Subaru WRX VS Alfa Romeo Giulia
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
Alfa Romeo Giulia
- It’s not German
- Improved in-cabin feel
- Better value than before
- Fiddly multimedia software
- Limited in-cabin storage solutions
- Only three-year warranty
For many folks around my age, the Subaru WRX holds a special place in the heart.
This is because those of us born from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s are the so-called “PlayStation generation.” Growing up at a time where videogames bridged the gap from 2D to 3D leads to a lot of imprinted memories, a lot of digital firsts, which wowed and inspired, and a lot of rapid-fire nostalgia as hardware advancements left once-thriving game franchises in the dust.
It was also high time for the World Rally Championship's well-regarded Group A rally category, which forced manufacturers to make cars much closer to their production counterparts. It was frequently dominated by none other than the Subaru WRX.
Combine these two worlds and you end up with a lot of kids feeling like they could do anything in Subaru’s newfound performance hero from the comfort of their bedrooms, many of whom would go on to buy a second-hand one to slap P plates on as soon as they could.
Read more about the WRX
It was a perfect storm and made the WRX the right car at the right time to put a previously small-time brand well and truly on the performance map.
The question with this test is: Should those kids, now in their late 20s or 30s, still be considering Subaru’s halo car? Or, now that it’s the oldest product in Subaru’s catalogue, should they wait for the imminent reveal of the new one? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo was poised to rock the established mid-size luxury sedan segment back in 2017 when it launched the Giulia, firing a direct salvo at the big Germans.
Combining drop-dead gorgeous looks with peppy performance was the name of the game for the Giulia, but after arriving with much hype and fanfare, Alfa Romeo doesn’t seem to have conquested as many sales as they had originally hoped.
So far this year, Alfa Romeo has sold just 142 Giulias, well behind the segment leading Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, but a new mid-life update hopes to revitalise interest in the Italian sedan.
The refreshed line-up brings in more standard equipment and sharper pricing, but has Alfa done enough to sway you out of a tried and trusted German sports sedan?
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Although it's now the oldest car in Subaru’s catalogue, there’s nothing really quite like the WRX on the market. This is a car which is true to its roots, a rugged performance stalwart that comes with dollops of fun and compromise in equal measure.
Thanks to Subaru’s updates over the years, it’s fared better than some when it comes to technology and safety, but I’d still implore you to pick the manual to truly experience this car as nature intended.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7.9/10
This is the Giulia Alfa Romeo should have launched back in 2017.
Especially stacked up against its German rivals, the new Giulia is not only more attractive to the eye, but also the hip pocket.
The boost in standard equipment and safety gear is a huge boon for potential Alfa buyers, while no compromises are found in the Giulia’s fun-to-drive nature and peppy engine.
Its weakest aspect might be its average three-year warranty, but if you are looking for a new premium mid-size sedan that stands out from the crowd without any major concessions, the Giulia should be on your watch list.
I think Subaru was gunning for subtlety with the non-STi WRX. For a performance car, the design is a little sedate, with the WRX looking perhaps a little conservative to really stand apart from its Impreza sedan sibling, despite diverging from it some years ago.
There’s no mistaking the rally profile of the full-fat STi, with its huge wing and even bigger wheels, but here in the WRX premium it’s all a little toned down. Still, fans will love the absurd bonnet scoop, angry-looking alloys and quad exhaust. It’s stanced out a little by some flared bodywork, but the tiny lip spoiler at the back robs it of a bit of street cred. Perhaps it's to encourage you into the significantly more expensive STi…
Despite its relative age, though, the WRX still fits into Subaru’s lineup nicely. It has all the hallmarks; the small grille, the angled LED headlights, and the signature tall profile. The chunkiness is all there, too, both on the outside, with its flared bodywork and exaggerated scoop, and on the inside, with thick leather clad seat trim, and a chunky, satisfying steering wheel.
The abundance of red lighting in the dash cluster is reminiscent of the heyday of Japanese performance cars of years past, and while it’s not as plush on the inside as Subaru’s newer products, it’s not disappointing either, with nice use of soft trims.
