ALFA Romeo will soon start its uphill battle to convince buyers of European luxury cars to throw it on their increasingly crowded luxury car shopping list.
The once storied Italian brand has had minimal exposure in Australia for decades compared with its predominantly German rivals, but now wants to muscle up to the big boys with the Alfa Romeo Giulia four-door sedan, a crucial mid-sized luxury entrant in a market segment dominated by BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Alfa Romeo is working towards a $60,000 starting price for the Giulia, which steps in for the largely underwhelming 159 and, before that, the 156.
Fiat Chrysler Australia president and chief executive Steve Zanlunghi says BMW is the target with the Giulia.
“We’re looking to establish it as a premium contender, that’s where we’re looking to price the vehicle,” says Zanlunghi.
“We haven’t been shy about saying we’re looking to price it right on BMW.
“We’ve got very big plans for us; we’re not going to compromise when it comes to that brand.”
Key to the sales pitch is urging luxury buyers to at least consider the brand, something notoriously difficult in a market segment where brand loyalty is high, the competition intense and longevity and history key.
“We want them to get in, see the car, drive it and compare it to the competition,” says Zanlunghi. “We think the product will stand up for itself.”
While Alfa Romeo doesn’t have anything like the dealer network or presence of rivals – it wants to have 18 dealers Australia-wide by the end of 2017 and currently sells less than one-twentieth that of its German rivals – the brand wants to play off its Italian heritage and reputation for building seductive, sporty cars.
“We are going to play on the brand’s values and the brand’s pillars and that’s passion, it’s emotion and it’s the Italian heritage,” says Zanlunghi.
He points to the design and engineering teams created to produce the new breed of Alfa Romeos.
“We kind of sequestered off the best of the best from our organisation across Fiat, Chrysler, Alfa, Maserati, Ferrari … and we pulled them away from the regular machine that we usually have called Fiat Chrysler and this is the output of it. We’re going to play off that.”
The Giulia is the result of a $7 billion investment that included a new rear-drive platform to also be utilised on the upcoming Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV. Both cars are tasked with relaunching the Italian brand globally.
On sale in February, the Giulia will be offered in Australia in four trim levels with a choice of four engines, all the way up to the twin-turbocharged 375kW V6-powered QV that is expected to be priced around $145,000.
The entry-level car is simply known as Giulia and is expected to be closely aligned price-wise with the $61,900 BMW 320i. Standard fare will include leather, satellite-navigation, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen, 18-inch wheels, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning.
But it’s the 147kW/330Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder Alfa Romeo sees as an advantage against core rivals, which include the BMW 320i (135kW/290Nm), Mercedes-Benz C200 (135kW/300Nm) and Audi A4 2.0 TFSI (140kW/320Nm). Driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed auto, it’s claimed to hit 100km/h in 6.6 seconds.
Next step up is the Super, which can be had with the same engine or a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with 132kW and 450Nm. It also picks up active cruise control, an electric driver’s seat, blind spot monitoring and better leather which spreads to the doors and dash.
From there it’s a jump to the Giulia Veloce, which gets a more powerful version of the petrol four-cylinder for 206kW and 400Nm and claimed 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds. It also picks up alloy pedals and a better sound system as well as sports seats and adaptive dampers.
Top of the Giulia range is the Quadrifoglio, or QV, which gets a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6. It’s claimed to outgun its key German rivals – think BMW M3 and the Mercedes-AMG C63 – to 100km/h, achieving the target in 3.9 seconds on the way to a top speed of 307km/h. It also picks up a Harman Kardon 14-speaker sound system, 8.8-inch touchscreen and various visual tweaks, including quad exhaust pipes and distinctive 19-inch alloys.
Yet even with value, styling and driving manners ticking the right boxes, Alfa Romeo still has an enormous challenge ahead of it. That’s something Zanlunghi is acutely aware of.
“The closing factor is going to be getting into the car and actually driving the vehicle,” he says. “The key is going to be to get the vehicles in front of customers.”