Alfa Romeo is a marquee that needs no introduction, with an impressive 111 year lifespan their legacy has been cemented into the halls of fame with pedigree racers and breathtaking designs. Despite the respectable history, the famed Italian marquee has faltered somewhat over the past few decades, losing market share with an ever dwindling range of vehicles. Just over half a decade ago, Giulia and Stelvio were introduced and intended to reinvigorate the historic iconicity of the Turin based automaker. We got to spend some time on launch with their mid-life refresh to see if they could bring more success in the next half of their product cycle.
First thing is first, in typical Italian fashion models are designed to spend considerably more time in production than their competitors’ offerings. Giulia has been available since 2015 while Stelvio is one year younger. For general context, a fellow Stellantis model we recently had on test; the Fiat 500C Dolcevita has been in production since 2007 with only minor updates implemented over the years.
What this means is that the typical mass-creations from Milan, Torino and Bologna are designed to last, with their platforms being initially overengineered to accommodate updates far into the future. Inadvertently, the styling is intended to retain its aesthetic over time and is therefore minimal, timeless and without excess. While I think the designers at Centro Stile Alfa Romeo were restrained in unleashing a truly captivating and unmistakable Italian design a few years ago, what has nevertheless resulted are two pretty contenders in the D-SUV and D-Saloon segment that still look as good as the day they were birthed to the world.
To that extent, not much has changed with the exterior styling other than the addition of a few new paint swatches which includes the envy-inducing Visconti Green and standard circular shaped alloy wheels. Giulia’s front end details have also been altered ever so slightly with a gloss black sheath fitted in the scudetto grille while Stelvio has stayed identical from before save from updated 20” alloys.
Alfa Romeo astutely comes all in with their range so the list price of R989 900 for the Giulia Veloce and R1 159 900 for the Stelvio Super includes all the bells and whistles a premium vehicle should have. Both models are identically equipped with tech and safety, the only significant difference being the Q4 all-wheel drive system on Stelvio.
What this considerable sum of money gets you is a dashboard integrated 8.8” infotainment screen surrounded by a wealthy amount of soft touch leather, a 7” colour TFT instrument cluster flanked by a scoped analog tachometer and speedometer, Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto screen mirroring via cable, leather front seats with electric adjustment, a small reverse camera and fixed aluminium paddle shifters that are tactile to the touch.
Giulia also comes standard with fresher looking Bi-Xenon headlights and DRL’s, no more halogen reflectors on base-spec derivatives since there are no more base-spec derivatives, this is something the brand is proud of. All in remember? A 5 year/100 000km full warranty and maintenance plan is standard for anyone that has their doubts on ill reliability.
The interior of Stelvio feels more premium with material use despite Giulia sharing a similar aesthetic albeit in a much lower, sport-inspired seating position. This sums up the packages adequately since the Alfa Romeo SUV ticks all the boxes in the comfort and luxury department while the saloon has a much more exciting, driver orientated appeal to it.
The updates to the infotainment system are the biggest improvement to the 2021 models, with widget based functionality coupled alongside screen mirroring. Operation is logically laid out and modernises the UX with expected current generation usability. A coloured 7” TFT instrument cluster has now been incorporated alongside the timeless analog dials making all displayed information behind the steering wheel much more prominent. You also get wireless charging in a mostly-concealed compartment beneath the armrest too which is ideal for prying eyes into the cabin.
In comparison to its competitors, the reverse camera is the one let down which is minutely displayed on a quadrant of the already small infotainment screen through a less than desirable camera. However where other brands are continually in search of different ways of improving interacting with the on board systems, Alfa Romeo have opted for an old school rotary dial in-front of the gear shifter for the infotainment screen and steering mounted buttons to control the TFT instrument cluster. Modern day haptic surfaces and touch screens for every conceivable feature don’t always cut it for me, traditional buttons are still far more satisfying and rewarding to the touch.
All of this is justified in a statement made from the current Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato who insists that the cars must remain “driver centered” reiterating that i-Pad festooned interiors are not the future of the brand. Relief for the few consumers who enjoy the no-fuss- driving approach which is devoid of soon-to-be-outdated user interfaces displayed on screens spanning the length of the cockpit.
As with most releases in the premium segments, the more affordable yet equally luxurious derivatives always live in the shadow of their high performance siblings. The Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde was no different which immediately dominated the Nordschleife at the Nurburgring and became the fastest 4 door production sedan to lap the circuit at the time. This took all the shine away from the impressive all-aluminum 2 litre turbocharged motor that sufficiently and comfortably propels both Super SUV and Veloce saloon forward.