The plethora of screens feels unnecessary, and the 7.0-inch multimedia unit is feeling very small now, compared to most more recent cars. At least the software has been updated since 2018 to have the more recent system used in the Impreza, Forester, and Outback. It’s simple and easy to use.
Compared to those Subarus, though, the WRX’s interior is feeling a little tired. It’s a bit small, and things like the CD drive and nastier plastic trims smattered around remind of days past for Subaru. It's a good thing the new WRX is coming soon.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
Park a brand-new 2020 Giulia next to its predecessor, and you’ll find they look identical from the outside.
Having been on sale in Australia since early 2017, the Giulia doesn’t look like it has aged a day. In fact, we reckon it has gotten a bit better with age, especially in its top-spec Quadrifoglio trim.
With a triangular front grille and the number plate offset to side, the Giulia looks unique relative to anything else on the road, and we appreciate its distinctive styling.
The angular headlights also add to the Giulia’s aggressive and sporty stance, even in its base Sport trim, while the 19-inch wheels help fill the arches and give a sense of a more expensive car.
The handsome look continues to the rear, with the sculpted derriere looking taught and tight like a well-tailored pair of suit pants rather than some ill-fitting, off-the-shelf trousers.
However, we will point out the black plastic on the underside of the bumper on our base Giulia Sport, which looks a tad cheap with only a single exhaust outlet on the left, and a sea of… nothing.
Stepping up to the more expensive (and more potent) Veloce or Quadrifoglio remedies this however, with a proper diffuser and dual and quad outlets respectively.
Combine the stylish exterior with more colour options – like the new 'Visconti Green' – and you can really make your Giulia pop, though we do wish our test car was finished in a more exciting hue.
With this Vesuvio Grey option, the Giulia blends in a bit too closely to the greys, blacks, whites and silvers you usually see on premium mid-size sedans, but all colours aside from white and red attract a $1355 premium.
Inside, much of the interior carries over as before, but Alfa Romeo has moved things a little more upmarket thanks to a few small touches that add up to a big difference.
The centre console area, while not being redesigned, has been given more of a premium makeover thanks to a carbon-fibre-like trim with aluminium and gloss-black highlights.
The shifter, especially, feels great thanks to the dimpled leather design, while other touch points such as the multimedia control, drive select and volume knobs also deliver a weightier, more substantial sensation.
Aside from that, the Giulia retains its premium cabin materials, soft-touch multi-function leather steering wheel and mixed material finish for an elegant and sophisticated interior worthy of a premium European model.
Our test car was kitted out with the standard black interior, but more adventurous buyers can opt for tan or red – the latter of which would definitely be our pick.
Compared to the more forward-thinking designs in Subaru Global Platfrom vehicles, the WRX is feeling a little claustrophobic on the inside. Still, you could do much worse in a performance car.
Front passengers get nicely trimmed bucket-style seats with good side bolstering. Like a lot of Subarus, the seating position isn’t exactly sporty. You sit quite high, and for someone my 182cm height, it feels as though you’re peering down over the bonnet a little. Aside from that, height adjustability is pretty good from the electric seat, and there is a small bottle holder in the door, plus dual cupholders in the centre, a small centre-console box, and a small tray under the climate unit.
Overall, the dark trims in here conspire to make the WRX’s cabin feel a bit tight. This continues for rear passengers. The WRX really is a small sedan and room isn’t great for me behind my own driving position, with my knees touching the front seat. I have to duck a little to get under the sedan’s roofline to get in, and while the decent trim continues, the seat feels a little high and flat.
Rear passengers get pockets on the backs of the front seats, a drop-down armrest with two cupholders, and a decent bottle holder in the doors. There are no adjustable rear air vents or power outlets, however.
Being a sedan, the WRX has a rather deep boot, coming in at 450-litres (VDA). This rivals some mid-size SUVs, but it’s worth noting the space isn’t quite as usable, with a small loading aperture, and it’s a little tight when it comes to the available height. Still, it consumed our largest 124-litre CarsGuide suitcase with ample space to spare.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Measuring 4643mm long, 1860mm wide, 1436mm tall, and with a 2820mm wheelbase, the Giulia offers plenty of room for passengers, front and rear.
The sports front seats are an especially pleasant place to be; tight-hugging, well-bolstered and super supportive, meaning no fatigue even after extended driving trips.
