The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a gorgeous option if you’re after something a bit different from the usual German premium saloon cars. But it begs the question – should you buy the Alfa, or the Audi A4? Mat Watson has pitted the Giulia against the A4 to find out.
The Giulia’s mission to sway you away from German alternatives is made difficult by the fact that, in entry-level spec, it costs around a thousand pounds more than an entry-level Audi A4. However, the Giulia comes with more kit as standard such as an automatic gearbox, cruise control and rear parking sensors. In fact, once you compare them like-for-like, the Giulia works out as better value than the A4.
Now, with the pragmatic stuff out of the way, let’s focus on where the Giulia really shines – the way it looks. Alfa Romeos are rarely anything but gorgeous, but the Giulia’s flowing forms will make even the most hardened Alfa critic weak at the knees. Even at a glance you can tell that there is true automotive passion in the design – from the front grille that laughs in the face of central-mounted registration-plate regulations to the chrome dual-exhaust pipes in the back.
The A4, on the other hand, looks a bit like the old one. Which looked a bit like the one before it. This may be perfectly fine if you like the neat and tidy design, but you could argue it’s verging on being too dull – you’ll probably need to tie a balloon to the aerial so that you can locate it in a busy carpark. With the Alfa, you’ll probably even give it an admiring glance as you’re walking away.
While the outside of the A4 is hardly a talking point, the interior is a clear demonstration of Audi’s design prowess. Everything you touch feels expensive and incredibly well made – it’s head and shoulders above its alternatives. The A4 is a true tech-fest inside, too, with an infotainment system that’s one of the easiest to use on the market and, of course, the virtual cockpit digital driver’s display which can show you a lovely full-screen map of the sat nav where the speedo and rev-counter dials are.
The Giulia can’t really match the Audi for tech. Yes, it can have a small screen between the dials that shows trip info, but that’s like comparing a Nokia to an iPhone. The infotainment system in the Giulia is pretty easy to use and controlled via a rotary dial near the gear knob, but it can’t match the speed, graphics and functionality of Audi’s MMI system. The way the screen is integrated into the dash is more elegant in the Audi and the overall interior design in the Alfa is quite sporty with a standard-fit leather-wrapped steering wheel. You can pay extra for metal shift paddles, and all models come with a cool engine-start button like in a Ferrari, but the rest of the cabin simply doesn’t feel as posh as in the Audi.
The Alfa’s eye-catching design does harm its practicality a bit – those large wheel arches eat into the door opening, so getting in and out of the Giulia is hardly a dignified experience. Once in, though, there’s plenty of knee room and enough headroom providing you’re not much taller than six feet. With three in the back there is a shortage of both head and shoulder room, so it’s only advisable for quick trips to lunch with the colleagues. The intruding wheel arches also make fitting a child seat a bit trickier than in the Audi where it’s a complete breeze.
The Audi A4 is a really practical car – legroom is generous and so is headroom. There’s actually very little to complain about. If you really had to find something to moan about, then the rear windows don’t go all the way down so resting an elbow out the car isn’t that comfy – which is definitely a first-world problem. Carrying three in the back is still a fairly intimate affair but it is more spacious than the Giulia, so points for Audi here as well.
The A4 has the edge over the Guilia when it comes to practicality as well – the actual size of the boot is pretty much the same as in the BMW 3 Series, but the square shape means it’s easy to make best use of the available space. Storage spaces around the cabin are also impressive, and you can pay for an optional cubby that boosts your mobile’s signal strength and can also wirelessly charge it as well.
The Alfa is less practical, with smaller cubbyholes than the Audi and less storage space in general, but it’s still OK. The Giulia’s voluptuous rear end, however, does it no favours when it comes to packing luggage. The boot’s roughly the same size as the A4’s, but the load area isn’t so square, which means you can’t use the space as effectively as in the Audi. It’s not that huge a difference, however.
The biggest difference between the A4 and Giulia can be felt from behind the wheel. The Giulia is genuinely good fun to drive – it’s rear-wheel drive, so the front wheels can do the steering and the rears do the accelerating, which just feels better than front-wheel-drive on a fast twisty road. What also helps is the low-slung driving position and a sporty steering wheel that feels lovely to hold.
The standard eight-speed automatic is also great, with quick and smooth shifts. Things aren’t so great over bumps, however, and the 2.2-litre diesel sounds a bit rough when you accelerate. It’s reasonably economical too – you’ll get 45mpg in the real world compared to Alfa’s claimed 67mpg.
The A4 is the opposite of the Giulia – it’s all about being easy and relaxing. It’s far from the most exciting car to drive but sometimes all you need or want is a comfortable drive home after a stressful day. The A4 is completely in its element devouring motorway miles in silence and taking you to your destination without a fuss.
That said, the A4 is still decent in corners – it has loads of grip and can really hustle down some back roads. The suspension does a great job at ironing bumps in the roads too, and it doesn’t fidget around at all. The engine range is brilliant, but the 2.0-litre diesel is the perfect fit for the A4 – it’s punchy, smooth and you can easily get 55mpg in the real world.
Alfa Romeo has built a genuinely remarkable sporty saloon that looks drop-dead gorgeous, drives like the best of them and comes well-equipped as standard. The problem is that the Audi A4 does more things, and does them even better – it’s the better rounded of the two cars, which makes it the winner of this comparison.
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