Alfa Romeo's new Alfa Giulia targets the luxury market sweet spot

Meet Alfa Romeo's make-or-break car, the Giulia.

Not to be confused with the smaller Giulietta that is a product of the old Alfa Romeo, the mid-sized Giulia is the latest new arrival from an Italian brand embarking on an ambitious "renaissance" hoped to take advantage of a growing sales of luxury vehicles and cement the marque as a true luxury player.

Equally, the Giulia – the result of a $1 billion-plus investment – could be Alfa Romeo's undoing if it doesn't live up to expectations and position the brand for a wave of new models over the next few years.

First step is to overcome poor local sales and convince often conservative luxury car buyers to try something new ...

The numbers

Priced from $59,895, the Alfa Giulia is make or break.

But recently appointed Alfa Romeo Australia president and CEO Steve Zanlunghi is not considering failure.

"There's commitment to seeing the Alfa Romeo brand strong and successful, from the expert technicians who service the cars right to the very top with our CEO Sergio Marchionne," he says. "And it's because of that unity and unwavering commitment that the Alfa Romeo renaissance, which started this month with the Giulia, will be successful."

The importance of being Giulia

Zanlunghi describes the Giulia as "very important".

"It represents the rebirth of the Alfa brand both globally and here in Australia."

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The Giulia arrives with four models that spread all the way up to the flagship Quadrifoglio that is up against sports versions of key rivals – think Mercedes-AMG, Audi RS and BMW M.

Targeting the market

The Giulia is aimed at the sweet spot of the luxury segment, going head to head with the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4.

Think of it as Italy's answer to familiar Teutonic excellence. A light-and-breezy margherita-and-rose after years of pork knuckle and beer.

Design heritage

Being different is key to the Giulia's appeal – as is being Italian. The company says "only Italy could have designed the gorgeous Giulia".

"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 Steve Zanlunghi.

Inside, the steering wheel houses the start button and paddles fixed to the steering column, just like they are on a Ferrari.

Substance and style

That's no coincidence. Alfa Romeo assembled a skunkworks team made up of leading designers and engineers to work on a top secret new model. The man leading the project was Philippe Krief, who at the time was working at Ferrari.

So the Giulia has credibility beneath its slickly styled skin.

Top down

Affordable versions of the Giulia will be the big sellers, but Alfa Romeo is working the publicity game from the top down.

Topping the lineup is the $143,900 Quadrifoglio, or four-leaf clover.

It's aimed squarely at the jugular of the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S.

Each has pedigree and pace in near-equal measure, but the Giulia QV claims to be the fastest four-door around the challenging Nurburgring race track in Germany, where many of the luxury brands test and develop their wares.

So, what's it like?

For now Alfa has only unleashed the Quadrifoglio on the media – even then it was only a few laps blasting around a race track.

At $143,900 it's not cheap, but it's competing with cars worth plenty more.

The new generation "Ferrari-inspired" 2.9-litre twin turbo V6 is the highlight of the car.

With 375kW and 600Nm it's claimed to hit 100km/h in 3.9 seconds.

Will it work?

Alfa Romeo has a long road ahead – and it knows it.

The brand is playing in a super competitive end of the market and it's arriving at a time when competition between BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz has never been so intense.

That Alfa Romeo has been in partial hibernation in Australia in recent years hasn't helped.

New partnerships for the future

But Zanlunghi says the brand is "being very selective of who we're taking on as partners".

"We're looking to give dealers breathing room. This isn't going to be let's put a dealership on the corner of every spot.

"We have volume aspirations but we're not looking to take over the world with this brand."

He acknowledges the after-sales experience is hugely important to the brand's aspirations.

"We are actively working with our dealer network to make sure the customer experience properly reflects Alfa Romeo's premium brand attributes. We're also looking at our ownership and aftersales experience to deliver beyond customer expectations."