Lexus IS VS Alfa Romeo Giulia
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
Alfa Romeo Giulia
- Great tough looks
- Fantastic engine
- Excellent handling
- Road noise filters in cabin
- A and B pillars obstruct view
- Softer suspension does mean bouncy ride at times.
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Alfa Romeo Giulia
You know how in the movie Rocky III Rocky Balboa has become all rich and successful, but unfit and he can’t really box to save himself.
Then the young maniac boxer James 'Clubber' Lang (awesomely played by Mr T) challenges him to a fight and his trainer tells him he’ll lose, but he fights him anyway, and gets knocked out.
But then he asks for a rematch, and Rocky trains hard and makes a comeback to beat Lang. Well that never happens. If it was the real world Rocky would have been beaten again.
Alfa Romeo is a bit like Rocky. The Italian carmaker used to be unbeatable in speed and looks – it won the first ever Formula One Grand Prix in 1950.
Alfas were drop dead gorgeous too, but then - like Rocky - things started to go downhill. It got successful, unfit and old. Yes, occasionally there were flashes of the genius we once knew, but if a car maker takes enough hits there’s every chance it will never get up again. Alfa Romeo had become a joke. It hurts to write that.
But there’s a big difference between Rocky and Alfa because a car maker can start afresh, build a fighter with a new body, more powerful fuel-pumping heart, stronger bones and given the right trainer it could become formidable.
Well that’s what Alfa hopes. The fighter’s name is Giulia. The trainer is Roberto Fedeli. The story goes that the head of Fiat Chrysler Sergio Marchionne could see Alfa was circling the plughole and called in the only person he felt that might just have a chance of being able to reach in and save it before it went down.
That was Ferrari’s chief engineer Fedeli. Told to fix it or look for a new job, Fedeli reckoned it was possible, but he needed some money…five billion Euros in fact. Oh, and he’d need a team… of 800 designers and engineers. He wasn’t mucking around.
When the Giulia made its world entrance in 2016 the star of the range – the hardcore Giulia Quadrifoglio (or QV for short) stepped into the ring dripping in carbon fibre with an engine that had Ferrari’s finger prints all over it and mouthing off about having just set the new lap record at the Nurburgring.
It’s mission is to lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback… and slay BMW’s M3 on the way there.
Now, we recently had the chance to drive the new Giulia Quadrifoglio on a track and it made us so happy you could tell we were grinning even though our helmet. But what is it like to drive on the road? We found out at its Australian launch. How did it handle the real world? Does it have what it takes to beat the M3 and Mercedes-Benz’s C63 S? More importantly is it enough to save Alfa Romeo?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
Alfa Romeo Giulia8.6/10
Absolutely stunning – both to drive and in looks. This is a monster, but one you can live with safely and practically. Proper rear seats, a proper boot and proper performance. A quality feeling package that feels more than a bit Ferrari but entirely Alfa Romeo. It does everything the M3 can. This looks very much to be a prize fighter that will lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback.
Comment call to action: Do you reckon the Giulia Quadrifoglio will make Alfa the next big thing? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
With its long, nostrilled bonnet, high roofline, short tail and almost no overhangs to mention there’s more than a sniff of BMW 3 Series going on. That’s no bad thing – its intentions are clear.
It’s actually smaller than the M3. The dimensions reveal that at 4639mm the Giulia Quadrifoglio is 32mm shorter end to end than the Beemer, but only 4mm narrower at 1873mm in width and just 2mm taller at 1426mm.
The Giulia is light at 1585kg thanks to the driveshaft, roof, bonnet, front splitter, plus the rear spoiler and side skirts being made of carbon fibre. Meanwhile the engine, suspension, brakes doors and wheel arches are all aluminium.
Inside, the cabin swallows you up in stitched leather, there’s a dash that that swoops and curves in front you and holds the impressive display screen. Many Alfa cabin traits are there such as the driver-orientated controls which tend to make the front passenger feel like, well just a front passenger.
Under all of this is an entirely new platform called Giorgio – it’s scalable like Volkswagen’s MQB. This means the Giulia is just one of the cars to be based on it – the Stelvio SUV also uses it and Alfa says there are more to come.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
I don’t normally fit Alfa Romeos because I have Viking ancestry and don’t come from a land where the people have short legs and long arms. So as much as I’ve liked driving Alfas, when I do my legs are cramped and yet I feel too far from the wheel.
Not so in the Giulia, everything feels the right distance away. And the pedals, which in other Alfas are far too close and cause me to constantly hit the brake and accelerator at the same time just because my feet aren’t like a ballerina’s are a proper distance apart. Not once did I embarrass myself with my ‘brakcellator’ trick.
