Il Campione: This Italian sensation reminds us that driving can indeed be joyous
It’s become de rigueur to declare driving dead. If we are headed for autonomous transport, ask the pundits, why bother having fun behind the wheel? Just clamber into your soulless people hauler, select “Stultifying Ambient Tedium” on your Pandora playlist, and tune out.
At Motor Trend, dear reader, we are not ready to give up the fight even if the morning commute is more slog than slalom, more torture than torque. We contend that a schlep through shoreline traffic should not extinguish individuality.
Driving great distances because you can is a deep-rooted American tradition. It is the declaration of independence of the industrial revolution. It is our automotive destiny. We embrace the decreasing-radius corner, the back road’s unexpected undulation, the hairpin with a dusting of gravel at the apex.
At a time when the formulaic commoditization of cars is not only expected but also a standard feature, we rebel. We are not ready to relegate our cars to the status quo of an A-to-B anachronism of conveyance. We believe in the necessity of passion and finding your heart’s desire. There is still time—time to instill joy, lust, rivalry, and good cheer.
For those who won’t settle for ubiquity, we present the 2018 Motor Trend Car of the Year: the Alfa Romeo Giulia.
Mr. Ford knew there was something special about the car that carries the cross-and-serpent badge, the company where Enzo Ferrari proudly got his start in racing before hanging his own shingle.
Our international bureau chief, Angus MacKenzie, an axle-greased eminence of the auto industry, knows his Alfa history. In his London garage sits a 1967 GTV coupe—a rolling symbol of Alfa Romeo’s glory years. “Back in the early ’60s, Alfa occupied a niche that BMW later came to own—building fast, charismatic sedans, wagons, and coupes that looked good, weren’t stupidly expensive, and, most of all, were utterly delightful to drive,” he says. “This new Giulia recaptures the spirit of those 1960s Alfas but in a thoroughly modern manner.”
Anyone reading Motor Trend this past year shouldn’t be surprised. Each successive time we drove the Giulia, through summer’s ripening breath, our enthusiasm grew.
Alfa Romeo’s erratic legacy in this country might mean many Americans have limited knowledge of this brand and heritage. Consider the Giulia your introduction.
“There is sorcery in this car,” road test editor Chris Walton says. “The Giulia fills the space vacated by BMW. Yet even at the apex of its reign, a 3 Series never rode this well or cornered with such poise and precision simultaneously.”
When seeing the strength of the 2018 COTY field, some readers might feel our choice of the Alfa Romeo seems out of left field. The Honda Accord, Kia Stinger, and Tesla Model 3 all make strong plays for top honors (and received individual first-place votes among our judging panel).
But Alfa Romeo is dashing away with the prize—the first time an Italian brand has won COTY or our discontinued Import Car of the Year—and anyone who has been reading Motor Trend this past year shouldn’t be surprised.
The Quadrifoglio version then eviscerated its rival BMW M3, Cadillac ATS-V, and Mercedes C63 S super sedan entrants in a four-way comparison on streets and at the racetrack.
And in Best Driver’s Car against 11 supercars, sports cars, and six-figure grand tourers, the Quadrifoglio (the lone sedan) finished in a respectable sixth.
Each successive time we drove the Giulia, through summer’s ripening breath, our enthusiasm grew.
“Best steering, best chassis—this car saves the sport sedan market,” says guest judge Chris Theodore—the former Ford and Chrysler product development executive who knows something about creating cars to make a soul ache.
“It was the only car that said, ‘You’re in charge. You want to be nice and tidy, I can be tidy. You want to be crazy and drift me wild, I’ll be right there with you,’” Theodore adds. “You fall in love with it.”
The top-trim Quadrifoglio, with its 505 fiery-footed steeds underhood, is blisteringly quick, especially in Race mode. Its 2.9-liter V-6 is a Ferrari engine with two cylinders cleaved off, for crying out loud. While punching out a 3.8-second 0–60 time and a 12.1-second quarter mile, this pazzo Alfa also carries asphalt-peeling lateral grip. Yet the car’s attitude can be adjusted on the throttle at will. In short, it goads expletive-shouting misbehavior while delivering a commute-friendly ride.
