Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo. For one reason or another, you don’t want any of them.
Maybe you’ve grown tired of their ubiquity – apart from the Lexus. Or the type who drive (some of) them when they get to their third owner. I suppose they are just recognising the integrity of the models.
Trends are trends – with exceptions. The VW Golf was the best-seller in August and Vauxhall’s Mokka X came in at No 3. One is an icon, the other a marketing success. Diesel car sales fell 21 per cent, records the SMMT. Year to date, Mercedes has two cars in the UK top ten, as do Ford, VW and Vauxhall. The Qashqai and Mini are the others.
Missing from just about any list is Alfa Romeo, the second oldest Italian carmaker, creator of beauty and excitement, of dreams, the jewel from Milano.
In Britain Alfa sales in the first eight months fell back, to 3,168. Vauxhall, Subaru, Peugeot and Mitsubishi took a bigger kicking while Alfa’s Jeep in Fiat Chrysler’s FCA group lost more than half its 2016 sales.
Coming to Alfa’s rescue, if there is any justice, is the Giulia saloon – though it has yet to transform sales. More could be expected of the Stelvio, named after some Italian mountain chicanery. It’s a high-performing SUV, with prices from £33,000. Most versions have 4x4 traction – based on the rear-wheel-drive chassis of the Giulia.
Giulia is being hailed as the game-changer for Alfa Romeo. It moves away from the Fiat generic front-wheel-drive hatchbacks.
The handling is sweet, with quick, light steering and lots of grip and balance thanks to new suspension geometry and lighter, stiffer materials. The rear wheel drive gives it the purity you feel in a BMW, spared the interference you can feel with, say, a front-wheel-drive Audi or Volvo.
All Giulias sold in the UK have an eight-speed automatic gearbox, smooth-acting and with the option of aluminium shifters on the steering column. Unusually, the stop-start button is on the steering wheel – curious, but why not? There’s an auto-off parking brake, and a P position on the shift lever to lock everything up at long stops.
Apologetic salutations to following drivers were needed until I got the hang of how to move from P to Drive at such halts. It’s quite simple, but then so am I.
The Giulia introduces some new engines, all aluminium which is a first for an Alfa diesel. The 2-litre petrol gives 197 or 276 bhp. The 2.2 diesel produces 148 or 177.5bhp (tested below). There’s also a mad 503bhp twin turbo petrol 2.9 V6. (You asked: 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and £61,000.)
My test car was in Speciale trim, £35,190 plus £275 for the shift paddles. Kit on the Speciale includes smokey 18-inch alloys with 225/45 run-flat Cinturatos at the front, 255/40 at the back. It’s a conventional saloon – with 4/2/4 folding of the rear seats using triggers in the boot.
The interior glowed with lovely red leather, making you wonder why you’d ever choose black. The steering wheel was black leather, with a fabric inner grip. The famous Alfa Romeo crest was embossed, newly minted in silver on black, on the horn pad. You expect it to sound a fanfare of air trumpets, an invitation to some dolce vita or just to get out of the way.
I am sensing I am not going to dislike this car. I can get the squeaking gloves-box lid sorted, I can live with the firm ride for the time being. I can fiddle with the triple-model DNA drive settings but know I’ll settle with Natural. D is for Dynamic and A is for Advanced – which knocks the stuffing out of the response in return for favourable economy. It felt right for careful driving in snow.
Cabin width is good, but I’m not sure about the reduction in space for my left leg – imposed by the central tunnel. The map size is a bit small compared with the tablet displays of others. Having just one USB slot can be one too few these days of in-car charging, but in most respects the interior is nicely done and attractive.
Information on the 7-inch screen is dialled up with a rotary selector, which also adjusts the scale of the navigation map – its graphics are more toy box than cartography.
The Giulia has crashed well in the yardstick European tests, getting five stars, with an outstanding 98 per cent for adult occupant protection. The Stelvio gets a similar verdict.
Surveys suggest that owners of older diesel cars are angry that they are now regarded as polluting. However, this Alfa diesel posts some impressive figures. On paper at least, it is rated at 53.3mpg urban, 80.7mpg extra urban, 67.3mpg extra urban, with 109g of CO2. Those figures are better than achieved by a 148bhp Skoda Octavia automatic. In use, the Giulia recorded 44mpg on a congested commuter run, improving to 48mpg in lighter traffic and a heroic 55mpg on a brisk cross country drive.
The pace of the Giulia is equally smart, with a 7.1 seconds time for 0-62mph and a peak of 143mph.
Verdict: Rather lovely.