Storage solutions though, are somewhat limited.
The door pockets won’t accommodate a bottle of any size thanks to the armrest design, while the two centre cupholders are positioned as such that a bottle will block climate controls.
A generous storage cubby can be found under the centre armrest though, and the wireless charger design lays your device almost vertically in a separate compartment so you won’t scratch your screen.
Glove box size is standard, but the owner’s manual does eat into room a little, while driver’s also have access to another small cubby to the right of the steering wheel.
At least Alfa now includes a handy key fob holder to the left of the shifter? Though this feature becomes redundant with keyless entry and push-button start meaning you more likely just to leave the keys in your pocket.
The rear seats offer plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder-space for passengers in the outboard seats, even when the front seat is set to my 183cm (6'0") frame, but the door pockets are, again, disappointingly small.
I fit adequately in the middle seat, but wouldn’t want to be there for any extended period of time due to the transmission tunnel eating into the footwell.
Rear passengers have access to a fold-down armrest with cupholders, dual air vents and a single USB port.
This is enough for one large and one small suitcase, with a bit of room in the sides for smaller items, while four luggage tie-down points are located on the floor.
The boot also features latches to fold down the rear seats, but given they aren’t spring loaded, you still need to push them down with something long or walk around to the rear seats to flip them over.
Alfa Romeo has not revealed volume with the seats folded down, but we noticed the aperture into the cabin is noticeably narrow and quite shallow.
Price and features
The WRX Premium auto tested for this review is a sort of mid-spec variant. Wearing an MSRP of $50,590, it sits above the standard WRX auto ($43,990), but below the more hard-core WRX STi ($52,940 – manual only).
When you look for rivals, it’s a harsh reminder of the distinct lack of small performance sedans in today’s market. You might consider Subaru’s hero against the front-drive Golf GTi (Auto -$47,190), Skoda Octavia RS (Sedan auto - $51,490), and Hyundai i30 N Performance (manual only - $42,910). There’s a more direct rival coming soon in the form of the i30 N Performance sedan, which will also be available with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, so look out for that in the near future, too.
While it's now the oldest Subaru on sale by quite a margin, the WRX has been augmented in recent times to offer more up-to-date features.
Standard are mean-looking 18-inch alloys clad in skinny Dunlop Sport rubber, full LED lighting, Subaru’s typical assault of screens, including a smallish looking 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (mercifully with updated software since I last drove this car), a 3.5-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster, and a 5.9-inch dash-top-mounted display screen, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a CD player (how quaint), leather-accented interior trim, eight-way adjustable power seat for the driver, heated seats for front passengers, dual-zone climate control, and privacy tint for the rear windows.
The continuously variable automatic makes up the majority of WRX sales, so I’m told, which is particularly disappointing to hear. Especially given it’s a $3200 jump over the manual, and tarnishes the drive experience. More on this in the Driving section.
The WRX also comes with a safety suite that is impressive for a car of its vintage, which we’ll look at in the Safety section. Getting on it may be, but the WRX is surprising in how well it holds its own on the value front.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
The 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia has been trimmed down from four variants to just three, kicking off with the $63,950 Sport.
The mid-tier Veloce will set buyers back $71,450, while the top-spec Quadrifoglio is $138,950 – both of which have been reduced by $1450 and $6950, respectively.
Though the point-of-entry is higher than before, the newly introduced Sport grade is actually based on the old Super grade with the Veloce pack added in, actually saving buyers a bit of money compared to be before.
As such, privacy glass, red brake calipers, 19-inch alloy wheels, and sports seats and steering wheel are now standard across the range, and all items that you’d expect in a premium and sporty European sedan.
You'll also score heating for the front seats and steering wheel, which are you wouldn't normally see on any price-leading variant, making these features especially noticeable.
Also standard in the Sport is bi-xenon headlights, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, and aluminium pedals and dashboard elements.
Handling multimedia duties is an 8.8-inch screen, though this year the system gains touch functionality to make Android Auto and Apple CarPlay use a little more intuitive.
A wireless smartphone charger is also now standard across the line-up, which will stop your phone’s charge at 90 per cent as to not overheat/degrade your device’s battery.
