"SPECIALIZATION," Robert Heinlein once wrote, “is for insects.” If that is truly the case, then the garages of many wealthy automotive enthusiasts are veritable master classes in entomology, bursting with cars that are expected to do just one thing well. Combine this with the relaxed attitude that the owner of a vehicle fleet can enjoy, regarding the reliability of any particular automobile in that collection, and what results is the proverbial soft bigotry of low expectations. A niche car, even an expensive one, can get away with flaws and faults that would be unacceptable in a Corolla or even a Miata.
This somewhat paradoxical state of affairs may explain why Alfa’s return to North America has so far been with specialty cars—first the exotic 8C, then the two-seat 4C, and, most recently, the 505-hp Giulia Quadrifoglio. Stunning, fast cars, all. But none will be held to as high a standard as this four-cylinder Giulia Ti. Flaws that might be characterful or charming on a sports car or a super-sedan are more likely to be considered deal breakers or at least major demerits on an entry-luxury four-door meant to compete with relatively prosaic fare like the BMW 330i or Mercedes-Benz C300.
At the same time, the Alfa has to offer a little extra sprezzatura if it’s going to pry people out of their safe-and-sane serial-leasing habits at the local German-car dealer. So it’s reassuring to see that our test car—resplendent in the optional (and, at $2200, unconscionably expensive) Trofeo white tri-coat and featuring the full compliment of sport and performance packages—was an attention magnet everywhere it went. Even more interesting was the reliability with which people would stare at the car, point, then mouth “Alfa” to their companions. Strong presence for a brand that hasn’t sold sedans in this country for more than two decades.
The Giulia’s interior is similarly attractive and tangibly Italian. Our test vehicle had bright-red leather, contrast stitching, and generous swathes of aluminum and carbon fiber. Some details are not executed to the German standard: The power seat isn’t sufficiently adjustable, the sunroof controls verge on the obscure, and the optional Harman/Kardon stereo system elicits a sympathetic buzz from various trim panels in the doors. But these are venial sins, not mortal ones.
The engine is a more serious offense. It’s another example of the generic and charmless two-liter turbo four-cylinders that increasingly infest this segment. Swaddled in unnecessary sound insulation and reminiscent of a diesel, the four-cylinder is the least recognizably Italian part of the car, despite being engineered partly in Modena and built in Termoli.
We took the Giulia to Mid-Ohio for a series of evening lapping sessions. With the windows down, it was impossible to hear the engine above 70 mph or so. That, combined with a relatively low 5500-rpm redline and an oddly placid rev limiter, made for a lot of embarrassing late-shift decisions. The Giulia is usefully quicker when the (optional) aluminum shift paddles are employed, and rev-matching through the torque-converter eight-speed automatic is sure and swift. But the paddles themselves are mounted on the steering column to satisfy the shuffle-steering graduates of high-school driver’s ed out there.
The chassis, on the other hand, was quickly revealed to be an utter delight. Balanced, tossable, and minded by a stability-control system that intervened in gentle and infrequent fashion, this Alfa can be driven immediately to its limits by even a mildly skilled pilot. The big Brembo brakes are grabby on the street and don’t provide a lot of feel on the track, but they handled the substantial deceleration at the end of Mid-Ohio’s back straight consistently and without worrisome fade. More than one Porsche driver in our expert run group found himself unable to shake the glossy white Alfa from his mirrors.
With an engine better-suited to its rakish looks and lively chassis—say, a naturally aspirated version of the Quadrifoglio’s V6, with some intake-runner magic—the Giulia Ti would be just about irresistible. As supplied, however, it is plenty good and offers a characterful, capable alternative to the typical silver sedans from Germany. Don’t worry about it being too fussy or fickle for everyday use. Its Quadrifoglio sibling is undeniably specialized in power and price, but this more modest Alfa Romeo is simply special.