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A few years ago, the Alfa Romeo brand made its return to the U.S. with a low-volume, carbon fiber sports car named the 4C. Then, in 2016, the brand made its first mainstream push into the U.S. market with the Giulia, a rival to the BMW 3 series and Mercedes C-Class.
It's the most important car for the brand in decades, so I wanted to see if it's enough to attract buyers away from the German segment stalwarts. I tested the Giulia Ti, the mainstream model that packs 280 horsepower.
I really like the Giulia TI, but other people had some serious problems you need to know about.
Anyone who sees Alfa as an upstart needs to learn some history. Perhaps the most storied brand in auto racing history, Alfa Romeo's bloodline runs so far back that Enzo Ferrari actually started his career working for it. If anyone has the chops to offer the 3-series beater people have promised for ages, it's Alfa.
That's immediately apparent when you sit in the driver's seat; even if you don't get the adrenaline-infused Giulia Quadrifoglio, it's clear that this Alfa isn't messing around. A red and black interior theme meshes well with the flat-bottomed steering wheel. Racing touches, like a wheel-mounted start button and massive column-mounted aluminum shift paddles promise an exciting drive.
Boy, do they fulfill those promises. The Giulia chassis is one of the all-time greats, with dynamics that would shame a slew of two-door machines costing $20,000 more. Two-hundred-eighty horsepower isn't much in the golden age of forced induction, but the Giulia Ti is no slouch. Plus, with confidence-inspiring handling and high limits of adhesion, it's easy to carry speed through the corners.
But that's to be expected. If there's one thing you've heard about Alfa Romeo, it's that its cars drive well. More surprising is just how good the Giulia is as a car. It's comfortable, it's quiet, it's refined. The interior design is both pleasant and unique, with a well-laid out cabin that looks fresh.
It's has a decent sound system, and support for Apple CarPlay. The back seats aren't cavernous, but they're more comfortable than in some competitors like the Cadillac ATS. This feels like a true luxury experience in ways that other luxury newcomers don't.
Finally, I really like the design. It's the perfect proportions of a short-overhang, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan with gorgeous Italian curves rounding out a stunning design. It isn't perfect — the back doesn't have any unique features —but from the front three-quarters view the Giulia is stunning.
I don't normally write about reliability in this section of my reviews, but I have some quality concerns. First, the infotainment system is annoying to use since it relies on a knob instead of a touchscreen. Also, the interior materials aren't as nice as what you get in a Volvo or Mercedes.
I tested two models (including a more expensive $80,000 version that I'm reviewing separately). Both had a bit of a hard time recognizing lock and trunk open commands from the keyfob, which was annoying but far from a major issue.
Giulias tested by other outlets have experienced a lot of issues, however. Motor Trend's test car shut down at a stoplight and refused to restart or shift into drive, requiring a tow. Road & Track couldn't get one to complete a full lap of a racetrack without it breaking in some way, despite multiple attempts.
Jalopnik's car threw a throttle fault code and refused to accelerate on the highway. Car and Driver's long term tester has spent one full month in the shop in only five months of testing, requiring a new fuel pump and differential.
Given that manufacturers have direct control over their press fleets and these cars are meticulously maintained, it is extremely rare for a press vehicle to have a mechanical breakdown. To see multiple Giulias do it was concerning. Alfa Romeo says it has taken note of all issues and worked to rectify any quality problems.
"The quality and reliability of our vehicles is of the utmost important to each and every person working at Alfa Romeo," an Alfa Romeo spokesperson told CNBC. "All our models are getting better every year thanks to the feedback we get from our dealers and customers."
"We're constantly monitoring the quality of our products and we're actively looking for opportunities to improve our vehicles," he added. "Giulia sedans on the road today represent the very best of Alfa Romeo engineering, design and manufacturing."
If quality is sorted — or you just lease one under warranty — rest assured that the Giulia is otherwise free of substantive flaws.
A Giulia Ti Sport is the model to get, starting at $42,695 for a rear-wheel drive model. You don't need all-wheel drive and shouldn't risk compromising the car's dynamics. Expect to spend $600 on a color other than black, white or red. The tricoat Competizione red is a $2,200 option, but lovely blues, grays and silvers are on offer for $600.
For $900, you get Harman Kardon audio. You can probably skip the $950 navigation system because your phone has better maps anyway. Add the Driver Assistance Dynamic Plus package to get the usual assortment of automatic emergency braking and radar cruise control for $1,500.
All in, you'll be paying $46,990 with destination for your well-equipped Giulia.
While some have matched the dynamics of the BMW, no car before has offered 3-series-beating dynamics in a comfortable and capable package for a reasonable price. If the goal was to prove that Alfa Romeo is worth consideration, job done. If it can sort out its dependability woes, Alfa will be unstoppable.
Driving Experience: 5
Price as tested: $51,885