in this regard).
With the base Sprint trim starting at $51,590 before freight and taxes and my well-optioned Ti Sport coming in at $66,385 as tested, the Giulia certainly isn’t inexpensive. It is, however, entirely competitive with its main rivals including the BMW 3 Series Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Genesis G70, and Alfa Romeo’s impressive list of standard equipment and well-conceived packages help keep most of the Giulia’s more desirable features within reasonable reach.
With its engaging handling, powerful engine, and inimitable Italian style, the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia is a seriously compelling entry in the highly competitive sport sedan segment. Alfa Romeo doesn’t yet have the established reputation here in North America as its stalwart German rivals, but it has a long history in Europe, backed up by the Giulia’s four-year, 80,000-km warranty. For those seeking a sport sedan with sublime handling and stylistic flair, the Giulia is well worth a look.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||280 hp @ 5,200 rpm|
|Peak Torque||306 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.5 / 7.7 / 9.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||370 L (estimated)|
|Model Tested||2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia TI Sport AWD|
|Price as Tested||$66,385|
$7,395 – Verdi Visconti Metallic paint, $700; Customer Preferred Package (Sport), $2,400; Premium Package, $1,700; Nero Edizione, $1,395; Leather dash and Upper Doors, $1,200