If there’s one brand that drives a wedge between petrolheads the world over, it’s Alfa Romeo. Not because a surprising number of people who think they like cars can’t spell it, but because of a symbolic trope. Some say you can’t really be a petrolhead until you’ve owned one, others think that’s bunk.
Still, most of us agree that there is something a bit special about the brand. It’s part of that Italian triumvirate of brands that always ensures it hits the style markers before anything else in the design brief.
Rocking up to our driveway this week is one of the most recent models in the Alfa family, the Giulia Veloce.
I like the looks…
It’s certainly a handsome thing, but that’s always been the case with Alfa Romeo. Well, at least in cars this size; the tiny MiTo looks a lot like Insectosaurus from Monsters vs. Aliens. In the D-segment, Alfa Romeos have always been the lookers of the sales rep car park.
While that’s mostly a case of low-hanging fruit, the Alfa in this group always manages to be handsome in general terms. This Veloce model looks even better than the regular Giulia, thanks to some model-specific trim pieces. It’s just as smart on the inside too, which is much more of an Alfa Romeo signature.
What’s so special then?
The Veloce is the fastest Giulia you can get unless you fancy shelling out about 40% more for the 503hp Quadrifoglio.
As we mentioned above, the Veloce gets a whole bunch of visual upgrades compared to regular Giulia models. That includes the dual exhaust tips, “turbine” alloys, and unique LED daytime running lights. There’s also a model-specific blue paint color, although our car is in a deeper blue.
However, the core of the Veloce is the engine. It’s a blown two-liter four-pot producing 276hp. That delivers the power through an 8-speed gearbox to the rear wheels. While not providing quite the devastating pace of the Quadrifoglio, it’s a proper Alfa through and through.
So… pretty good to drive then?
The Veloce provides a step in the Giulia range between the regular models that sell the numbers and the oh-my-word insanity of the Quadrifoglio. It’s in that nice little bit of the Venn Diagram where it’s got enough power to release the goodness of the chassis but not so much that no car show crowd is safe when it leaves.
Starting with the less good, in general terms the engine isn’t truly remarkable. While many Alfas of old traded their names on some sweet vees – indeed the range-topping Quadrifoglio has a 2.9-liter V6 – this is “only” a two-liter, four-cylinder. It has a typically hoarse tune much of the time but gets a decent gruff note if you press on. It’s torquey and flexible though, with a nicely linear power delivery, it’s just that a V6 soundtrack would complete the picture.
On the cruise it’s a very pleasant place to be. Even in Dynamic mode it soaks up the bumps well enough – okay, perhaps a pinch or two behind its German rivals, but not hot-hatch bouncy by any means. The Veloce deals well with bigger dips and crests just as it does with more rippled tarmac, and by keeping the wheel-to-tire ratio sensible it’s never too unsettled. Keep it in normal (or “Natural”) mode and it’s a fine long-distance car. Though it’s never going to be as frugal as a less exciting diesel model, near-enough 40mpg is a pretty decent return.
But you don’t buy an Alfa for the motorway; it’s for the bits either side.
The first thing you’ll notice is how quick and light the steering is. It almost feels like a city car, and it might disappoint if you’re expecting something with a bit of meat to it. However, the Giulia is a very light car for the class – it’s within a labrador of something old school like the Honda Accord Type R – and it gives a general feeling of litheness to the Veloce.
That makes it a lot of fun on your favorite road. There is a mild aloofness in the general lack of steering feedback, but that’s pretty common these days. With the drive mode set to Dynamic you get a sharper throttle and gearshifts, plus a sportier damper setting. Combined with the already fairly linear power curve, a limited-slip differential and an ESP system that you can’t fully switch off and you’ve got a great, predictable and enjoyable hot saloon.
And on the inside?
The interior environment is something Alfa Romeo consistently nails (even if some of the fixings of recent years haven’t been quite as sturdy as nails). Though a lot of responses to any Alfa Romeo review will center on longevity, we had no concerns about anything over our week with the car.
Perceived quality is high. That’s in part thanks to the full leather interior and a just-so approach to the materials. There’s leather in the right places, just enough bits of silver trim to stay this side of gaudy and not so much reliance on piano black as other manufacturers. The wheel-mounted starter and those huge, aluminum shift paddles give you the sporty feel.
The wide, flowing dashboard runs across the width of the car, incorporating the instrument cluster and an 8.8-inch navigation and infotainment screen. That’s smart enough to look at, but it’s a little clunky in its operation. It’s not woeful, but some rivals have slicker ways of doing things.
Get to poking and prodding the dials and controls and it’s perhaps not so great – there’s a cubby under the heater controls that just doesn’t want to stay open and it won’t be too long before an over-enthusiastic push jams the mechanism. One peculiar note too is the driving position. We couldn’t quite shake off the feeling — at least in this right-hand drive car — that everything was quite centered. Looking through the wheel at the dials, it seemed like a little more of the tacho on the left was visible than the speedo on the right.
Kit is rather good, as the Veloce includes cruise control, dual zone climate control, heated (and six-way powered) seats and wheel, auto wipers and lights and an eight-speaker audio system. Standard safety aids include AEB, lane departure and forward collision warning. That’s in addition to all the Veloce-specific goodies and upgraded braking system.
Who’s going to buy the Veloce?
On the face of it, this is – albeit pretty – a D-segment saloon car and there’s a pretty standard market for those. That’s mainly men in their late-30s, early-40s, with a couple of kids and a job that involves a lot of the outside lane of a motorway. Yes, we mean sales reps.
That’s not going to be strictly the case here though. The image of the Giulia is one that’s more a car bought out of desire than necessity. With the Veloce’s more overtly sporting character, it’s going to be something bought with fun more in mind. Potential owners will have one eye on practicality too, but it won’t be a deciding factor.
What would they buy instead?
The current kings of D-segment are all German. That’ll be the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. All offer something with similar performance, at a similar price.
There’s a few other alternatives too. The Volkswagen Passat is no less German than the others, and there’s its stablemate, the Skoda Superb. Infiniti and Lexus both offer similar cars, but with notably less power (or a lot more, in case of the Q50 Red Sport).
Otherwise, the most similar car around is Jaguar’s XE.
What’s the conclusion?
It’s easy to look at a range like the Giulia and see a halo model at the top and a bunch of everyday cars below. Do that and you’ll overlook a rather excellent best-of-both-worlds car in the middle.
The Veloce is a Goldilocks car. It takes most of the good stuff from the car that might be a bit too much, applies it to the good stuff of the cars that might be a bit too ordinary, and the result is a car that’s just right.
It proves that sporty doesn’t have to be harsh, and comfortable doesn’t have to be boring. Truth be told, we’d like a slightly more exciting noise and the driver-vehicle interface isn’t quite as flashy as something like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but really that’s about it.
When Alfa Romeo came to take the Veloce back, I tried to pretend I was out.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
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