What clinched the Calipers was the base Giulia. Many brands make blazingly fast performance sedans, but when the exercise is reduced by mass-market pressures, the lesser version is often found lacking. Not so here. The $38,990 USD base Giulia achieves something Acura, Lexus, Infiniti, and Jaguar have tried futilely to do for decades: build a better compact sport sedan than the Deutschlanders.
The Giulia’s eager 2.0-liter turbo-four is no wisp of an engine. It cranks out a stunning-yet-tractable 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. In testing, we admit to finding a hint of lag and lash, but when the powerband kicks in to second gear and the exhaust note awakens, your senses will revel in jubilation.
“This is a car that snorts and burps and gurgles,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle says. “There is something visceral about hearing the car. There’s sheer fun in driving a car like that.”
Call it Italian finesse; Alfa understands the nuance that some drivers might desire, a racy engine response without turning the suspension into a kidney-beating nightmare—hence the option of a softer suspension setting while in Dynamic mode. Markus observed that some twisty roads benefit a car with a softer shock setting. Adds Ed Loh: “The Germans always say, ‘We make everything hard.’ No! Softness. Softness.”
Putting the power to the pavement is a proven ZF eight-speed with 100-millisecond shift times and the ability to skip-shift from eighth gear directly to second if instant hp is needed. If you are stuck in the typical morning snarl, a switch to “A” mode changes the shift logic to smooth and calm. So what if we Americans don’t get a manual version? One toggle of the cold, all-aluminum paddle shifters will make you cease yearning to row your own gears. The Brembo brakes, normally a sure thing, and brake-by-wire system earned some frowns for being mushy under pressure, though.
“It handles absolutely beautifully, with light, linear sports car–like steering,” features editor Christian Seabaugh says. “It rides like a luxury car with no impact harshness in the cabin, and it’s downright quick. This is a car that puts a smile on your face. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting at a stop light, bombing down a back road, or cruising on the highway. It just wants to please.”
Many luxury sedans have imitated the stark Germanic style. But Alfa retained its legacy of what an Italian car’s exterior and interior should look like. It is unmistakable and sensual, imbuing a cosmopolitan glamour to the driver.
“The design, packaging, and various visual elements seem to come together to complement each other,” former Chrysler design boss Tom Gale says, pointing to the shield grille, shrouded instrument cluster, and ’60s-inspired wood inlays as iconic Alfa styling points.
Alfa Romeo could have taken the cheap way out, relying on tacked-on pieces of faux heritage. But no, the whole car is heritage—swoopy, sexy, and more than a little brazen. The smooth detents of the buttons, the rheostatic clicks of the dials, and the swing of the stalks all carry a tactile elegance. The italic typeface on the instrument gauges connotes velocity. The back seats, though a tad tight on legroom, are draped in the same sumptuous leather as those up front.
This snazzy aesthetic travels into places most people won’t see (but Theodore did), such as the attention to detail in the chassis design—with stout spring perches, strut-tower braces, and shrouding of the cooling system.
Now let’s talk value. This segment is cutthroat, and Alfa has not flinched at what is expected. After following the industry-standard 36-month, $399 USD/month lease deal, it launched a 24-month, $299 USD/month lease deal that should get the attention of any individual with Maserati tastes but a Mazda budget.
Carrying such a gutsy engine could tank fuel economy. But the Alfa is a miser. The rear-drive version of the 2.0-liter Giulia delivers 21.7/37.9/26.8 mpg (10.8/6.2/8.8 L/100km) city/highway/combined in our Real MPG tests, while the Quadrifoglio managed 15.8/28.5/19.8 mpg (14.9/8.2/11.9 L/100km)—in both cases, underperforming the EPA ratings slightly in city and combined and significantly exceeding them on the highway.
As for safety, the Giulia was rated a Top Safety Pick+ by IIHS, its highest rating, and earned top marks for its automatic emergency braking and headlamp systems. The Giulia carries a five-star rating in the European NCAP evaluation. It offers smart cruise control (down to a full stop), forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and numerous other systems. And although other cars blare Klaxons to warn of a lane departure, the Giulia thumps a bass line more akin to a Deadmau5 beat.