Room in the back is excellent – it’s a four seater and even at 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position with a good three fingers space between my knees and the seatback.
Boot space is also excellent and matches the M3’s 480 litres.
Storage inside is good in some places – such as wide the centre console storage bin, but not so great in others – the door pockets are only enough for small bottle and there only two cupholders – they’re in the front.
Price and features
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
The Quadrifoglio is the king of the Giulia range and lists at a right royal $143,900. Sounds like a fair bit of coin, but it undercuts the M3 Competition’s $144,615 and C63 S’s $155,510.
Standard features are excellent – there’s the 8.8-inch display, 14-speaker Harman Kardon 900w sound system, the carbon fibre bonnet, roof, side skirts and rear spoiler and carbon fibre interior trim, leather and Alcantara upholstery, the steering wheel with starter button, quad exhaust tips, aero curtain on the front bumper, active aero splitter, rear diffuser, B-Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-high beam, aluminium pedals and advanced safety equipment which we’ll tell you about, too.
Engine & trans
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
Alfa Romeo Giulia10/10
When it comes to six cylinder engines it’s hard to beat an inline six – the balance is near perfect, they scream and BMW’s delivers its power beautifully.
The Giulia has a V6. It’s a 2.9-litre twin turbo that makes more power than the M3’s 331kW at 375kW and also more torque at 600Nm.
It is a potent power plant and Alfa won’t say it too loudly, but with the same bore and stroke as the V8 in Ferrari California T it’s pretty much the same thing only with two cylinders chopped off.
Sending all that grunt to the rear wheels is an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission – I have pictures of this transmission on my fridge – it’s in a lot of cars and I am yet to find another road car transmission I like more.
A claimed 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds beats the M3 by 0.2 seconds.
The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
Starting in the Giulia with the optional carbon-ceramic brakes ($13,000) and the equally optional carbon fibre sports buckets ($7150) we joined Port Macquarie’s peak-hour traffic. Those anchors felt ‘doughy’ first thing in that cool morning and it wouldn’t be until they had some serious heat in them that they’d start to come to life. That wouldn’t be long because we were heading for the hills where great roads waited. But it gave us a good chance to drive this car in ‘normal’ conditions.
Straight away that ride felt so comfortable, so soft even that I was worried it affect handling later. I’d just got out of testing a BMW M3 which feel rock hard even on a ‘soft’ suspension setting. Steering was one-finger light. The dash is high, the window sills are high, the Recaros felt tight.
As we trundled down the main street that V6 gurgled deeply in third gear – that didn’t sound like any V6 I’d driven lately. Coming out of a roundabout and a gear change back to second and the V6 stirred louded but kept its throaty roar – this was special. Dabbing the accelerator the nose lifted up. This thing wanted to go. It felt light, ‘pointable’. Everything felt light – from the accelerator pedal to the steering and body weight. It was happy to stay on the leash. Well behaved, patient.
As we left the city behind I clicked the drive mode from ‘Natural’ into Dynamic and with heat now in the brakes decided to see what $5 billion euros and 800 engineers and designers felt like.
With acceleration so hard each shift upwards felt like a punch in the back. Those turbos are wound up with 35psi of boost it’s not until second gear that it rushed it then it’s time to for third and fourth. Using those giant paddles it’s hard to shift fast enough to keep up.
The only thing more impressive than the acceleration are those ceramic brakes – we’re talking 100km/h- 0 in 38.5 metres.
Swapping into a Giulia Quadrifoglio with standard brakes and seats I found stopping power was still impressive – those seats actually more comfortable for me.
As we scrambled through the tightest corners through the bush heading higher and higher it became clear that this was different from the M3. The BMW feels harder, firmer, more planted. But the Quadrifoglio was just as adept but did it in a softer more flowing fashion. It’s was agile, changing direction as easily as you could think it.
Also changing direction in the front splitter – it’s active meaning it moves up or down depending on when you need the extra down force.
It’s more powerful than the M3 and you can feel it – it’s wilder, less serious and slightly crazy, but smoother and softer in its suspension – there were times we scuffed the front splitter in dips.
There’s road noise – lots of it on the course chip. That is probably the only complaint. That and visibility front and side is hampered by the thickness and placement of the A and B pillars. The indicators are confusing and hard to stop indicating… but these are small things.
At full roar the Quadrifoglio bellows likes it has so much more to give, the M3 screams into battle.
Both are so so good, and do the same job, but differently.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
The left-hand drive version of the Giulia Quadrifoglio has scored the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating, which is yet to be recognised by ANCAP. There's so much more than a reversing camera too, with active cruise control, AEB, lane keeping and rear cross traffic warning and auto high beam.
There’s two top tethers and two ISOFIX points in the back seat.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.