As tested here, our Giulia Sport is priced at $68,260 thanks to the inclusion of the 'Lusso Pack' ($2955) and 'Vesuvio Grey' metallic paint ($1355).
The Lusso Pack adds active suspension, premium Harman Kardon sound system and interior ambient lighting, while a dual-pane panoramic sunroof can also be optioned for an extra $2255.
Overall, the Giulia is much better value than it was before thanks to its improved equipment levels, especially when stacked up against base versions of its rivals.
Engine & trans
The WRX’s engine is a tuned-up version of Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. In this case it’s a 2.0-litre turbo unit (FA20) producing 197kW/350Nm, ample for a little sedan like this.
Disappointingly for me, our particular WRX premium was an automatic, and it’s not a great one. While most performance cars will drop in a lightning fast dual-clutch, or at least have the decency to offer a classic torque converter with clearly defined ratios, Subaru falls back on its rubbery continuously variable automatic, as derided in the rest of its mainstream range by enthusiasts.
We’ll explore this more in the Driving section of this review. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but it still doesn’t belong in a car like this.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Powering the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport is a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine tuned to deliver 147kW at 5000rpm and 330Nm from 1750rpm.
Mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission and driving the rear wheels, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport is claimed to accelerate from 0-100km in 6.6 seconds, while top speed is capped at 230km/h.
Though those outputs might not seem like much in 2020, the driver-focused, rear-drive layout and brisk acceleration time are more than a match for its petrol-powered German counterparts.
Buyers wanting a bit more performance can also opt for the Veloce grade that takes the 2.0-litre engine to 206kW/400Nm, while the Quadrifoglio uses a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 good for 375kW/600Nm.
Fuel consumption is likely to be at the bottom of your list of concerns when it comes to a small performance sedan, but on the official/combined testing cycle, this car will consume a claimed 8.6L/100km of mid-shelf 95RON unleaded.
Over our week of mostly urban testing, our car produced an unsurprising 11.2L/100km, which is actually under the official urban number of 11.8L/100km. Not bad for a performance car, really.
The WRX has a relatively large fuel tank for its size at 60-litres.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Officially, the Alfa Romeo Giulia will sip 6.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, but our weekend with the car yielded a much higher 9.4L/100km figure.
Test driving consisted of navigating the tight inner-city streets of Melbourne’s north, as well as a short blast up the freeway to find some twisty country B-roads, so your mileage may vary.
Worth noting the Giulia Sport sips Premium 95 RON petrol, making it a little more expensive to fill up at the bowser.
It truly pains me that this car is an automatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with an automatic performance car. Dual-clutch iterations of cars like the Golf R are great, but the WRX automatic is a CVT.
This transmission isn’t great in the brand’s regular range, let alone in a performance application, where snappy response and a predictable, linear riding out of the rev-range are really necessary to extract maximum enjoyment.
I was surprised to find the CVT isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps through sheer torque, the WRX does hammer into its 2400rpm peak torque band rather quickly, for an immediately impressive 0-100km/h sprint of around six seconds, but it’s beyond this point where you’ll start to get dull, rubbery, and occasionally hesitant response from the accelerator. Not particularly appealing attributes when you’re carving up a few corners.
Handling-wise, the WRX is excellent with its robust all-wheel-drive system and firm-to-a-fault suspension. This makes it a true joy to fling around bends, with equally firm and rewarding steering giving you a truly organic and controlled handle on what’s going on at the wheels.
Subaru’s boxer engine gives the WRX a signature gruff sound under acceleration, with some turbo noise to boot, but with this particular transmission you won’t be getting the satisfying turbo blips you can extract with a swift kick of a clutch pedal in the manual.
Driving it around town every day is a little rough, with a brittle and busy ride, while the heavy steering will get on your nerves when you’re just trying to park the thing.
The firm ride, large wheels, and slim tyres makes the cabin noisy at all speeds, and occasionally sends shockwaves through the front of the car if you’re unfortunate enough to hit a pothole. It’s hardly the most pleasant companion to have on a freeway.
Honestly, if you’re after an automatic performance car, there are better options out there both in terms of response and everyday comfort, although none are quite like a WRX. I’d implore you to pick the manual if you can, it’s a better, more engaging experience in every way.
