The Alfa Romeo Giulia has been on sale for seven years. Or to use another metric, five UK prime ministers. And counting. But hasn’t it aged marvellously? When it was first revealed in 2015, I remember feeling a smidge disappointed it wasn’t as striking as the 156 and 159 that went before it. It’s surely for that precise reason that it still looks so knockout.
Most cars are overhauled or replaced entirely around their seventh birthday, but the Giulia instead receives the most minor of facelifts to keep it going just a bit longer. Maybe because it still feels so right, but more likely because the next one will be wholly electric – as will the whole Alfa range by 2027 – making a more major update a bit redundant at this stage.
It’s unlikely to go muscling back up the sales charts, then, not least when a plug-in hybrid SUV is here to pick up the company car sales baton dropped by the Giulia, Stelvio and their now relatively high CO2. How you feel about the Giulia remaining a purely ICE model is a philosophical see-saw of glass half-full/half-empty proportions. On the one hand, it could be accused of being a throwback in a market where inflated MPG and deflated CO2 figures are the new Top Trumps markers. On the other, it’s a last stand for Alfas as we know and love them. And boy is this car easy to love.
If you want to spot a 2023 Giulia in the wild, it’s easiest when the car’s moving and the DRLs are illuminated. While the styling as a whole is untouched, the lights have changed. At the rear, the lenses get a darker, smoked effect, while at the front, the triple signature of the Tonale – inspired by the SZ before it – is repeated. Naturally, there’s a convoluted ‘welcome’ display as you blip the car unlocked, too.
If such things irk you, then so might the newly digitised instrument display. At least Alfa’s used the technology properly, offering three different layouts – Evolved, Relax and Heritage – of which you’ll probably default to the latter. It says a lot about the deft touch of Alfa’s design team that it can use fonts inspired by its dials in the sixties and seventies and the end product not come across as twee.
The updated range has three trim levels below the full-fat Quadrifoglio, which we’ll drive a little further down the line. The Sprint kicks things off at £43,259, the Veloce (seen here in red) adding an LSD and another £4,500, but we’ve heaped on an extra nine grand by driving it in new Competizione spec. It’s a strong name for what’s basically a trim level, but the highlights do sound enticing; adaptive suspension as well as new matt silver paint on the outside and fancier leather and a Harman Kardon stereo inside.
There’s just one engine for ‘regular’ Giulias now, too, the familiar 280hp tune of 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo. A carbon fibre driveshaft, one of the nerdier headlines when the Giulia launched all those years ago, continues to save 15kg (by weighing just 7kg) to help keep this mid-size saloon firmly under 1.5 tonnes. Which is remarkable when you look at how the rest of its rivals have swelled and gives yet more credence to a gentler facelift over a more comprehensive overhaul, which would have surely stretched out every one of its dimensions.
It means spritely performance, the standard eight-speed ZF automatic doing an even more adept job than its performance figures suggest. This is a wonderfully well set up transmission, managing to feel urgent at lower speeds – second gear redlines at around 45mph – but with impeccable refinement when you’re cruising along in eighth. And no, you’ll never pine for a manual. Not least when the long, aluminium paddles – now standard on all trims – are so delectable. It’s such a simple way of marking out a performance saloon’s intent but one very few people get so right. The subtle sharpness of the rev-matching on downshifts is the cherry on top of it all.
‘There’s no single feature that makes the Giulia and Stelvio such satisfying cars to drive,’ reads the accompanying bumf. ‘Rather it’s the combination of perfect weight distribution, low weight, and sophisticated suspension.’ Normally I’d not quote this sort of stuff, but they’ve nailed it. This is a car that was dynamically tickety-boo at launch, its 50/50 weight split evident from the off. It’s not an outright thriller, nor a car that immediately waves its arms around and gets you excited. As an everyday proposition, it’s deliciously well-judged.
A crueller driver than I might accuse it all of being too subtle. A BMW 3 Series continues to deliver a more visceral thrill, and the fact you can’t even slightly unshackle the Giulia’s stability control ensures it never feels overtly rear-driven. Its balance is undoubtedly sweet but never especially lively. You have implicit trust in the grip below you and end up hustling it along like it’s a thoroughly developed front-driven car.
Flicking the DNA dial into Dynamic brings a sharper throttle and gearbox map, although I’m not sure it’s a habit you’ll get into. So long as you’re assertive with the throttle or shifting gears yourself, this powertrain is always game. And there’s a good chance you’ll press the button ensconced in the DNA dial to flick the dampers back to their softer setting too, like you might engage Bumpy Road mode in a Ferrari. Leave it unpressed and the ride is fussier on rough roads even if there’s evident finesse and it’s never truly harsh. Both setups feel sophisticated enough that you might accidentally leave the suspension in one rather than the other and not notice for a dozen miles.
Ultimately the whole package is smooth and fuss-free, an antithesis to the hyperactive hybrid integration we’ve thus far experienced in the Tonale. This engine can sound coarse when really revved – you’ll likely shift up long before 5,000rpm if you can help it – but in more sedate driving it drops away to near silence. It’s a real shame its emissions price it out of being a decent business option, as this otherwise feels the perfect car for the job. It’s refined enough for big miles while looking truly exotic and slinging its driver nice and low. On so many levels it’s a convincing head and heart proposition.
Granted, there are areas where it feels its age. The rear seats aren’t especially roomy and might swing the debate in favour of a partner extolling the virtues of the SUV they’d rather have. Its updated touchscreen is slim and not as smart nor hi-res as a Tonale’s. But that slight datedness also gifts us physical, intuitive climate control dials. Without wishing to bang an overworked drum, it just works. As does a broadly traditional gear selector that flicks to and stays in a manual mode.
So perhaps the Giulia doesn’t live up to Competizione badging at all – it’s far too easy to live with for such a hardcore suffix. As rivals have sprinted headlong into the world of tech, it feels bizarre to claim Alfa Romeo makes the easiest car to operate in its class. But all told, the Giulia stands out for being a solid choice that just happens to look and drive brilliantly. No wonder it’s aged so well.
Specification | Alfa Romeo Giulia Competizione
Engine: 4cyl in-line, 1995cc, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power: 280hp @ 5250rpm
Torque: 295lb ft @ 2250rpm
Top speed: 149mph
Weight: 1429kg (DIN)
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