Let me ask you a few questions as we dive into the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia:
Do you crave cars “Engineered for Victory?”
Do you believe “Beauty is Not Enough?”
Are you convinced that “Competition breeds Excellence?”
If the answer is “yes” to any or all of these questions, then you are the target of Alfa Romeo’s latest advertising taglines – all of which are intended to do two things: elicit an emotional response and play up a brand that began life as Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – A.L.F.A. on June 24, 1910.
From the day A.L.F.A. became a thing, the Italian automaker pushed into car racing as an act of passion and as the centerpiece of brand building The term “brand building” hadn’t yet been coined in 1911, though Alfa was just one of many new carmakers using racing to establish its bona fides as a brand and a maker of fast, beautiful cars.
Even Henry Ford, who birthed the modern assembly line, took to racing very early in his career. In 1901, Ford won a “sweepstakes” race to attract investors and spark public interest in an early fledging car company.
“I never thought anything of racing,” Ford said later, “but the public refused to consider the automobile in any light other than as a fast toy,” adding, “therefore…we had to race.”
Ford, unlike Alfa, has built its brand on Model Ts, Mustangs and now pickups and SUVs. Racing, even with the storied Le Mans victories of the 1960s, was a sideshow and even a distraction from mass-producing everyday and ordinary vehicles for the middle class.
Alfa’s heart and soul, by contrast, has been in racing from the starting line. Today, Alfa Romeo-Ferrari competes in F1 as a sponsor, with Sauber underneath the branding.
The future of Alfa in traditional racing, and as a brand itself, remains a mystery, though. There is good reason to believe Alfa will morph into an electric vehicle luxury brand of the sort unrecognizable to anyone in 1911.
You see, Alfa is part of a sprawling and heavily indebted global automotive colossus called Stellantis with its 14 brands.
Stellantis is the fourth-largest automaker in the world. It is the product of the recent merger of Fiat Chrysler and the Peugeot Group. It’s CEO, Carlos Tavares, was a long-time top lieutenant of Carlos Ghosn.
Ghosn, of course, is the now-on-the-lam from-Japanese-authorities CEO who led Nissan out of near-bankruptcy and who fashioned Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance. He ran the Alliance for two decades.
Ghosn now lives in Beirut, evading charges of financial crimes in Japan. The Japanese prosecutors can’t tough him because Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan. For the record, Tavares bailed from Nissan-Renault years before any of the Ghosn misadventures came to light.
All these pieces sound like threads in a Bond movie, no? The cars. The dangers. The intrigue. The history. The many connections between various players around the world, past and present. Speed. Beauty. Intrigue. The many elements, twists, turns and surprises are consistent with what Alfa officials would like you to think about this very old Italian carmaker.
This how my mind rolls when I tuck into a car like the Alfa Romeo Giulia sports sedan. Free association mixed with takeaways about the car itself. Here are five:
- The Giulia gorgeous, perhaps the best-looking sports sedan in the world.
- It’s lovely to drive: light, agile, responsive and excellent in every way.
- Its cabin is pretty and stuffed with compromises.
- It’s safe, with solid resale value, but reliability is BIG question mark.
- And Alfa’s history is captivating.
The short of it is this: if you’re willing to spend $50,000-plus for a Giulia, or $90,000 for the 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio, this is a passion purchase. You’re embracing this delicious car because you love driving, drool over the design and you relish Alfa’s 111-year history. It speaks to you soul, and you’re willing to gamble on reliability, and practical matters, such as quick and local dealer service.
Let me start with the best and then the rest.
The potent 280-horsepower turbo engine is a gem. It meshes beautifully with the gearbox to deliver seamless powertrain performance: 0-100 km in less than 7 seconds.
It’s more dynamic to drive than an Audi A4 or a Hyundai G70: smooth and quick, with good fuel economy. That said, the comfortable ride quality is also good for everyday commuting.
The exterior shapes and curves are a triumph. This automobile is an artistic treat for the eyes, especially the iconic grille. I could sit for hours with an expresso and enjoy savoring the Giulia’s design.
But the cabin.
It looks interesting, but to use a cliché, it’s too much form over function. The quality of materials could be richer, too. The infotainment screen is sized for 2010 and the software behind it delivers plodding responses — though capable of delivering pages and pages of performance data.
The front seats are tight, the rears, too. The trunk is large enough, but the opening is smallish and you must bend and twist like a yoga teacher to take full advantage of the deep cargo space. The push-button gear selector? Not exactly intuitive. And why did the designers place the vents is such odd places?
Ah, but there are loads of safety features and good crash test scores. Predicted resale value: average. As tested: $66,385.
Reliability? J.D. Power and Consumer Reports slam Alfa. A dive into the downside details suggest nagging issues with the fuel system, the air conditioning, power equipment and electronics. J.D. Power ranks Alfa at the bottom for dependability.
If you do have an issue, dealers are few and far between in Canada. In greater Vancouver, there are only two and it’s a similar story across the country.
But you buy an Alfa for the history and the brand, the joy of driving, the eye-catching shapes and curves, the drama of it all. You will love driving a Giulia, though the total ownership experience might be less satisfying.
And if you own an Alfa, you have an affinity for the 111-year Alfa history told in wonderful cars: the 1924 GP Tipo PT, the 1936 Alfa Romeo 6C, the ’37 8C 2900, the 1955 Giuletta Spider and the iconic ’66 Spider 1600.
Here is my last piece of advice, whether you become an owner or remain just a fan or perhaps an interested history buff: When next in Italy, take time for the Alfa Romeo Museum. It’s located on the outskirts of Milan and is spectacular — with more than 200 historical vehicles, including concept cars, racing machines, prototypes arranged in ways that place the vehicles in historical context.
Everyone enjoys shopping in Milan. But if you are in town, put it aside for a day. Instead, soak up Alfa’s beautiful designs, racing triumphs and automotive innovations at the Alfa Museum. You’ll be glad you did.