Note: this review is – as the title states – based on brief, passenger seat impressions. If you’re looking to buy either a Giulia Veloce or 330i, we’d suggest reading more formal reviews written by other Australian outlets like CarAdvice, Motoring or WhichCar.
Despite its storied history, Alfa Romeo has tended to get the rough end of the stick when it comes to sales success. After years of diminishing sales, the Italian brand ‘relaunched’ in 2015, its new range headlined by the introduction of the Giulia, a compact luxury sedan based on a fresh new rear-wheel-drive architecture with sharp styling and potent powertrains.
However, four years on, it’s fair to say things have not gone to plan. Alfa Romeo shifted just 17,075 Giulias in Europe in 2018, less than a sixth of the sales of each of its closest German rivals, and a handful of units short of the Toyota Avensis, a rapidly ageing sedan that ended production in August of that year.
To truly be considered successful, Alfa’s four-door must go head-to-head with – and beat – the class leader: the BMW 3 Series. Thoroughly redesigned for 2019, the new G20 iteration promises to be quieter, faster and more technologically advanced than the model it replaces.
Redline recently had the opportunity to go for a quick shotgun ride in both the Giulia and 3er, to see how the former’s purported dynamism stacks up against the latter’s claimed sophistication.
Pricing and equipment
The examples tested were mid-spec variants, priced around the $70,000 mark.
In the blue corner is the Alfa, seen here in Veloce grade, priced from $72,900 plus on-road costs. Standard equipment includes an 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 7.0-inch driver information display, limited-slip differential, heated front and rear seats, ambient cabin lighting, adaptive bi-xenon headlights and a 300-watt premium sound system.
Across the way is the 3 Series, tested in $70,900-plus-ORCs 330i sedan guise. Standard equipment includes a 10.25-inch central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay (and soon Android Auto), 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, an advanced park assist system, LED headlights and a 360-degree camera.
Common equipment between both cars includes 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive dampers, satellite navigation, leather trim, power-adjustable front seats, keyless entry and push-button start.
They also share a wide suite of safety technologies, including autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning (though the BMW bumps that up to full lane-keep assist).
It’s also important to note that, in typical luxury car fashion, the BMW has been equipped with a number of optional extras, including the Visibility and Comfort Packages, and black 19-inch M-branded wheels.
Step inside the Alfa and there’s no denying its sporting intentions. The start button is mounted on the steering wheel, which itself hides mammoth, column-mounted aluminium paddle shifters that are unlike anything in its price bracket.
The standard sports seats both look great – with Alfa Romeo logos embossed into the headrests – and are supremely supportive, with tight bolsters that hold you in place.
The 8.8-inch infotainment display is also a solid unit, the screen neatly integrated into a panel in the dashboard that appears to ‘disappear’ when the car is switched off. The system itself is fairly easy to use, with a rotary dial used to navigate its clean, dark-coloured interface.
However, it’s back in the physical world where the Giulia begins to fall apart. While the dashboard may be soft to the touch and trimmed in leather, the gear shifter and prominent elements of the centre console are made from a hard plastic material, and infotainment switchgear doesn’t feel as well-damped or high-quality as you would expect.
It isn’t the most spacious interior, either. The all-black colour scheme and design of the dashboard make for a snug – bordering on claustrophobic – experience, while rear seat room is compromised for the tallest of occupants.
Move over to the 330i and it’s a completely different story. The cabin feels noticeably more spacious – both up front and in the rear – despite black upholstery and headlining.
Both space for both cars is rated at 480 litres, on par with the top of the class.
The BMW’s seventh-generation iDrive infotainment system is also a cut above the Alfa. While not as immediately intuitive, the rotary-dial-controlled OS7.0 system sports a faster, more modern interface and broader feature set. The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is an excellent inclusion, though the anti-clockwise rev-counter may irritate the purist buyer.
The dashboard and key touchpoints are adorned in soft-touch plastic or leatherette materials, and physical switchgear is smooth, making for a premium feel that justifies the car’s price tag.
While plush, the BMW’s Vernasca-leather-trimmed front seats aren’t as supportive as the Giulia’s buckets.
