By Design: Alfa Romeo Giulia
Not a “real Alfa,” but a decent approximation
Alfa Romeo's sedans have rarely been as beautiful as its myriad coupes and roadsters presented over the past hundred-plus years. There were a few honorable exceptions when the four-doors were created by Pininfarina (the 164) or a brilliant internal design group (Walter de Silva's 156 and 166 models). Mostly they've been pretty chunky, like the first Giulia in the 1960s, or downright peculiar, like the gawky, broken-back 75. Or if they haven't been strange, they've been utterly plain, like the 1900 Berlina, Alfa's first unit-construction model, and the first Giulietta. Neither had anything going for it visually apart from the central vertical grille, owed mostly to Carrozzeria Touring and its superb 1949 6C 2500 SS Villa d'Este coupe.
This new Giulia falls into a rather nondescript middle range. Not beautiful but certainly not ugly, it's just another four-door that could have been Japanese or Korean apart from that center grille and the modest badges. At one time, we could have been excited by extraordinary mechanicals hidden beneath a banal skin, but in the Fiat ownership era with its emphasis on front-wheel-drive chassis, it's impossible to know anything about a modern Alfa before actually driving it. And even then, one is not certain of a specific design because of dismal build quality. I well remember a miserable run from London to the Cotswolds in an ill-handling Nuova Giulietta that took the considerable skill of its driver to keep us on the pavement. I drove that same car a few months later after it had been aligned, tuned, and adjusted until it was a joy to experience.
The design team has done a good job incorporating European pedestrian-safety requirements into the front end with the domed hood, and I'm impressed by its eschewing bright metal trim apart from the grille frame. The side window trim in black suits the character we all want to associate with Alfa, i.e., an aura of performance capability. Both headlamp and taillight assemblies are executed nicely, with the headlights an important part of the frontal composition.
Stance is an important aspect of a sports-inspired car like this, and in these photos, the Giulia is as low as a racing sedan and is neither front nor rear raked. The overall proportions are good, with enough area between the leading edge of the front doors and the wheel openings to belie the transverse engine placement. So if the surface modeling suggests Asia, the overall feel is European and serious.
So it would be wonderful if Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne's ever-receding fantasy of Alfa coming back to America can actually play out rather than the company finally collapsing and being parted out, with Jeep and Ram surviving in the hands of yet another set of managers.
1. This—and only this—elongated vertical triangle grille tells you that the generic contemporary body form belongs to an Alfa Romeo. It comes from the 1949 Villa d'Este coupe by Carrozzeria Touring, the design house that also first put BMW's twin rectangle kidney grille on an envelope body.
2. The softly rounded, domed hood is good for pedestrian safety as well as smooth aerodynamic performance with low drag.
3. The front fenders' upper peaks give direction and visual thrust to the ensemble and let the artfully shaped headlamp assemblies provide most of the character.
4. Thankfully the window profile doesn't ape the BMW shape that magnetically attracts too many commodity-car design teams. But it's not hugely different, either.
5. Alfa pioneered the subtly disguised rear door handle on the 156 of the mid-1990s, so these over-large, inelegant handles are another visually jarring detail. Making use of cheap Fiat parts?
6. These Cuisinart-blade wheels are nice, but they don't say Alfa Romeo in any way.
7. The big negative gouge on the side of a sedan is de rigueur these days, apparently. See the latest Honda Accord for confirmation. It's not really needed, Alfa or Honda.
8. The dead-straight bottom of the door contrasts unfavorably with the elegant curve of the protruding sill rib. This is a surprise, but perhaps it's related to manufacturing concerns.
9. The bottom edge of the sill is presumably intended to delineate a distinct front-fender volume. It's a bit odd, all the same, as is the indented crease farther back.
10. Presumably the very low bottom of the nose was aerodynamically inspired, but this sharp point at the front of the wheel opening is jarring. It seems carelessly unresolved.
11. A sharp-edged rib at the sides of the hood gives the front end some visual thrust, especially in this view. From inside the cabin the surface change is noticeable as well.
12. The partially transparent roof, all of it dark, gives a nice look to the Giulia and should be agreeable inside the car.
13. This little kink in the body-colored rear quarter panel is unfortunate, unless it's a deliberate visual reference to the point in item 10.
14. A tight radius derived from the outer extremities of the decklid spoiler shape helps suggest a rear fender form that's not really present.
15. Sufficient clues lead me to suppose that this design was subjected to some serious wind-tunnel work. This spoiler is one of them.
16. The decklid's bottom edge is quite well inset from the nominal transverse plane of the rear fascia.
17. This hard transverse line straight across the rear and fading into the sides of the plastic cover panel provides a visual base for the rear-end graphical composition.
18. This little slash and surface change tend to confirm the above conjecture that this car saw a lot of wind-tunnel time. It should break up turbulence at the rear.
19. Yet another point in the body surface, emphasized by the color change. A conscious design theme? I hope not.
20. These wheels do look distinctly Alfa Romeo. The brilliant 156 used a similar—but better—five-round-hole design from 1997 onward.
21. Seen from above, the sill rib is quite a pleasant detail, though a bit arbitrary. And it seems quite vulnerable to damage.
22. Round vents don't quite fit any of the flowing sculptural shapes on the very nice instrument panel and seem unnecessarily abrupt here.
23. This is fine as-is; conflict is removed by the emphasis on the sculptural volumes of the rest of the panel.
24. The horizontal-format information screen is well placed and usefully large without being Tesla-like.
25. The sweeping curve across the whole panel is graceful and elegant, beginning at the base of the left-hand A-pillar and descending to the center on the right-hand vent. Very nice.
26. Styled pedals that recapitulate the Alfa grille shape are another nice touch in this very well-styled interior.
27. The flat-bottom steering wheel is a subtle reference to Alfa's storied past in racing.