The motor in the 2021 derivatives is exactly the same as before but more compliant with emission regulations. The same 206kW and 400Nm from the four-cylinder are still readily available under the right pedal and delivered through an 8 speed ZF gearbox to either the rear wheels of Giulia or all four corners of Stelvio through a carbon fiber prop shaft.
There is an ongoing theme of weight reduction for the heavier drivetrain components that Alfa Romeo has continuously followed. Aluminium and carbon fiber are notoriously structural but lightweight materials in their application so Giulia expectedly tips the scales at a feathery 1429kg while Stelvio, with the Q4 system comes in at a respectable 1660kg. To put it into context, a comparable Jaguar F-Pace comes in at 1775kg – or the equivalent difference of a rugby prop the day after Christmas lunch. The results in terms of comfort and performance are noticeable.
Not only can you experience a nippy 0-100 sprint time of 5.7 seconds in both derivatives but also achieve a claimed economy of around 8.4l/100km, which is fairly frugal in the premium D-Segment. The sensation of the direct steering probably won’t allow that though as it inspires enthusiastic driving confidence, particularly in roads with sequences of corners.
The Q4 system of Stelvio is commendable in its application, its performance is highly regarded as it simply does not feel as top-heavy or bulky as a typical SUV in its segment. It confidently plants itself around high speed corners while momentary understeer in tight hairpins is mitigated through its all-wheel drive system. It is after all based on the same Giorgio platform as the athletic Giulia and Giulia QV.
Speaking of which, Giulia has received revised rear suspension which still achieves Alfa Romeo’s ideal 50/50 weight distribution. The improvements keep it more planted than before and make the entire driving experience highly interactive and rewarding. For those of us that really relish the drive, this premium saloon will not disappoint.
The different driving modes of the dna toggle are all well suited to their functions with much snappier gearshifts and throttle response in dynamic mode. While the majority of the journey was spent thrashing the motor to redline in this setting, both other modes were plush and comfortable, still capable of commanding power and downshifting the ZF gearbox to overtake slow moving traffic on single lane country roads.
The host of updates to the 2021 model year has also been implemented in the 375kW Giulia QV and Stelvio Q which are powered by the Ferrari derived 2.9l V6. Giulia QV will set you back R1 599 900 while the family hauling all-wheel drive Stelvio Q will come in at R1 749 900. Both models can now also be finished in Ocra GT, which pays homage to some of Alfa Romeo’s yellow colour swatches from the 1970s.
With recent news of the 500 limited edition Sauber co-developed Giulia GTA and GTAm (modificata) selling out globally, 8 are rumored to be entering our shores. A high number considering our local sales numbers are less than that for standard stock, reaffirming that the brand is still very much locally adored by enthusiasts and Alfisti alike.
The return of the Gran Turismo Alleggerita (alleggerita – Italian for lightweight) icon adds power and drops 100kg of weight from the standard QV model. The 2.9l V6 biturbo has been bumped up to 390kW and 600Nm while the back seats of the GTAm have been replaced with a half cage and full carbon fibre bucket seats and racing harnesses keep the driver and passenger at bay. Externally, an adjustable Sauber front and rear aero kit improves downforce while a massive adjustable rear wing features on the GTAm. The GTA includes 4 seats while the rear spoiler and splitter have been optimised for daily use on the road. This will also be the first saloon to feature centre-locking wheels as standard.
The lucky local clientele of the eye watering list price of R3 999 900 for the GTA and R4 299 900 for GTAm also receive a personalized experience package during the sales process which also includes a kit comprising a custom GTA liveried Bell helmet, an Alpinestars race suit, helmet and shoes while the car receives a personalized wool cover.
With no immediate plans to extend the lifespan of the dynamic Giorgio platform after emerging in the new era of the Stellantis automobile group, this may also be the last traditional Internal Combustion Engine powered Alfa Romeo saloon the world will receive considering an all-electric future. The seductive Tonale Compact SUV concept looks set to carry the predominant sales of the brand in the coming years as an electrified flagship. It may be over 6 years on from their initial release, but the Giulia Veloce and Stelvio Super are more recommendable than ever. They’ve been in the market for half a decade now which means that they are not brand new in shape but have proven the brands improved reliability, despite initial concerns from naysayers and critics. While sales numbers are a fraction of the competitors, one must not forget that Alfa Romeo is not a numbers brand but a brand more focused on driving passion and feeling. Their sporting dna and driver focused ergonomics nullify the slightly less equipped technological features. For those that enjoy being in command of the metal, glass and rubber machines that bring us closer to the places and people we love, these are cars that will captivate from first glance. In Giulia or Stelvio, you may even find yourself grinning from ear to ear until you have arrived at your destination.