Despite the Alfa’s sporty touches, the BMW’s quality and technology win in the interior stakes.
Since its launch two years ago, the Alfa has cemented itself as one of the best-looking vehicles in its class. The distinctive grille, swooping curves and perfect proportions combine with the Veloce trim’s penta-hole alloy wheels, twin exhaust outlets and darkened trim for a look that truly enchants.
Its rival from Germany takes a sharper, more sophisticated approach. The G20 330i is arguably the jewel in the modern BMW design crown – among some downright disastrous metal – with a sleek look headlined by slim LED (or, optionally, laser) headlights, conjoined kidney grilles, pronounced rear haunches and metallic twin exhaust tips.
However, in this highly subjective category, it’s the machine from Milan that takes the win.
Like their price tags, the on-paper gap between contenders is remarkably small.
Under the bonnet of both sedans are 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines –as is now ubiquitous in the era of downsizing – the BMW’s B48 unit producing 190kW of power and a meaty 400Nm of torque, closely topped by the Alfa’s 206kW/400Nm outputs.
Both cars drive their rear wheels only through identical ZF-built eight-speed automatic transmissions which, as a quick flick down the Alfa’s cogs via its gargantuan paddle shifters proved, is a far throw from the torque-converter boxes of old.
The German and Italian manufacturers claim near-identical 0-100km/h sprint times of 5.8 and 5.7 seconds respectively, complemented by seemingly frugal combined fuel economy claims of 6.4 and 6.1L/100km respectively. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to see how these claims stacked up numerically in the real world.
Those figures translate to the real world, where both cars feel peppy enough to excite on a twisty road yet can restrain themselves for the daily commute. Being turbocharged each four-pot delivers its torque relatively low in the rev band, ideal for making solid progress around town. It’s a challenge to split the pair here.
While dynamic qualities are hard to gauge from the passenger seat, a favourite emerges once you begin to hit potholes and speed bumps: the BMW. While by no means does the Veloce have a harsh ride – the 330i is just that bit better. Certain bumps that the Giulia might crash or perform oddly over, the Bimmer just sails across with little fuss.
We’d wager the Alfa’s sportier intentions are to blame, with stiffer dampers than the BMW even in Natural mode – the middle of the three available modes, between Dynamic and All-Weather.
The BMW nudges further head in the NVH stakes, where the German is a touch quieter at idle and on the move.
That said, to the surprise of this reviewer, it’s actually the 330i that produces the better soundtrack, not the uber-sporty Giulia. Gruff under acceleration and prone to popping on the overrun in Sport mode, it’s one of the select few 2.0-litre turbos capable of putting smiles on the faces of enthusiasts sans a variable sports exhaust.
A particular point of note before moving on is the intrusiveness of the Alfa’s active safety systems. On numerous occasions would the blind-spot monitoring system chirp needlessly while making clear lane changes or just cruising safely, each time barking at the occupants with an intensity that’s bound to get really annoying, really quickly.
Thus, it’s the BMW that takes the cake, though not by the biggest of margins.
It’s safe to say this didn’t go as initially expected. I went into these rides expecting the Giulia to seriously impress, to usurp its sales figures and assert itself as the better ‘warm’ sports sedan.
Impress the Veloce certainly did, with a charming Italian exterior, potent turbo powertrain and a pleasant ride around town. It’s a brilliant car.
However, as I stated in the opening of this review, to truly be considered successful, Alfa Romeo’s mid-size sedan contender must have the goods not just to impress, but to excel, and knock down its German rivals.
Ergo, I’m sad to report it just doesn’t. The interior, while good-looking, lacks the polish and outright quality to stick it with the class, and the ride isn’t as plush as rivals.
Such a rival is the new BMW 330i. It’s just as potent and efficient as the Alfa, yet is more practical and more refined, with an ever-so-slightly quieter, plusher ride, and a premium interior befitting of the German’s premium badge and price tag.
That’s why it wins this ride-along review.
Local Redline-snapped imagery couldn’t be attained for the bulk of this review. International press shots have been substituted instead, unless stated otherwise.