BOLOGNA, Italy — The fantasy of driving a new Alfa Romeo sport sedan in Italy was simply too alluring. With trendy pedestrians, speeding scooters, and tiny three-wheeled delivery trucks coming at me from all sides, I recalled brushing off warnings from friends and colleagues who had fallen prey to similar flights of fancy. So it was on an impossibly narrow street in downtown Florence, lost and desperate in the snug red leather seat of a sharply dressed Giulia Veloce, that I faced the consequences of making a purely emotional decision.
I’d already driven the raucous 505-hp Giulia Quadrifoglio in Michigan, so for my long-awaited Italian vacation, the 280-hp Giulia was at the top of the list. In the U.S. this variant is known as the Ti, but better to get to know an Alfa than to drive it on its home turf? Visions of devouring apexes on a mountain road filled my head, a stomachful of imaginary rigatoni Bolognese and a bottomless bottle of Chianti waiting for me at my destination. Although my girlfriend, Michelle, had planned out nearly every detail of trip based on extensive research and sound reasoning, I, naturally, ignored her suggestion to just take the train.
The trip kicked off without a hitch, after spending three days enjoying Rome and its mind-blowing history (read: pizza). Michelle and I picked up the Giulia outside of the city (at least I was wise enough to avoid the deathtrap of driving downtown), and had no trouble loading up the trunk with both of our suitcases and backpacks. For a car that looks this stunning, especially with the red leather sport interior and optional 19-inch black Quadrifoglio wheels, being able to also pack it full of cargo is a nice win. Compared to the Germans, or even Jaguar XE and Cadillac ATS, the Alfa is the clear aesthetic champion.
From Rome, we quickly made our way onto the autostrade toward Florence, where the Giulia settled into a nice, calm cruise. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder hums along comfortably at highway speed, while the eight-speed automatic transmission never misses a beat as it works its way up to top gear. I was impressed how well the Giulia tracks on the less-than-pristine autostrade, but I was especially pleased that the steering feel and precision I loved on the full-fledged Quadrifoglio is somewhat preserved, although scaled back for more casual drivers. There’s a pleasant heft and quickness to every steering input, even during mild lane changes, that gives you confidence and control going down the road. At low speed the steering is light and easy, which was helpful while parking in a narrow underground garage during a pit stop in Siena.
We finally arrived in Florence, exiting the highway and onto a main street flanking the Arno river that cuts through the city center. The moment we exited the main road and away from the riverfront, our planned route to the local garage went to hell. Construction blocked one of the larger streets, forcing us deeper into the city’s narrow blocks, where reception for both Google Maps and the Giulia’s on-board navigation suddenly went to zero. Before I knew it, we were dodging hundreds of people and assorted vehicles in a public square, trying to make sense of maddening traffic patterns and potentially one-way streets. Rightfully, Michelle was wearing a resigned I-told-you-so face. For my part, I tried to manage the frustration of being so very wrong while ending this nightmare with haste.
In the end, all it took was going the wrong way down a one-way street toward the garage – enough to get the attendant’s immediate attention — at which point I leapt out of the car and thankfully handed him the keys. “Nice car,” he said, not without a hint of judgment that such a lovely machine was wasted on a complete idiot.
After a few days in Florence and day trip by train to go hiking at Cinque Terre, it was time to hop back in the Giulia and make for Bologna. This was the part of the drive I’d been dreaming about. We’d be taking the famed Futa Pass from Tuscany to Emilia-Romagna through the Appennine mountains. It’s one of the few routes you can drive that’s essentially the same as it was during Stirling Moss’s famed victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia. I was jonesing to check it off my bucket list.
The countryside at the foot of the Futa Pass was simply stunning. Miles of lush green hills and beautiful lakes were visible in the distance, but I was keen to stay focused on keeping the Giulia in my lane. Although the four-door Alfa isn’t at all large by American standards, on the snaking, narrow local roads and through the quaint little villages dotting the route, it occupied the entire lane and then some. It required a ton of focus to always look as far as possible ahead, and be prepared for anything from a cyclist or a delivery truck to be around any blind turn.
Once on the Pass, I could finally let the Giulia Veloce loose. I switched into Dynamic mode on the rotary drive selector, firming up the adaptive dampers in preparation for a wild ride. The route began with a big climb, full of undulations in the road between a cadence of flowing corners in quick succession. Alfa tuned the Giulia’s ride-handling balance perfectly for a road like this, as the car remained planted with beautiful body control. There’s abundant mid-corner grip, and the athletic corner entry and graceful corner exit (aided by the mechanical limited-slip differential) made it feel like a true sport sedan that can really put its power down. (In the U.S. market, both the adaptive dampers and the LSD come with the $1,200 Ti Performance package.)
The brakes got a healthy workout on the way down the Pass, and although there’s plenty of stopping power, it could use more initial bite at the top of the pedal travel. Knifing through the ribbons of Italian pavement, too, gave me great respect for the small, well-proportioned steering wheel and perfectly bolstered sport seats.
If the Giulia could be better dynamically in some way, I’d point to the engine as something in need of more refinement. Both BMW and Audi make much smoother 2.0-liters with more linear power delivery. Enjoyable as it was to work the huge aluminum shift paddles, I found myself needing to really pay attention to making sure I was keeping the engine in the meat of its mid-range power band.
When I finally handed over the Giulia at a dealership outside of Bologna, the horror of driving in downtown Florence was the last thing on my mind. I was still riding that emotional state of high from the Futa Pass. Although the Giulia isn’t perfect – especially if you’re a stickler for quality interiors or advanced tech – the fun it afforded me made it a lot easier to forget the consequences of sometimes thinking with your heart instead of your brain. Tearing through a sensational mountain road in a fantastically balanced sport sedan makes the world a bit brighter, after all.
2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti AWD Specifications (U.S.)
|PRICE||$42,990/$47,690 (base/as tested, est.)|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbocharged SOHC 16-valve I-4/280 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 306 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||23/31 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||182.6 x 73.7 x 57.1 in|
|WEIGHT||3,600 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||149 mph|