“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…