Driven: The updated Giulia isn't all that different, but that's no bad thing
Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera and then written about it. When he's not writing he can be found trying to stop Wagtails defecating on his old Range Rover.
You can look as close as you like. Go on, get close to the screen, pinch and zoom as much as you want. You still won’t be able to spot what’s changed on this new facelifted Alfa Romeo Giulia. That’s because there are no changes to the lights (Alfa is rather proud of them), the bumpers, grilles, or wheels. Ok, so the front heart is now available in black on more than just one model and the teledial wheels, previously only the preserve of the Quadrifoglio, have filtered down to the less sporty cars. The only thing on its exterior that’s actually new and never seen before is… the trim badge on the side.
Delve into the car and you find the other updates are equally subtle. The interior has a new steering wheel (no, really that is different), a leather-wrapped gear selector and an updated infotainment system with new graphics and a touchscreen. Plus, it’s all been finished and screwed together to a higher standard. There’s more technology in the 2020 Giulia too; active cruise control and lane-keep assist can be selected, options that were not previously available.
But the most subtle change of all, is that the Giulia model structure is different. The base car is called the Super, then above that is a choice of the sporty Sprint or luxurious Lusso Ti. Overseeing them is an even sportier model, just one step down from the 500bhp Quadrifoglio, the Velocee. You’ll be pleased to know it’s this model I tested for you, reader.
If it's not broken, why fix it?
Slight, almost undetectable, changes are no bad thing when the Giulia is, to my eyes at least, a rather pretty car and one with some tasty standard equipment. What hasn’t changed is its front-engined rear-wheel drive layout, its carbon-fibre propshaft, its LSD, super-quick steering, its quick-to-react eight-speed auto ‘box operated by big aluminium, column-mounted paddles and adaptive dampers.
Excluding the V6-powered Quadrifoglio – which will be updated with a similarly radical… sorry not radical, imperceptible mid-life refresh next year – the Giulia’s biggest weaknesses have been its engines and its intrusive traction and stability control. Neither of these elements have received any attention, sadly. The engines are either a 2.2-litre diesel or a 2-litre petrol, both turbocharged four-cylinder units. The diesel comes with either 158bhp, 187bhp or 207bhp, while the petrol puts out 197bhp or, for the Veloce, 276bhp. This top-spec four-cylinder Giulia has 295lb ft of torque and can hit 60mph from a standstill 5.7sec.
And still, it’s only the Quadrifoglio that comes with a Race mode; the only way to turn off the driver aids in any modern Alfa. The four-cylinder models make do with just three drive modes that you can choose from via the rotary dial on the centre console. There’s D for Dynamic, N for Natural (but might as well be normal as that’s the default) and A for Advanced Efficiency. There’s also a button in the middle of the dial that allows you to put the dampers back into their soft mode, even when the sporty Dynamic setting is selected.
Look inside for the changes
Subtle the changes may be, but the Giulia’s interior is noticeably different. The new steering wheel, despite the extra buttons for the fancier cruise control, looks almost the same, but some more prominent plastic on the spokes can be felt by at the base of your thumbs making it just a little bit more awkward to hold.
The other revisions are more pleasant. Everything feels more solid; the hollow, brittle sounds that accompanied a tap or knock of the previous Giulia’s trim have disappeared in favour of a substantial thud. Before, your fingers would seek out the sharp edges of moulding marks and imperfections, now everything is smooth. The screen is also slicker and fractionally easier to use, yet still, the Giulia’s interior is not quite on a par with that of a BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Lexus.
Inside, it’s perhaps a degree more silent than before too. You’re better guarded against the industrial noises from the old-school engine. The four-cylinder isn't particularly smooth, it doesn’t make an evocative noise and, even in the Veloce tune, its red-line is a diesel-like 5500rpm. But to give it its dues, it does feel every one of its 276bhp and makes the Giulia a suitably fast car.
The active cruise control and lane assist, which gives the Giulia level 2 autonomy status, are both very accomplished, but for entirely different reasons. The lane assist is one of the most refined systems in any car. It manages to guide the car seamlessly without any overbearing pulling or tugging from the steering wheel.
The cruise control isn’t so subtle. It keeps its speed for as long as possible before dramatically slowing the car when it gets close to another vehicle. This way, the car maintains your chosen speed rather than surreptitiously matching your velocity to a slow-moving car half a mile up the road. If the Giulia does thud into an imaginary barrier a few metres from the back bumper of another car, it’s as if it’s punishing you for being lazy and not anticipating well enough. Scribe a clear path up the road, avoiding other cars, and you never need to activate the radar assist.
As good as the systems are, the Giulia is best not when you’re whooshing down the motorway, but out on a twisty B-road. That’s where you can revel in its quick-ratio steering rack that’s expertly matched by the rest of the chassis. It’s agile and direct and the whole car feels light and lithe like no other modern saloon. This featherweight sensation is helped by its forgiving ride that allows it to lope along over rough tarmac staying completely unflustered. The Giulia’s suspension is never too harsh, even with the dampers in their hardest mode, which do introduce a degree of extra body control. Nice when you’re making swift progress, too.
When you are pushing on in the Giulia, that's when its driver aids rear their ugly head. Alfa supplies all the equipment you need to be in full command of the Giulia that dealing with a bit of oversteer on the exit of a bend would not be an issue. It might even be welcome. But no, the systems cut the power to the wheels and dab the brakes at the first hint of any opposite lock, destroying the car’s inherent and hugely enjoyable fluidity.
When the road is fast, flowing and the tarmac is dry, there isn’t much call for the traction control to interject and the Giulia is a delightful car to pedal along, linking bends with minimal fuss, making fast, accurate progress. It’s not wild or dramatic, but it is satisfying and, instead of hitting you with a bang, the Giulia reveals its charms one corner after another.
What the Giulia Veloce isn’t, though, is anything like the top tier Giulia. Despite having the same steering, gearbox (as well as the paddles) the four-cylinder Veloce feels incredibly distant from its V6 Quadrifoglio brother.
It just doesn’t have the same nose-stuck-to-the-ground front-end, nor does it feel as endlessly controllable with the throttle. The Veloce isn’t the toned-down Quadrifoglio its sporty status in the range might suggest. It’s simply too dainty for that, as if on its tiptoes… sneaking around so as not to wake that traction control.