Editor’s letter

Heart of the matter

GLENN BUTLER

TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING AND SIX TIMES MORE THAN THE 750 MILLION EURO IT WAS BUDGETED FOR IN 2007, THE ALFA ROMEO GIULIA HAS ARRIVED. ITS HERCULEAN CHALLENGE IS NOT ONLY TO RESTORE ALFA’S REPUTATION, BUT ALSO TO FORGE ITS FUTURE.

Since I started in this game, I’ve not driven a single new Alfa Romeo that’s helped me understand the reverence or respect in which the 106-year-old Italian brand is held… usually by children of the ’50s and ’60s. To me, Alfa Romeo has always been yesterday’s hero, a shadow of a former glory last seen in cars like the 1964 Giulia Sprint GT and the gorgeous 1967 Tipo 33 Stradale (below).

Will the new Giulia be the vanguard for Alfa Romeo’s resurgence?

I drove the Giulia’s 159 predecessor way back in 2006. Italian styling, good value, competitive safety kit, practical… Faint praise, right?

The 159 exuded Italian flair in the cabin, but not in the way it drove. The 2.2-litre four didn’t like to rev and its performance was middle of the pack.

The suspension tune was too firm and brittle for Aussie roads, which undermined every dynamic interaction. In short, no spirit.

Five years have passed since the 159 ended production and I’m now on a plane, heading for Balocco in northern Italy to drive the new Giulia. I sincerely hope it’s a true competitor for the German premium brands. I want the Quadrifoglio version, Alfa’s AMG-fighter, to blow my mind.

Most of all, I want to experience the spirit, the excitement, that quintessential Italian flair that Alfisti reminisce about.

I hope to be impressed, but I expect to be disappointed. And that’s largely because, for such an important model, the Giulia’s development journey has not been a stable one.

Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of what was Fiat Group back then, almost signed off on the Giulia development plan in 2007. It was one of a number of models to be co-developed with BMW – a new deal to replace the GM tie-up that spawned the 159. But instead of going into partnership with BMW and beginning Alfa Romeo’s rear-drive future with the 159 replacement in 2010, Fiat Group instead started sniffing around struggling Chrysler. Development plans were put on hold, then cancelled when Fiat bought a controlling stake in the US giant in early 2009.

The next four years were focused on getting Fiat Chrysler Automobiles financially stable. Then, in April 2013 – three years after the BMW-based Giulia would have launched – work began on new Giulia.

Three years and one month later I’m on a plane flying to Italy to drive it.

This ¤5 billion car has to be good. The alternative could well be the end of Alfa Romeo.

I want to experience the spirit, the excitement, the Italian fl air that Alfi sti reminisce about

Heart of the matter

My fi rst-hand experience of ‘special’ Alfa Romeos is limited to one: my mate Stu’s 1970 Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV. When time came to buy his fi rst car, he bought his dream, and more than 30 years later still drives it almost every day. I’ve driven his blue GTV a couple of times. It creaks, groans, burps, farts and belches, and that’s before you really get going.

The seatbelts don’t retract, the speedo shakes with palsy, the gearlever needs plenty of elbow room, and the clutch’s take-up point changes every time. But I enjoyed driving that Giugiaro-designed stunner, stepping into a bygone era when cars exuded style and spirit.