The 4,643mm long Giulia is claimed to have 50/50 weight distribution

The 4,643mm long Giulia is claimed to have 50/50 weight distribution

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Alfa Romeo is at long last on the rise. Across Europe and in the US too, Giulia sales, after a slow start, are accelerating. In many ways, this D segment sedan is good enough to be compared with the best in its class. However, there are areas of concern.

It took a while, but the Giulia is doing a lot better in the US than it had been. Last month, it was the main reason for a dramatic year-on-year gain in brand deliveries, Alfa sales surging by 3,000 per cent to 1,140 vehicles delivered. Of the total, 916 were Giulias, 203 were Stelvios and 21 were 4Cs. Year to date, things are improving too, 6,084 Alfas having now found owners and with the Stelvio only just on sale in North America, the 10,000 unit barrier should be crossed by year end. That's still a pretty small number and a lot, lot fewer than what Sergio Marchionne had once declared would be the goal. Considering all the delays and changes to the brand's product plans and vehicle release dates, it's not bad, though.

Across Europe, Alfa Romeo is riding a sales wave which has surged by 39 per cent for the year to date.

Across Europe, and this according to ACEA data, Alfa Romeo is riding a wave which has surged by 39 per cent year to date. Let's keep things in perspective though, and not forget that Alfa was in steep decline due to old cars such as the MiTo and Giulietta. There are still no signs of any replacements. In the case of the Giulia, its predecessor, the 159, simply went out of production and the brand disappeared from the D-sedan segment. For five years. Can any of us imagine Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz doing that?

Leaving the past to one side, let's look at the here and now. Those numbers gathered in by ACEA show the momentum which Alfa has. In August, sales across EU and EFTA nations shot up by 41.3 per cent to 4,686, enough to lift the make's share of the giant market to 0.5 per cent from 0.4 in the prior year. A long way short of the 5.7 per cent held by the number one mass luxury maker Mercedes-Benz, but, it's a start.

Looking at registrations for the first eight months, these total 57,900 compared to 41,539 in the same period of 2016, which is a gain of 39.4 percent. Just how impressive is this result? Well, the brand has a range of five models, two of which, the MiTo and Giulietta, are respectively nine and seven years old. The 4C is a hand-made car which is selling in tiny numbers. Which leaves the Giulia and Stelvio. So considering all of this, delivering more than twice the number of vehicles which Jaguar managed in August - even factoring in the traditionally quiet period in the UK ahead of the 1 September registration plate change - is impressive. The limping leaper had regional sales of only 2,187 units.

The marque from Milan has now sold more than double the number of vehicles retailed by Lexus in Europe for 2017.

These small victories will be celebrated by Alfa fans and they will also thrill to learning that the marque from Milan has in 2017 sold more than double the number of vehicles retailed by Lexus (28,550), again according to ACEA's data.

What Alfa Romeo has always needed to do is crack the German market. A long time ago, the 156 did well there and all went wrong. Guess what is happening now? A younger generation is willing to consider the brand anew. It also seems as though as for my own recent experience with the Giulia, they are being attracted to this well built and character-filled alternative to the C-Class and A4.

Have I forgotten to mention the 3 Series? Sadly not: in its home market, the 3 Series is being thumped month in month out by the Benz and the Audi. So it's no longer a true rival. The numbers speak for themselves: C-Class, 49,169 (Ytd) and A4, 41,082 versus 27,796 for the BMW. In August, the Dacia Sandero (2,814) outsold the 3er (2,767). The 3 Series' loss is the 2 Series' gain though (27,831 sold YtD and therefore a more popular line-up of cars than the '3), so it's not all bad news for BMW.

If one of the big three German makes in the D segment is in steep decline, might that also be an opportunity for other aspirational brands? Well, yes and no. A deeply disappointing 201 units of the Jaguar XE were registered in August, and 1,513 for the year-to-date, which was at least better than the combined 185 for the Volvo S60/V60. The KBA's numbers show a better result over the 1 January-31 August period for the Volvos, with 3,056 sold in what will be their final full year of production.

Germany is a very tough market - Porsche is more than 6,000 units ahead of Honda - but the Giulia and Stelvio show that buyers will consider Alfa Romeo if the cars are good enough.

Looking down the list of sales by model, finally the Giulia is there, in 199th position with 157 registrations. Not so good. Better news is that year-on-year, the rise is 80 per cent and the total over the first eight months is 1,931 cars. For a country which is supposed to not be much interested in Italian premium priced models, that's not a bad result. Add the Stelvio to the total (201 in August and 1,110 YtD) plus 886 Giuliettas and 293 MiTos and you start to see how Alfa has somehow sold 4,359 vehicles in Germany so far this year, which represents a gain of 66 per cent. This is a very tough market - Porsche is more than 6,000 units ahead of Honda - but the Giulia and Stelvio show that buyers will consider Alfa Romeo if the cars are good enough.