Alfa Romeo Giulia8/10
Like all respected sports sedans, the Alfa Romeo Giulia features a front-engine, rear-drive layout to entice the those who would rather drive than be driven.
The exterior styling of the Giulia certainly promises a sharp, entertaining steer, while the interior touch points do nothing to take away from that potential.
Guide yourself into the snug bucket seat, wrap your hands around the wonderfully sized steering wheel and you will notice that Alfa has built the Giulia for the driver.
The steering wheel is an especially nice touch point and features oversized paddle shifters mounted on the steering column – not wheel – making it nearly impossible to miss a shift even when midway through a corner.
For those that like to use the shifter though, the up/down gear selection is arranged in the preferred back/forwards position respectively.
The adaptive dampers in our test car can also be stiffened up independently of the drive mode selected.
Speaking of which, three driving modes are on offer – 'Dynamic', 'Natural' and 'Advanced Efficiency' (DNA in Alfa-speak) – which change the feel of the car from hardcore to more eco-focused.
With suspension able to be changed on the fly, drivers can have the softest setting on for the bumpy, tram track-laden inner-city Melbourne streets, with the engine in full attack mode to get away from the lights for a cheeky overtake.
It's also a plus that the suspension can be changed from the press of a button on the centre console, instead of usually diving into a whole bunch of complicated menus to tweak and fine-tune certain elements.
Underpinning the Giulia is double wishbone front suspension and rear multi-link set-up, which helps keep things communicative and exciting from the driver’s seat.
Don’t get us wrong, you won’t be ripping drifts or breaking traction in the dry in a Giulia Sport, but the 147kW/330Nm engine offers enough pep to make driving fun.
Push hard into a corner and you will get tyre squeal, but luckily the steering feels sharp and direct, meaning its easy and fun to hunt for apexes even when keeping things under the posted speed limit.
The multimedia system in the Giulia is much improved with the touchscreen functionality to make Android Auto feel a bit more natural, but the 8.8-inch screen does look quite small when buried in the dashboard.
The rotary controller is also better, although the software is still a little fiddly and unintuitive to navigate from page to page, a bugbear likely remedied with more time in the car.
In good news for the WRX, Subaru’s signature EyeSight suite is mostly present here, albeit a slightly older version than the one that appears in its newer products. Regardless, key active items include auto emergency braking (works to 85km/h with brake-light recognition), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
It misses out on reverse auto braking from more modern Subarus but features active torque vectoring to add to the standard suite of electronic aids like traction, brake, and stability controls.
The WRX has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, although it dates way back to 2014, well before active safety items were even considered.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
Alfa Romeo’s Giulia sedan was awarded a maximum five-star safety rating from ANCAP in May 2018, with testing based on a left-hand-drive model from 2016 in Euro NCAP examinations.
In the adult occupant and child occupant protection tests, the Giulia scored 98 and 81 per cent respectively, dropping points for just ‘adequate’ chest protection of children in the frontal offset test.
As for pedestrian protection, the Giulia notched a 69 per cent score, while the safety assist assessment yielded a 60 per cent result.
Also included at no extra cost on the 2020 Giulia is driver attention alert and traffic sign recognition, with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, automatic headlights and wipers, hill-start assist, lane departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, and a reversing camera with rear parking sensors carrying over.
According to ANCAP assessment, the Giulia’s AEB functions from 10km/h and works up to 80km/h to help drives mitigate an accident.
But the Giulia misses out on rear cross-traffic alert and an automatic emergency call function.
Annoyingly, the WRX requires six-monthly or 12,500km service intervals, a hold-over from Subarus past. It’s not cheap, either, with each six-monthly visit costing between $319.54 and $819.43 (ouch) for the first 10 visits covering five years of ownership. It averages out to $916.81 per year for the first five years. These are numbers which rival some premium European options.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Like all new Alfa Romeo vehicles, the Giulia comes with a three-year/150,000km warranty, matching the assurance period of BMW and Audi models, though the Germans offer unlimited mileage.
Service intervals on the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
The first service will set owners back $345, the second $645, the third $465, the fourth $1065 and the fifth $345, totalling $2865 for five years of ownership.