Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
Power meets Poise. The Italians attempt to cut a wedge into a thinning market.
With Alfa competing in an ever-shrinking market for executive saloons as small SUV’s continue to dominate demand, the model may be quickly overlooked, the trio of prestige German’s hold a tight grip over company lease vehicles in the UK. Meaning Alfa will need to tempt private buyers, especially for the 276hp 2.0 petrol Veloce version which, ignoring the Quadrifoglio is easily the pick of the bunch. The 197hp version of this engine will keep you happy, but in Veloce trim, with an extra 80 horsepower, the Alfa is a car that wakes the sense in a sea of monochrome Germans. Nothing in this bracket will excite in this the way the Alfa does on a dismal rainy morning with a long drive into the office ahead. There are compromises, but far fewer than expected. Certain things the Germans just get right and don't need comment, like the sweep the windscreen wiper or the position of a fog light switch. BMW spends a lot of time getting the ergonomics for the driver millimetrically perfect, but the driving dynamics are departing their famed routes. Mercedes is falling into the same trap, a C220 just doesn’t feel very special, it has all the right badges, but as a product, there is a strong whiff of the mass market through the cabin. These cars, along with the Audi A4 are shifted as chassis’. They are counted in units and leave you feeling that if the product team had had their way they could have slipped in the buts they really wanted, alas a blank space and a conservative choice is made. It all becomes a bit of a cheap lease feel, or a rental spec.
"This alone gives a nicer tactile feel than the plastic ones seen in many twin-clutch shifters."
Not so with Giulia, which gives the impression a small Italian design house in Milan were consulted and made it clear they would take great offence if their design never left the drawing board. The safety engineers have made a visit but, most of the small details remain. The cabin in the Veloce is set apart from the crowd, the paddles behind the steering wheel are aluminum, an option on lower-spec models. This alone gives a nicer tactile feel than the plastic ones seen in many twin-clutch shifters.
Now, Alfa would probably love the production numbers that their competitors move, but being content with what you’ve got is where the Guilia shines. The chassis works with you, it's not quite as polished as an A4 but believe it or not, that is a good thing. The car has a charm and character slowly slipping away from the segment. A punchy power kick out of a tight corner raises your heart rate and forces concentration, where the competition focuses on feeling capable and so relaxed you could take up juggling as a hobby during the morning commute. It's a different approach for a different sort of person. The German saloon hopes its driver has had a morning espresso as it whisks them toward a day of spreadsheets and meetings. The Alfa assumes you had 3 minutes to dress and need to stop at a barista on your way to a fine tailor before getting you to a building so creative looking that no one has figured out the location of the front door.
Brands are in a cold war for buyers of saloons, none want to put all their eggs in one shrivelling basket,
The engine is a little firecracker, lots of power that doesn't insist you work hard but does ask for a commitment for all the ponies, and reasonable economy. It will cost company car buyers more per month than competitors offer, especially those with a fuel cap and a plug door. The list price is above both the Jaguar XE-Sport and BMW 330i in M-Sport trim, but the fun factor makes up for the extra cost. You’re paying for an experience much more than a straight line throng, the Gulia dancing with you around a corner like a Tango partner. Push it and it responds, leaving you in no doubt that it wants to enjoy the road as much as you do.
There is a boosty motion though instead of a smooth growth of power. That eagerness to redline isn't lost compared to contemporary stick, but this isn't a naturally aspirated singing V6 from a bygone era. The punchiness is welcome once up to motorway speeds and doesn’t detract too much from a back road sprint.
Rear-drive for the UK is welcome. A twisty section of road in mid-February will expose the weaknesses here but for the majority of the year, this is the preferable set up to a heavier all-wheel drive.
The infotainment is a weak spot of the overall product and one that Audi owners may find too infuriating. The clean displays from Ingolstadt run rings around the Alfa. If a dash screen is an important pillar to your buying decision, then keep walking.
Veloce buyers will be making the decision to buy a driver's car over an all-rounder. The car is best on a flowing road with a committed driver, those that are having to get into the saloon market due to growing families taking them from hot hatches will find a great companion in the Guilia, those wanting a luxury child courier need not apply. Jaguar offers a great competitor to the Germans whilst still giving a luxury feel. The Germans will probably snatch your business if you want a motorway mile muncher, no doubt Guilia drivers will look out for each other, it's a car to buy because the obvious choices were better but not as inspired.
The truth is that although this market is thinning and demand shifted years ago, there are still buyers for this car, sadly many will stick with the prestige brands as their loyalty has grown year after year. Brands are in a cold war for buyers of saloons, none want to put all their eggs in one shrivelling basket, there is too much to be made in the SUV sector. This leaves the Guilia left out in the cold. The dealer network will need a sneak attack in the dead of night to catch the established marques napping. If you've been hopping from one manufacturer to another and your time for a refresh is approaching, try to remember this Alfa. It might just find the corners of a smile that you thought were dead and gone in the small executive saloon market.