So goes the Alfa Romeo crib sheet. One the Giulia hopes to rip up, without totally ignoring the more appealing expectations one might have.
OK, indulge me this one. The Giulia DOES look properly sexy, even in rep-spec 2.2-litre diesel form and without a hint of M3-scaring, 'ring lap troubling Quadrifoglioness. If it doesn't exactly break the mould in terms of general proportions the detailing and carefully contrived sportiness are going to have you feeling pretty pleased with yourself when you park it among the 320ds and A4 TDIs of your middle management colleagues.
Oops, sweeping generalisation alert!
The old 156s and 159s managed the same trick of course. What they could never shake, no matter how sharp they actually handled, was the stigma of being front-driven in a sector where perception of sportiness matters. Or did until Audi managed to sell the dream of nice interiors and 20-inch wheels on front-driven 2.0 TDIs to the upwardly mobile masses.
Focus! We're meant to be doing a proper review here. So we'll look at the 'civilian' four-cylinder Giulias that'll make up the bulk of sales. Two versions will be sold initially - a 2.0-litre petrol with 200hp and a 2.2-litre diesel with 150hp or 180hp. All UK cars come with the eight-speed automatic and start out with the 'price point' entry model, based on the 2.0 petrol. From there you go Super, Tecnica and Speciale with the 280hp petrol Veloce to follow. That gadget-heavy Tecnica and sport-trimmed Speciale (think S Line, AMG Line or M Sport) are only available with the diesel says much about the hold the black stuff has on this sector of the market but it's reassuring to see there are petrol options either side. And, of course, the 510hp Quadrifoglio as the icing on the cake. But we'll save that for another time...
By some fluke we start in the solitary 2.0 petrol available to drive. Saying that my co-pilot and I spend some time asking "This IS the petrol ... right?" It certainly sounds pretty gruff at tickover and low-speed, the torque comes in at a diesel-like 1,750rpm with an unapologetic whoosh and there's not a huge enthusiasm to trouble the upper reaches of the rev counter. Which aren't that high anyway. Once you leave city limits the petrol's greater refinement and smoother nature become more welcome but it's hardly the inspirational alternative to the diesel you might wish for. Hope for that will come with the Veloce, which will cost a burly £38,880 when it eventually comes. Pleasingly it'll be rear-driven for the UK and not the Q4 all-wheel drive they get in Europe.
For now the mismatch between the Giulia's slinky lines and the minicab clatter of the diesel are jarring enough that you'll want to arrive fashionably late at that motorway services meeting so people can SEE you turn-up but not hear you. The tickover really is rather unpleasant, the vibrations through the bulkhead at low speeds and inescapable dervness all really jarring with the sportiness that surrounds you.
It goes alright though and once road and wind noise pick up the drone subsides so you can enjoy the car a little more. The big shifter paddles with their meaningful travel and decisive click compensate somewhat for the manual not being offered on UK cars, though it can be hard to reach the column stalks behind. Who cares though - you can pull both for neutral when you pull up to the line, just like you can in a Ferrari! Gearbox calibration is smart too, shifting unobtrusively in automatic but reacting crisply when you're in the mood for taking control, especially in the Dynamic setting on the three-way DNA switch.
This supposedly relaxes the stability control a tad too but the truth is the frustratingly non-switchable systems rather spoil the fun of the Giulia's rear-driven layout. Now, we're not saying every diesel driving rep will be taking slip roads onto the M6 on the lock-stops. But having gone to the trouble of making an all-new rear-wheel drive platform and offering the option of a proper active, electronically-controlled locking diff there should be scope to loosen the reins just a little. This clutch-based system distributes the torque across the rear axle and is bundled with the £1,950 Performance Pack, adding those shifter paddles and Alfa Active Suspension adaptive dampers too. Frustrating that Alfa Romeo would offer such an assertively sporty package to the car yet deny you even a mid-way stability control setting to let you appreciate what it brings to the car.
And as you progress through the settings there's a sense fiercer damper settings might just be getting a little much for the bushings or structure, harsher bumps twanging through the shell where previously the car felt nicely composed and controlled. Certainly from the light, direct steering and sense of and agility the Giulia has a pleasing inherent sportiness about it. A satisfying, feelgood steer in other words.
All this way into the review and we haven't yet mentioned the Jaguar XE, the rival that in style and spirit the Giulia is probably most closely matched. If perhaps not quite as effective at plucking the heart strings as the Alfa Romeo the XE has a similar deftness of touch when it comes to the handling, perhaps with a little more polish at the extremes and better refinement from its bang up to date Ingenium petrol and diesel engines. For the kind of engaged drivers Alfa Romeo is hoping to attract the Jaguar is going to be the toughest car to beat, the more so with the recently confirmed updates to engines and spec.
The Giulia fights back with a stylish and handome cabin, at least in the heavily optioned cars provided for the UK launch. A low dash, slim pillars and pleasingly uncluttered workspace all focus your attention on a driving experience the Giulia generally delivers on. The infotainment system is neatly integrated into the binnacle but the small screen, the graphics and the interface aren't going to do anything to dent the smugness of Virtual Cockpit equipped Audi drivers. Ditto the nasty sharp plastic seams on important touchpoints like the gear selector or flimsy feeling resistance in switchgear action. And, yes, this is borderline OCD fixation on fairly superficial interactions. But when the class leaders have channelled that into an expectation of perceived quality it has to be considered at best a dropped ball, at worst complacency.
A lot of the 'new Alfa' in the Giulia is immensely encouraging. But hints of 'old Alfa' like this, no matter how detail, might send potential converts scurrying back to the Germans. Should they? These criticisms of the Giulia are valid but they are detail; the bigger picture is of a very accomplished car that combines style, decent dynamics and more than a hint of romance to a sector generally lacking in the latter. An Alfa Romeo you need not make excuses for? It's as close as you could hope for.
ALFA ROMEO GIULIA DIESEL
Engine: 2,143cc, 4-cyl turbo diesel
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 150@4,000rpm/180@3,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,500rpm/332@1,750rpm
Top speed: 137mph/143mph
Weight: 1,445kg (DIN + driver)
MPG: 67.3 (NEDC combined)
Price: £30,750 (150hp Super), £31,950 (180hp Super), £30,995 (150hp Super), £32,195 (180hp Super), £34,150 (180hp Speciale)
ALFA ROMEO GIULIA
Engine: 1,995cc 4-cyl petrol
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 243@1,750rpm
Top speed: 146mph
Weight: 1,429kg (DIN + driver)
MPG: 47.9 (NEDC combined)
Price: £29,180, £30,880 (Super)