Piloting the new Alfa Romeo Giulia along a four-lane highway, you may suddenly be transported to a game drive in Madikwe. That’s if you don’t keep to your lane.
Lane assist is always alert to make sure you don’t stray from the path and emits a sound resembling a warning call from the hippo pool if you cross the dotted line.
I was about to attack the “settings” department to see if there was an alternative sound. But then decided that the imitation hippo was a lot more refreshing than the common beep!
And there is much about the Giulia, runner-up to the Peugeot 3008 as Europe’s Car of the Year, that is refreshing – apart from the name.
Would Lady Gaga have 66 million Twitter followers if she was Lady Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta? And would there be as much mystique and anticipation about the new Alfa Romeo Giulia if it was called a C-class, 3-series or A3?
Compared to the boring Teutonic monikers, the Italian name conjures up images of passion, style and performance. But does the four-door Giulia sedan deliver?
On the wallet front the Giulia is very well placed among its obvious rivals in a cash-strapped global economy. The base price for the perky two-liter petrol with 8-speed automatic transmission is a touch over $40,000.
In terms of ABS (Adrenalin Boost per Second), the rear-wheel drive Alfa probably shades the base models of the pretenders to the throne, with acceleration of 6.6 seconds for the traditional 100.
In the style of some airline meal options – yes or no – you don’t have to spend too much time considering kilowatt alternatives; the petrol is the only engine choice for now.
Where you have a world of choice is with the trim levels taking you from Giulia Base, through Super to the top-of-the range Stile Pack, with more features than you can throw a memory stick at, for an additional $10,000.
But enough of the dollars and cents. After a long gestation period, will the new model light the fires of the Alfisti and bring new converts to the brand?
True to the Alfa ethos of a convergence between design and passion, the slit-eyed Giulia has expressed the trademark “Trilobe”design on the frontend in a stark and pulse raising fashion.
And the simple, sculptured lines take you to the rear – which is, well, rather ordinary. It’s an area where many manufacturers fail to make a statement.
But if you’re looking for a clear statement, open the driver’s door and try not to be enchanted – especially if you have chosen those unbelievably comfortable seats in red and black, with matching trim.
The message is that the driver comes first and that is reflected in the simplistic, yet elegant, styling of the fascia, instrumentation and controls.
In fact there is a challenge here – I don’t think you will find such starkly clear indications of the basics – speed, revs, fuel and temperature – in any modern vehicle. In black and white, without the glitzy option of changing colors to reflect your mood!
And the large “Rotary Pad” command infotainment screen – which blends into the dash rather than popping up awkwardly, is supremely simple to operate without spending hours reading the manual.
Right, time to buckle up and take off. The start button is on the unique Alfa steering wheel (which seems to make sense) and there is the option of selecting Dynamic, Natural or Advanced Efficiency on the DNA dial.
Dynamic is probably where you want to dwell – unless you’re in heavy traffic or frightened by fuel bills. It favors performance and response, with more reactive steering and noticeably rigid suspension.
I can’t say the acceleration is blistering – maybe exhilarating is the right word – as there is a slight turbo lag.
And you wouldn’t want to hear the word smooth relating to performance – it’s like calling a fellow “dapper” instead of “suave”. You can feel those gear changes that are all an element of Alfa attitude. But you won’t feel the whiplash of being ensconced in the tiny carbon fibre tub of the 4C!
That’s unless you can get your hands on the Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde, or QV for short, the 2.9-liter Bi-Turbo V6 version that is gunning down the BMW M3 and Merc C63 AMGs.
This awesome sub-four second sedan comes in at around $100,000 and the price tag has not deterred local enthusiasts. The 46 initial Race and Launch editions were sold out before they touched down and the 45 units of the regular QV are disappearing fast.
The pocket rocket 4C was the opening act of the Alfa Romeo revolution and one questions whether there will still be a demand for the minimalist street racer, which sold strongly after the 2014 launch.
“Many of the initial 4C buyers have indicated that they are in the market for the Giulia. The 4C is a very specialized car that’s not particularly suited for everyday driving and the Giulia is a family car that also satisfies from a dynamic point of view,” says Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Media Liaison Manager Richard Sloman.
The man firmly in charge of the FCA Group is the Italian-Canadian with the magical motoring touch, Sergio Marchionne.
He gained loads of street cred for turning around the Fiat group, in less than two years at the helm, and drove on to form a strategic alliance with Chrysler which pulled the Americans out of a deep pit.
But the Alfa part of the family was a headache and failed to produce a profit during his decorous decade. So, instead of throwing in the green, red and white towel, he hatched a plan to go it alone with a host of daring new models.
Not a budget plan either… a $5 billion investment for an eight car line-up and a sales target of 400,000 units by 2018. That’s more than five times the 2013 production!
Since production started at the Cassino plant in central Italy, the Giulia has enjoyed excellent sales in Europe and America. And, in the iconic words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Their first production SUV, the Stelvio, has recently been launched overseas to rave reviews.
Named after the curvaceous mountain pass in northern Italy, the Stelvio should land in southern Africa late this year.
“We believe the Stelvio, as with Giulia, is going to stir things up in the segment, particularly when the QV version arrives in 2018,” says Sloman.
“This car, like its Giulia sibling, is going to take the fight to the likes of Porsche, Merc AMG and BMW’s M Division, with the target to be the fastest SUV in its class, not to mention around the Nürburgring in Germany.”
If the vision for Alfa Romeo stays on track, the audacious Marchionne will have orchestrated another motoring miracle. He can then eventually retire as one of the most successful automobile executives of the era.