A quick look at Italy, even though neither the Giulia nor the Stelvio is the kind of vehicle which ever sells well there. Italians much prefer A, B or as the ever increasing success of the Tipo shows, C segment hatchbacks. Alfa sales were up by 36 per cent in August versus 16 per cent for all brands. That has seen it above the 30,000 mark for the year to date and closing on Kia and Hyundai. That total also shows how vital it is for the brand's future that it breaks away from its reliance on Italy and pushes up its volume across the entire European region.

It's more of a mixed result in Britain. The Giulia is doing most of the volume as the Stelvio is not yet available here. Noting that, YtD sales of 3,168 for the brand against 3,286 for 1 Jan-31 Aug 2016 is fair. The next quarter should be much better, and in fact September could also be a memorable month if the multiple scrappage schemes succeed in enticing a vast number of company and private buyers into signing up for a new vehicle.

FCA will never sell many of these but the four leaf clover was a good move by Alfa Romeo management to define what the Giulia's image should be.

A lot has been written about the car itself by many, though most of the reviews have been about the high priced Quadrifoglio. Outside the the US, FCA will never sell many of these but the four leaf clover was a good move by Alfa Romeo management to define what the Giulia's image should be, and indeed that of the brand. There may well be a 500+hp car at the top of the range but what people are and will be buying are the more ordinary four-cylinder diesel and petrol powered versions.

In Britain, the base car is called simply Giulia and this comes only with the 200hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, priced from GBP28,979. Above this is Tecnica trim, which offers the choice of 150hp and 180hp versions of FCA's 2.2-litre diesel, with all three engines available in the more expensive Super model grade. Then comes Speciale which costs GBP34,679 and gives you the 180hp diesel (as tested). There is another engine, which is a 280hp 2.0-litre turbo and this is only in Veloce trim (GBP37,364) and then there is a big price gap to the GBP60,099 2.9-litre 510hp bi-turbo Quadrifoglio.

The Speciale is well equipped with heating for the steering wheel and front seats, beautiful leather trim, voice control SatNav, electrically adjustable seats, a 40/20/40 folding rear bench, an eight speed automatic gearbox and 18-inch alloy wheels. The test vehicle had an interior which was well constructed (although a speaker in the passenger door occasionally vibrated) but it's a pity that space in the back is fairly limited, something the Giulia has in common with the BMW 3 Series. It's also a fairly tight squeeze for knees back there too. The overall look of the car from the inside is mostly premium but it could do with a bit more panache in terms of looks.

The start-stop system could do with some extra refinement.

The styling is one of the best things about the Giulia, except that it seems the trade off has been a tight amount of space for back seat passengers. Two up, though, or even better, just the driver, and this is a great car. A handily tight turning circle and steering weighting which is just right are highlights, as is the amount of torque (450Nm) and how free revving this 2.2-litre engine is.

The start-stop system could do with some extra refinement: there is momentary vibration through the steering wheel every time the diesel engine fires back up. Against that, it will spin effortlessly to the red line and thanks to a torque converter automatic there is none of the dreaded shunting when parking this car - a few days after the Alfa I was in an Audi R8 and that was certainly an issue with the dual clutch transmission in that vehicle.

Overall, the Giulia might be one of those cars which takes a while to find its natural sales volume. The brand has been absent from or a minor player in so many segments for many years, that even just getting the name out there will continue to take some time. As for the car itself, it's about 90 per cent there. The model range could do with being filled out a little more and such is the excellence of the Giorgio platform which in this application means a beautifully balanced RWD chassis, that the car would surely be sublime with even more torque and a 220-250hp biturbo version of that 2.2-litre diesel. 

What follows the Giulia and Stelvio?

As of now, the latest thinking is that the Giulietta is next in line to be replaced, this being set to take place in 2018.

As is well known, FCA's future vehicle plan announcements tend to be best regarded as a rough guide due to how quickly they subsequently change. As of now, the latest thinking is that the Giulietta will be replaced in late 2018. Will it be a five-door hatchback? Apparently yes, but there should also be a sedan which would be aimed somewhere between the future Mercedes A-Class four-door and the CLA.

Set to appear ahead of the Giulietta successor(s) will be an E segment SUV, which insiders have said will be manufactured in Italy at Mirafiori, commencing in the first half of 2018. Think of it as a restyling of the Maserati Levante, and to be sized at around the same 5-metre mark. 'Dolimiti' would be a logical model name, given how well Stelvio has been received and the link to challenging and scenic Italian mountain roads.

In late 2019, Alfa should gain an SUV which is smaller than the Stelvio, so something like the Audi Q3. If all goes well, the brand might even be headed towards 250,000 sales a year worldwide by 2020. Let's see what FCA has to say about its latest plan for Alfa Romeo during the next Investors' Briefing though.

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