As to the elephant in the room: Some readers with long memories will recall Alfas of yore as temperamental and unreliable—the main reason for its departure from this market in 1993. And upon Alfa Romeo’s return to the North America, some early-build 2017 Giulias had issues with electrical gremlins. But in this year’s accelerated wear-and-tear Car of the Year testing of three Giulias, we found nary a glitch, hiccup, or bark of protest—while several cars from other luxury automakers had notable issues.
Is the Giulia perfect? No, but neither are any of its rivals. Tetchy brake modulation makes a gliding limousine stop a challenge. The fantastically supportive optional sport seats have imposing side bolsters that require the figure of a Milan runway model. The rear-seat footwells needed some sharp bits burred. The all-season tires on the all-wheel-drive Q4 version were a bit greasy. The infotainment screen could use a more complete user experience (Apple CarPlay is an anticipated rolling change) and a higher-resolution rearview camera. And for all the elegance of the interior, the plastic gearshift conjures a PlayStation joystick.
But those are minor points. Our peckish panel of judges had similar quibbles with every car in this year’s field. The Giulia was the only vehicle whose essence enraptured the jury with its charm and unbridled zeal for driving. Nearly every judge uttered the word “love” when describing this car. “I would be so happy if every day I got to be in this car,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman says.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo told us that his shimmering Juliet “doth teach the torches to burn bright.” And so we compare thee, beautiful, passionate Alfa Romeo Giulia—your styling, road manners, and sheer sensuality of driving.
After we had tested all the finalists, we deliberated their attributes. MacKenzie noted, even to those who might not vote for Giulia in first place: “Look at all the smiles. This car makes you smile.”
A Car of the Year should evoke such strong emotion. For those who feel that the journey is as important as the destination, your chariot awaits.
|2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia (Ti) Q2||2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia (Ti) Q4||2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-6 alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||SOHC, 4 valves/cyl||SOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.6 cu in/1,993 cc||121.6 cu in/1,993 cc||176.4 cu in/2,891 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||280 hp @ 5,200 rpm||280 hp @ 5,200 rpm||505 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||306 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm||306 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm||443 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm|
|REDLINE||5,500 rpm||5,500 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||12.7 lb/hp||13.3 lb/hp||7.5 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.0-in vented disc; 12.5-in vented disc, ABS||13.0-in vented disc; 12.5-in vented disc, ABS||15.4-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.0 x 19-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 18-in cast aluminum||8.5 x 19-in; 10.0 x 19-in forged aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||225/40R19 93V (M+S) Pirelli Cinturato P7||225/45R18 91W (M+S) Bridgestone Turanza EL450||245/35ZR19 93Y; 285/30ZR19 93Y Pirelli P Zero Corsa AR Asimmetrico|
|WHEELBASE||111.0 in||111.0 in||111.0 in|
|TRACK, F/R||61.3/64.0 in||61.4/63.2 in||61.2/63.3 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.6 x 73.7 x 56.5 in||182.6 x 73.7 x 57.1 in||182.6 x 73.7 x 56.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||35.4 ft||39.0 ft||37.0 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,559 lb||3,728 lb||3,808 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||50/50%||52/48%||53/47%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.6/37.6 in||38.6/37.6 in||38.6/37.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.4/35.1 in||42.4/35.1 in||42.4/35.1 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.1/53.6 in||56.1/53.6 in||56.1/53.6 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||13.4 cu ft||13.4 cu ft||13.4 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.1 sec||1.7 sec||1.5 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.8||2.9||1.7|
|QUARTER MILE||14.2 sec @ 99.4 mph||14.0 sec @ 98.3 mph||12.1 sec @ 118.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft||122 ft||99 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)||0.80 g (avg)||0.97 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.1 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)||27.1 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)||24.2 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||1,600 rpm||1,600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$50,035||$51,490||$85,495|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||4 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.3 gal||15.3 gal||15.3 gal|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||21.7/37.9/26.8 mpg||20.3/33.3/24.6 mpg||15.8/28.5/19.8 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||24/33/27 mpg||23/31/26 mpg||17/24/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||140/102 kW-hrs/100 miles||147/109 kW-hrs/100 miles||198/140 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.71 lb/mile||0.75 lb/mile||0.99 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|