Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce: Driven

Of course we'd all like a Quadrifoglio. But what if your budget doesn't quite stretch to the Β£60K starting price? Or perhaps the mismatch between gorgeous looks and a puny sounding 200hp on the standard car has you running back to the BMW showroom? Hold on a sec, the Giulia Veloce might be enough to tempt you back.

Oooh, hello handsome
Oooh, hello handsome
Unveiled last year at Paris it hits several Alfa Romeo essentials. Slinky looks? Check. Evocative badge? Check and, indeed, check. Bit more power? Yup, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder now has 280hp and 295lb ft, up from the 200hp and 243lb ft of the existing petrol option. More like it. What's that? All-wheel drive? Oh.

As seen on the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo's Q4 system is 100 per cent rear-driven by default, bleeding up to 60 per cent of drive torque to the front wheels while overspeeding the rears to maintain the rear-biased feel. Comparable to Jaguar's system on the XE in other words and probably a sensible option in a market where even defiantly rear-driven BMW feels the need to sell xDrive versions of its staple saloons. And this is the car we're driving here in Italy. But it won't be the one we get in the UK. Because that one will remain rear-wheel drive, saving 60kg over the Q4 version in the process. We'll file that under 'good news', right?

Half price hero
It's certainly a step in the right direction, the Veloce giving us the option of a Giulia capable of living up to the sporting looks and heritage but for about half the price of a typically optioned Quadrifoglio. Indeed, for those who might consider the latter's pumped-up looks a little overwrought the Veloce - especially in signature Blue Misano - has a fine balance of stealth and style. Pity that paint is a Β£695 extra and the 19-inch Quadrifoglio wheels on our test car don't appear on the UK configurator though.

Silver with red leather? Very nice
Silver with red leather? Very nice
Differences that are included comprise more aggressive bumpers from the Speciale trim level, Veloce badges on the wing and a less extreme (and conspicuously less carbon fibre) version of the Quadrifoglio's rear diffuser under the rear valance, flanked by single pipes. You also get bigger brakes, blacked out window surrounds, aluminium trim on the inside, 'sports' seats and aluminium paddles for the eight-speed automatic transmission - standard for the Veloce, optional on other Giulias. This still leaves a fair gap to the Quadrifoglio though, BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar offering turbocharged six-cylinder of their rival products to sit in the sub-400hp realm and fill the gap to their flagship performance models. Room enough for a detuned V6 with similar power in the Giulia? We'll have to see, but the Veloce is a step in the right direction.

Is it quick enough to live up to the name though? Obviously the roadtester's 'we'll have to drive it in the UK' get-out clause is more appropriate than ever, given the car you see here is the Q4 we won't be getting. But it's clear all that's good about the base Giulia remains in place, now just with a bit more get up and go.

Where's the 'but'?
Which is to say the same fundamentally stylish surroundings, let down by some horribly cheap touchpoints such as the plasticky gear selector. The view out of the Giulia is great though, the pillars shaped to give you excellent visibility and the lightness to the controls and sense of agility all refreshing. The steering is fast and direct and uncorrupted by drive torque the vast majority of the time. Or not at all in rear-driven UK cars!

Good, but it's not great
Good, but it's not great
Meanwhile the ride is crisp and alert with an XE-like sense of flow and the gearbox programming excellent in both automatic and manual modes. The latter is especially satisfying to use thanks to those prominent paddles. Like all regular Giulias there's a three-position mode dial, Dynamic selecting a firmer damper setting if you've specced the Β£1,950 Performance Package with the SDC suspension. While the active locking diff included in this package is a welcome addition you may question whether the adaptive dampers are worth it - the stiffer setting doesn't bring much other than a bit of brittleness to the ride, meaning you'll usually take the option of decoupling the dampers to a Ferrari-style bumpy road setting while running in Dynamic.

Whatever detail quibbles there may be about perceived quality of switchgear and infotainment the fundamentals of calibration, control weights and the rest all have a level of confidence not seen in Alfa Romeo's pre-Giulia product. Guys, now you've got the hang of this please can you have another go at setting up the 4C? Thanks.

If the engine impresses on paper with tech like MultiAir II valve actuation, direct injection and a useful power advantage over the 250hp XE 2.0 R-Sport and 252hp BMW 330i M Sport, it's perhaps not quite as inspirational in operation. As in the 200hp application in lesser Giulias it has a surprisingly diesel-like sound, not helped by a similarly boosty power delivery designed to give you a big low-rev surge of torque. It'll rev out and it remains a nicer choice than the taxi-like rattle of the diesel. But it won't go down as one of the great Italian four-cylinder engines, which is a shame given Alfa Romeo's history in such things.

Dynamics? Yeah, really quite good actually
Dynamics? Yeah, really quite good actually
Lead boots
The other minor moan is in the apparent inability to even partially switch off the stability control. In the Quadrifoglio you get an additional Race mode on the DNA dial, this (when it works...) relaxing the leash and letting you enjoy the natural rear-wheel drive balance and fancy locking differential to the full.

On rear-wheel drive Veloces this fully active limited-slip diff is included in the aforementioned Performance Package. Given there's so much invested in making the Giulia rear-wheel drive it's a pity there's not even a mid-way setting to let you do more with the throttle. We're not talking lock-stops motoring hack hero shots here, just a desire to let a rear-driven sports saloon feel rear-driven. Especially one with a Veloce badge on it. You get a sense of it in the general balance, the steering feel and the sense of agility. But it remains a frustration that - even in Dynamic - the stability control is always intruding on what should be a key handling characteristic.

So, poor man's Quadrifoglio or the canny choice from the 'civilian' Giulia range? More the latter than the former. And no worse for it. It's been said before but while the Giulia isn't perfect it's more than good enough to compete with the best in its class and represent a viable alternative. And that remains a very pleasing thing to say about a sporting Alfa Romeo saloon!

: 1,995cc four-cyl turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive*
Power (hp): 280@5,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,250rpm
0-62mph: 5.7sec
Top speed: 149mph
Weight: 1,429kg ('kerb')
MPG: 46.3 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 141g/km
Price: Β£37,935
*Q4 all-wheel drive as tested; all stats as published for UK-market RWD car





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