Decades after it left the US market, Italian icon Alfa Romeo returned last year to much fanfare from driving purists eager for the charms of a balanced, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan. The first mainstream member of the brand's reentry, the Giulia sedan, runs the gamut from high-$30,000 sport sedan to $50,000 luxury car to $75,000-plus super sedan.

Best Value

We want nothing more than to suggest the high-performance, 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio is the best value in the Giulia range, but with a starting price of $75,295 (including a hefty $1,595 destination charge), we just can't. Nor do we suggest grabbing the non-Ti base model, owing to not only its lack of standard equipment but its lack of upgrades.

Instead, the sweet spot is the Ti. Grab the Sport Package, because this is an Alfa Romeo and optioning it as a luxury car is a waste of its talents. It's only a $2,500 addition but adds 19-inch wheels in Alfa's awesome five-hole design, as well as more stylish front and rear fascias, super-supportive front seats, a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, and the best paddle shifters in the business.

The Driver Assistance Static Package is an affordably priced upgrade at $650, adding blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and auto-dimming rearview mirrors. Enthusiasts should grab the $1,200 Ti Sport Performance Package for its adaptive suspension and mechanical limited-slip differential, but the average consumer won't notice the difference.

Rear-wheel drive is standard, but customers that live somewhere that gets regular snow will want to consider the $2,000 all-wheel-drive system.

Here's how we'd configure our Giulia.

  • Model: 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti
  • Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Output: 280 hp / 306 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Eight-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • MPG: 24 City / 33 Hwy
  • Options: Sport Package ($2,500, paddle shifters, sport seats, sport steering wheel, 19-inch wheels, sport front and rear fascias), Driver Assistance Static Package ($650, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and auto-dimming mirrors), navigation ($950)
  • Base Price:$42,140 (including the $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$45,290

Performance

Alfa Romeo Giulia

How does the Giulia perform? In a word, it's stunning. That's true of both the base four-cylinder car and the high-performance Quadrifoglio. Both cars share super-fast steering racks, amplifying even tiny inputs to give the Giulia a darty, sharp handling character. Firm suspensions and stellar tuning mean feedback both through the chassis and the steering is among the best in the class.

While Alfa Romeo builds the Giulia with both a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic, only the auto is available in the US. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the eight-speed is one of the brilliant German-built units used not only by Fiat Chrysler, but by BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and a host of other high-end automakers. It's excellent.

In manual mode, there are fast, aggressive upshifts and downshifts. But leave the Giulia in automatic, and it's a calm, intelligent transmission that matches throttle inputs well and does a good job of blending into the background. This is true with both the four- and six-cylinder model.

But the heart of the Giulia is its two engine options. The base four-cylinder, a 2.0-liter, turbocharged unit, is smooth and capable. Low-end torque is impressive, and the engine pulls hard all the way up to the redline. It sounds good too, lacking the buzzy nature of some of its rivals while still offering more presence. It's a very likable engine and is one we can't wait to see FCA use in other vehicles (a version of this engine is already slated for the new Wrangler and the updated Cherokee).

The Quadrifoglio's engine is an entirely different beast. Essentially a Ferrari California T's 3.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 that's had a pair of its cylinders cleaved off, this 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 generates 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. That's only slightly less than the 552 ponies from the Ferrari unit this engine is based on. Unsurprisingly, its performance is blistering.

Remarkably powerful and willing to rev, there's never a shortage of power from the V6. Drive it properly, and the 2.9-liter can move the Giulia Quadrifoglio from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 3.8 seconds. It sounds great, too, with a bellicose exhaust note that stands apart from the muscular V8s favored by Mercedes-Benz and the straight-sixes from BMW.

That said, the 2.9-liter isn't for the faint of heart. Its power is occasionally difficult to manage, particularly if drivers don't take the time to warm up the rear tires – unlike the four-cylinder Giulia, the Quadrifoglio is only available with rear-wheel drive.

Shortcomings are few but aren't easy to ignore. The biggest problem the Giulia faces is its all-electric brake pedal. It's great for aggressive driving, but around town, the pedal is maddeningly vague and hard to modulate. The line between smooth stop and neck-jerking brake at low speeds is remarkably thin, although the pedal is better at freeway speeds.

The ride can also get too firm, specifically on the Quadrifoglio. We spent a lot of our time behind the wheel with the adaptive suspension in its softer setting, simply because the default was too firm. Wind and tire roar – the latter was a particular issue in the Quadrifoglio, with its takes-no-prisoners tires – are also constant. We'd advise avoiding the optional panoramic sunroof and going for smaller wheels if you're looking for more refinement from this Italian.

Style

The Giulia is lovely from every angle. Its iconic triangular grille and aggressive headlights present an attractive face, while the subtle styling touches in its profile and a long-hood, short-deck layout emphasize its sportiness. Go for the Quadrifoglio, and you'll get a more aggressive body kit, larger wheels, a pair of hood vents, an almost-silly quad-tipped exhaust system, and a prominent rear diffuser.

The cabin is more of a mixed bag, though. The layout is wonderfully functional – we dig the steering-wheel-mounted start button and the flat-bottomed wheel itself, while the available column-mounted paddle shifters are among the best on the market. Unlike wheel-mounted paddles, these real metal units stay put when turning the wheel, so upshift is always on the right and downshift is always on the left. They're huge, beautiful to look at, and have a perfect action.

But some disappointing plastics, both at and below eye level, hurt the experience. Consider grabbing the optional leather-wrapped dash, which hides some of the more offensive materials. It can't do anything for the cheap uppers on the door panels, though.

The front seats are very supportive, although we're leaning toward the snugger seats available as part of the Sport Package than the nicer upholstery of the Lusso models. The bolsters are big and keep both front and back seat passengers in place. Unsurprisingly, it's easy to settle into a comfortable driving position, while sightlines fore, aft, and laterally are impressive. The second row isn't quite so nice. Legroom is tight and the seats themselves aren't all that comfortable.

The infotainment system is also a pain in the neck. Unlike the rest of Fiat Chrysler's products, which use a fantastic Uconnect system, Alfa Romeo gets its own setup on a horizontally-oriented 8.8-inch display (a smaller 6.8-inch unit is available, although we haven't been able to sample it yet). The non-touchscreen display operates via a left-to-right menu system and a large, flimsy feeling dial. Flanked by a pair of buttons that allow quick access to the main menu, it's a difficult and unintuitive system that's also occasionally slow to respond to inputs.

The Best and Worst Things

The Giulia's steering and general handling demeanor is just so perfectly tuned in for driving pleasure that it's hard to get out of this car without a smile on your face.

While we didn't experience any issues during our loans, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the widespread reliability issues that have impacted other members of the media while testing the new Giulia. These are new cars, and issues are expected, but multiple outlets have reported problems with their test vehicles, including CarsDirect's sister site, Motor Authority.

Right For? Wrong For?

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Driving enthusiasts should crave the Alfa Romeo driving experience. Put the Giulia toe to toe with any other vehicle in its segment, and it will almost certainly deliver a superior driving experience.

The Giulia has too much wind and tire noise and lacks the solid construction demanded by today's luxury shoppers.

The Bottom Line

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia is a sports sedan without compromise, delivering a charming driving experience at both ends of its nearly $40,000 price delta. But that uncompromising nature means it struggles with its luxury aspirations, making it a vehicle that requires careful consideration among today's shoppers. If driving fun is your number one priority, though, there's no better option around.