The sports saloon. A breed of car which the German marques appear to have down pat; for a long time, the answer to the question “Which compact executive should I buy?’ has usually returned a product made in Munich (BMW), Ingolstadt (Audi) or Stuttgart (Mercedes-Benz).
For sure, Jaguar has had a good stab at the business with the XE, and indeed, its status as our Car of the Year in 2015 should give you some idea about the esteem in which we’ve held it in the past. Trouble is, its time in the sun was short; better rivals have come along since and exposed its failings, and while a recent facelift has dealt with most of these, it hasn’t resolved all of them.
So where does the Alfa Romeo Giulia fit into all this? On the one hand, it’d appear to be the perfect antidote; a simmering vat of Italian brio behind a scowling face – but on the other, the task it faces is huge, given Alfa Romeo’s prior run of underwhelming products and a dire reputation for reliability.
On this latter front, Alfa is clearly attempting to right the ship. The Giulia, somewhat remarkably, now comes with a five-year, 75,000-mile warranty, and in that regard it offers something none of its rivals can match. You also get three years’ scheduled servicing thrown in, and as if that weren’t enough, five years of breakdown cover too.
On top of all this, Alfa’s saloon has just been breathed-upon mildly; all models now get the wider central screen with smartphone mirroring, hitherto an option for most, and there are mild revisions to the diesel engines to both reduce their NOx emissions and boost their power outputs.
The headline news, however, is the addition of this new Veloce Ti version to the range. It retains the 276bhp, 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine of the standard Veloce, but adds the bodykit, five-hole alloys and heated electric seats from the barnstorming Quadrifoglio model; you also get some shards of carbon-fibre and ambient lighting inside, and you can specify the same optional carbon-fibre appearance pack and colours as the Quadrifoglio, too.
If this makes the Veloce Ti sound to you like something of a diet Quadrifoglio, you wouldn’t be far wrong. That’s no bad thing, however, because the Quadrifoglio is without a doubt the most characterful of the current small hyper-saloon set, both to look at and to drive. The Veloce Ti should therefore bring similar flair to the part of the market which is occupied by the Audi S4, Mercedes-AMG C43 and forthcoming BMW M340i, which is where its £46,005 price tag places it.
There’s a problem, though, and you may already have worked it out: in such esteemed company, the engine needs to develop getting on for 350bhp to keep you in the hunt. The Veloce Ti, on paper at least, looks to be somewhat outgunned – or overpriced, depending on which way you look at it.
So which is it? Well, your first impressions upon climbing aboard would probably nudge you in the direction of the latter. This is a huge step forward over Alfa Romeos of old, make no mistake, but the quality of the plastics used is still slightly behind those of its competitors.
Mind you, the leather-topped dash of the Ti adds a welcome touch of class, while the new central screen means the interior feels a fraction less downmarket than it did before – even if that screen isn’t quite as crisp or as beautiful to look at as its rivals’.
It is at least slick, responsive and easy to use, though, and the same goes for the rest of the Giulia’s interior. Gone are the days when you’d find an Alfa Romeo’s electric window switches on the roof. Now the buttons are where you’d hope to find them and the instruments are clear – and handsome, for that matter, set in true Alfa Romeo style within individual, steeply-raked scoops.
And while the Giulia is cosy – you feel more hunkered down and enclosed than you would in an Audi or Mercedes – you never feel short of space in the front. The rear seats offer enough room, too, and while you’ll find more in an S4, you won’t need it unless you’re particularly tall or wide.
On the whole, then, the Giulia holds its own in pleasing your head. But it’s to the heart that Alfa Romeos appeal most – and here, happily, the Veloce Ti excels.
Even trickling through town it feels sweet and eager to please, its engine refined with just a hint of a burble from the exhaust to remind you that you didn’t buy the diesel; its torque-converter automatic gearbox shifting smoothly and quickly and pulling away without the jerkiness of an Audi dual-clutch set-up.
