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The compact luxury sport sedan segment has long been one of the most competitive in the industry, at least from the perspective of journalists and enthusiasts. While the BMW 3 Series was always the go-to, no-brainer choice, it got softer in the 2000s, allowing other models to claw their way to the top. Then, in 2015, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio burst onto the scene and shook everything up, instantly becoming the coolest and best-driving sport sedan on sale.
The 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio isn't the only Giulia you can buy, though. The base Giulia 2.0T uses a turbo-four engine that's far removed from the Quadrifoglio's Ferrari-derived V6. Does the low-end Giulia feel just as magical as the high-performance version? It does to an extent -- but it's mostly to the car's detriment.
Over five years after its debut, the Giulia is still stunning. It's easily one of the best looking sedans in its class even without the Quadrifoglio's larger intakes and wider stance. I love the silver 19-inch wheels on my test car, which are standard on the Ti Sport trim, and the red brake calipers are a no-cost option. This Giulia's classic red-over-tan color combo is fabulous, though I'd skip the $2,200 Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat metallic paint and pick the fantastic Visconti Green for $600 instead.
The interior still looks great, as well. Powered leather seats are standard, and the Ti Sport gets heated buckets. This Giulia has a $700 package that wraps the upper dash and door panels in leather with contrasting stitching, too. For 2020 the Giulia got a redesigned center console with upgraded materials and new knobs, and the shifter is now wrapped in leather. Alfa says it has larger cupholders and storage cubbies, but the center console still has a lot of wasted space and there's only one USB port (with two more under the armrest).
Being an Alfa Romeo the Giulia should drive as well as it looks, and it certainly does. The steering is super direct and sharp, with more feel than pretty much any other sedan on the market. But it's a little too light for my liking and makes the car a bit tiring on the highway. The thin-rimmed steering wheel itself is great, having been redesigned for 2020 to be better looking and more ergonomically friendly. The Ti Sport has its own steering wheel design with perforated leather.
Even with the optional all-wheel-drive system, the Giulia is great fun to chuck into a corner, and Ti Sport models come standard with a limited-slip rear differential. The Alfa feels light and playful, and the traction control almost never kicks in even when I'm pushing. My test car has the $995 adaptive suspension, which is well damped and never too stiff, though the cabin does get a bit shuddery over bad road surfaces. The standard Brembo brakes are strong, and despite being touchy with short pedal travel, they're easy to modulate around town.
The Giulia 2.0T uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, and it's excellent. There's some initial lag even when flooring it, but ultimately the Giulia is quick as hell, with Alfa saying h60 mph takes just over 5 seconds to hit. The ZF-supplied eight-speed automatic transmission is quick to shift and has fantastic paddles that are mounted on the column, the correct way to do it.
Unlike other turbo fours of similar output the Giulia's engine sounds pretty nice, too, albeit not nearly as incredible as the Quadrifoglio's twin-turbo V6. At 26 miles per gallon combined, 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, the Giulia 2.0T AWD is near the bottom of the segment when it comes to fuel economy, and I saw closer to 20 mpg overall.
The Giulia (and its Stelvio sibling) got a major infotainment overhaul for 2020, adding a standard 8.8-inch touchscreen with a fresh card-based operating system. It both looks and feels better than the old system, especially now that you no longer have to use the knob on the center console to control it, but it can still be pretty laggy and it's confusing and annoying to use. The new, standard 7-inch screen that sits between the gauges is great, though.
The Giulia is still plagued by weird ergonomics, too. In addition to the small storage cubbies on the center console, there's not a lot of room for stuff in the door cards. I'm only 5 feet, 9 inches tall, but find my knees hitting the dash, and the Ti Sport's standard panoramic sunroof cuts into my headroom. There are physical buttons for some of the climate controls, but others are buried in an infotainment menu. And both the rear seat and trunk are pretty tight on space.
My Giulia has the $1,695 Active Assist 2 package that bundles auto-dimming mirrors together with driver-assist features like adaptive cruise control with traffic-jam assist, blind-spot assist, traffic sign recognition, automatic high beams and lane-keeping assist, and it's a package I'd definitely skip. While the adaptive cruise is pretty good, the lane-keeping assist is overly sensitive and doesn't offer a vibrate option, so it's either off or it's on and too obtrusive. The front and rear parking sensors are also way too sensitive, and there's no 360-degree camera on offer.
For 2021 Alfa Romeo streamlined trim levels and made more features standard, but the Giulia is a bit pricier than before. A base Giulia 2.0T Sprint is $40,745 including destination, with AWD tacking on $2,000, placing it smack in the middle of the competition. Every Giulia has features like dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a power trunklid, 17-inch wheels, forward-collision warning with automatic braking, rear parking sensors, passive entry and keyless go.
Upgrading to the top-trim Ti Sport like this one costs $6,450 more than a base Giulia. It gets you those fantastic 19-inch wheels and the aforementioned metal paddle shifters and sport seats, as well as navigation, the panoramic sunroof, black window trim, different grille mesh designs, a black headliner, aluminum sport pedals and aluminum interior trim. With other options like a $250 wireless charging pad and $995 bi-xenon headlights, my Giulia comes to $58,080.
When it comes to the Giulia Quadrifoglio, that car is so phenomenal to drive that it's easy to overlook the rest of its flaws. Sure, the infotainment might suck and the interior could be nicer, but hey, it's got a freakin 505-hp engine. When it comes to this four-cylinder model, however, as great as the driving experience is, the Giulia's pain points are a lot harder to dismiss. It just doesn't feel special enough in everyday situations.
The Giulia's problems are especially compounded when put up against the other cars in its class. The BMW 3 Series and Genesis G70 are nearly as fun to drive while being way easier to live with day-to-day, and the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class handily beat the Alfa in terms of refinement and tech. Hell, the Volvo S60 might even have the Alfa beat in the looks department.
If you're looking for a luxury sport sedan that's stylish and fun to drive above all else, the Giulia is it. No other car in its class is more fun on a good road, and you can rest easy knowing you made the coolest choice. It's just not a choice I would want to live with everyday.