28 November, 2021
Guilia has a secret
THE Alfa Romeo brand has been something of a mixed bag over the years, offering a range of incredibly quick, for their size, cars, that were as breathtaking as they could be disappointing, it really was a lucky dip as to what you could get.
More recently, and perhaps thanks to more stringent international consumer regulations, Alfa has become a truly desirable European brand, not just for their outstanding on-road dynamics, but for their build quality.
So, when the word filtered down that Alfa was sending one of its machines north, hidden under a blanket in a ‘blockade buster’, almost straight out of a spy thriller, there was no doubting, this was a car to be experienced.
Alfa Romeo know Australia is a small market for them, but their willingness to share some truly exciting cars with us folks Down Under, even though they may only sell a few cars at best, is to respected, and appreciated.
So, arriving at a secret location in Brisbane at the appointed time, there was a hint of nerves, one of the last Alfas I drove was a scarlet red (must have been some left over paint from Ferrari) GT V6, powered by the most outstanding 6 cylinder engine I have ever driven.
I mention this car specifically because, in true Italian fashion, the speedo was completely invisible until the needle passed 90km/h - below that, you were on your own, and just had to hope the traffic branch had a sense of fair play - but the good news, from 90 through to 280km/h, you were fine, you could see your speed perfectly!
With this in mind, the first thing I noticed was the colour, no Testa Rossa red here, instead it was a beautiful deep Visconti Green, so dark it was verging on black, a lot more restrained than my previous encounter.
Sliding into the Guilia, I noticed two things: you virtually became one with the car, so beautifully did the seat attach itself to your body - even my oversize trunk was made to feel right at home, and my size 11 boots got the welcome mat treatment.
I am sure there is a design term for the effect, but one of the things I noticed from the outset is the deep, dark paint somehow ‘shrank’ the Guilia’s external dimensions, tricking the eye into thinking it is smaller than what it really is.
In reality, it is a genuine mid-size car, perhaps slightly smaller in every way than a Camry, but still big enough to comfortably hold four adults, while the boot is just short of cavernous, although the loading lip is a bit problematic.
This is becoming an issue with a number of cars, while the boot space is quite big, and easily holds four suitcases plus more, because of the short gap between the bottom of the boot lid and the top of the rear bumper ‘lip’, there is a restriction on the physical size of an item being put into the boot, leaving quite an air gap of unused space.
A suitcase can be loaded horizontally, and slide into the space, but a good-sized esky would catch on the boot lid and the lower lip, making it a real struggle to squeeze it in, along with a couple of chairs, the sort of load you might take for a family picnic or a trip to the beach.
That aside, the story of the Guilia is ‘how does it drive?’.
In a word, it is stupendous.
This is one of those cars where you genuinely blend into the car, you don’t try to tell it what to do, you listen to the Guilia as it offers suggestions for the road ahead.
That might sound a bit esoteric for a man-made machine, but if ever cars had souls, this is one of them.
Everything is super-precise, you don’t even think this car around corners, you just blink, and the job is done.
The steering is race-car direct and responsive, it is one of the fastest steering ratios I have experienced, even turning into a parking space required no more than a quarter turn, rather than half a turn or more in most other cars.
The suspension, adjustable via the DNA dial (Dynamic/Natural/Advanced Efficiency), is a masterpiece of suppleness, without sacrificing tautness, even the worst sections of the Brisbane Valley Highway and D’Aguilar Highways failed to upset the Guilia at cruising speeds.
There is still thumping heard and felt, you cannot hit a big lump without getting some transfer, but more importantly, the suspension is able to absorb these impacts, and the car is not disturbed or thrown off-line as a result.
Word from the rear seat was just as positive, with no requests to slow down or avoid the potholes, instead there was praise for the efficiency of the chassis and its underpinnings.
Powering the Guilia is a 206 kilowatt, 2-litre, four cylinder turbo, driving the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission, with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for ultimate control.
This is possibly the Guilia’s weak spot, like a number of similar high-performance automatics, while the driver is plucking gears via the shifters, there can be momentary delays in shifts.
This was particularly evident under harder acceleration, where you were pushing hard up to about 100-110km/h, there was then a delay while the transmission attempted to decide which gear it would settle in, with a short period of over-revving until the computer can choose the best ratio.
Similarly, there was no option to ‘skip shift’ and jump one or two gears, unlike what can be achieved with a traditional manual transmission.
In keeping with its European sporting sedan origins, the Guilia’s brakes are an absolute highlight, actually improving in operation the faster the car was travelling.
Around town, they were effective, without being excessively grippy, but once you were out on the open road, the pedal became firmer, with more bite, hauling up the Guilia from higher speeds cleanly and smoothly.
Despite some big braking efforts, we didn’t trigger the ABS/EBS/EBD systems even from above highway speeds on a closed road, which should have caused at least some kind of brake locking.
Overall, the Guilia is a brilliant proposition, as would be expected from a car with a $70,000 plus price tag, with no real disappointments, other than the auto transmission getting tangled up on sudden lift off from heavy acceleration.
Our test car was the Alfa Romeo Guilia Sport Veloce, with a recommended price of $78,475, plus on road costs, including premium paint, audio system, sunroof and painted brake callipers.