The car we’re driving here is fitted with the optional adaptive suspension system, which comes as part of the £1,675 Performance Pack; you get a limited-slip differential into the bargain, which makes its slightly hefty price worth paying. With this set-up, the Veloce Ti offers a sublime balance between breathing over larger undulations and smoothing out sharper ruts, while also allowing just a trace of the imperfections below through to prevent you from feeling wholly disconnected from the road surface.
It comes as something of a surprise to find when you flick it into ‘Dynamic’ mode that the exhaust note doesn’t change – the sound you’re hearing comes purely from the pipes, so it lacks the outright drama of its artificially augmented rivals. But it’s somehow sweeter for that, the thin, keening rasp redolent of Alfa four-pots of old at its top end, if admittedly not quite as loud or as rich.
In this mode, the chassis is tauter, though still not so stiff that it crashes through mid-corner bumps, and that allows you to pick a line and stick to it beautifully. The steering is even better, though; remarkably quick, but without that artificial off-centre dartiness that’s so often engineered into modern steering systems. Here, the steering’s speed is progressive and predictable, and its feel impressive for an electric system. It makes the Veloce Ti feel even more deft, even more rewarding than the similarly involving Jaguar XE.
Of course, if you lean on the power too hard mid-bend, the rear end will try to step out, but if you’ve left the traction control on, that’ll do a good job of catching it before traction has been broken. Even with it off, the tail moves quickly but progressively; if you’re not in the mood for tail-out antics, that just means it’ll allow you to dial out any understeer that might have crept in – though given the uncanny way the Giulia always seems to end up exactly where you were aiming to put it, you probably won’t need to.
The way the Veloce Ti drives is enough to make you want to buy it on its own. Yes, it’s a touch less solid-feeling than its German rivals, and maybe not quite as roomy, but not so much that it should deter you. That this is an exciting Alfa Romeo you can live with easily – and, with that warranty, potentially even retain some peace of mind about – makes it a lavishly desirable machine. Were it priced at £40,000 or thereabouts, it would be tempting to give it the full five stars.
Trouble is, at this price, its power deficit is a big problem in the face of such potent opposition. Of course, if you’re the kind of person who isn’t obsessed by power figures, that won’t necessarily matter; for the Giulia’s considerable personality, you might be willing to stump up the extra cost. Or, better still, lose some of the fancy cosmetics and plump for the slightly tamer-looking Veloce, which will drive all but identically.
Either way, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the car you end up with. The world has felt slightly wrong without a properly good Alfa Romeo sports saloon in it. Now, in the Giulia, there is one once again – and this might just be its sweetest form.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce Ti
TESTED 1,995cc four-cylinder petrol turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE £46,005/now
POWER/TORQUE 276bhp @ 5,250rpm, 295lb ft @ 2,250rpm
TOP SPEED 149mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 5.7sec
FUEL ECONOMY 46.3mpg (NEDC Combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 158g/km (NEDC)
VED £530 first year, £450/year for five years thereafter, then £140/year
VERDICT A sublime sports saloon in the finest traditions of the genre, the Giulia Veloce Ti is fabulous to drive in every respect. Yet it’s also spacious and classy enough inside that it doesn’t feel like a compromise, while the five-year warranty should bring much-needed peace of mind. Only its high price stops it from coming within a hair’s breadth of perfection.
TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five
Audi S4, from £46,080
Doesn’t drive as fluently as the Alfa Romeo, but with four-wheel drive and a crisp, predictable chassis, the S4 is a foolproof way of going fast. It’s also blessed with an interior that, while lacking the emotional pull of the Alfa’s, feels higher quality.
Jaguar XE P300 R-Dynamic S, from £41,005
The freshly facelifted XE has had a boost in interior quality which lifts it above the Alfa Romeo’s, while being as exciting to drive, or as near as makes no difference. Cramped rear seats and a small boot let it down, but it is priced more reasonably.
BMW M340i xDrive, from £47,000 (est)
We haven’t had a chance to test the new M340i yet, but if the lesser 3-series is anything to go by it should be pretty ace to drive. Combine with the swish interior, 369bhp six-pot motor, and assuredness of four-wheel drive, and the M340i could prove a problem for the Veloce Ti.
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*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 06/06/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront. Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change. Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.