So, let’s recap.  Starting in 2010, Alfa Romeo binned most of its product line-up, leaving just the MiTo and Giulietta to carry the brand’s somewhat wilting flag.

Although the exotic and strictly limited 4C looked like an enthusiastic attempt to resuscitate a well-regarded patient, it ended up both flawed and expensive in a way that rendered it largely the preserve of the true Alfisti.

When Alfa dragged the 159 – a car that’s still a looker even today – behind the garages to put it out of their misery, they attempted to console us all with promises of a soon-to-arrive new model to replace it – the Giulia.

That makes this a car we’ve been waiting six years for.  So it had better be good to make up for all that self-flagellation.

Well, at least in part, it actually does more than that.  Because the new Alfa Giulia has to be one of the finest handling sporting saloons on the market today.

the Alfa Giulia has to be one of the finest handling sporting saloons on the market

It’s beautifully balanced front to rear with near-perfect weight distribution, and it holds its line tenaciously through a curve with even mid-corner bumps failing to upset it.

The steering is incredibly quick – almost too quick just off centre – with a smidge over two turns lock-to-lock, making for a car that dives eagerly into a corner almost before you’ve thought about turning the wheel.

At which point you’ll notice the distinct lack of body-roll and an uncanny ability to maintain both body composure and traction, no matter what the undulating tarmac is doing beneath it.

It rides well, too.  There is a certain stiffness to it – just enough to let you know it means business, but not so much as to grate over long distances.  At times, its compliance lulls you into thinking the Alfa is more interested in comfort than it is road-holding.

But then you pile into a roundabout at “oh my God I’ve totally overcooked this” speeds and the Giulia just grips and steers.

Part of the reason for that lies in the clever steering axis set-up that requires a complicated diagram to explain properly, but suffice it to say that no matter what the front wheels are up to, the Giulia’s chassis is keeping its tyres pressed into the tarmac.

Having said that, we did notice this new set-up made the Alfa scrub its tyres during parking manoeuvres, while reversing at full lock on a gravel driveway felt like dragging a snowplough.

All Giulias in the UK drive their wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox and, frankly, it’s a peach, shifting smoothly and making the most of the available torque – which is considerable in the case of the 2.1-litre turbodiesel we tested it with (although Alfa calls it a 2.2).

As far as sheer driving pleasure and cornering ability goes, the new Giulia is an absolute bloody revelation, and a far more entertaining car to drive quickly than any of the German competition.  It seems the Italians have finally out-handled the 3 Series.

it seems the Italians have finally out-handled the 3 Series

However, brilliant as it is to drive, it’s also one of the most annoying cars I’ve ever driven.

Firstly, there’s the gear lever.  When Anton Yelchin ran himself over with his Grand Cherokee, I really thought car manufacturers had learnt their lesson about gear levers that return to a central position, but no.  The Alfa’s frustrates further by insisting you hold the button on the back to switch from reverse back to drive, and because the button to engage Park is on the top, I was forever pressing it by accident when grasping the lever, the result being that I spent most of my week face-planting into the dashboard.

Then there’s the indicators.  Like the gear lever, the column stalk doesn’t stay in place when you indicate, instead returning to its default position.  That means to cancel a signal manually, you have to indicate again in the opposite direction, and you can’t hold the lever in place – that just gives you three flashes and then stops.

On top of that, the electronic parking brake doesn’t automatically release, the cruise control can only be set to the nearest 5mph (you can set it to 50mph or 55, but nothing in between), the beautifully crafted gearshift paddles get in the way of the column stalks, the seat-belts aren’t height adjustable, you can’t prevent the stop/start system from activating at traffic lights by using light brake pressure, and when the engine restarts it doesn’t hold the car on the brakes so on a hill you roll backwards into the car behind.

Speaking of which, the brakes are snatchy, particularly around town, and this combines with what feels like an incorrect stall speed in the torque converter to make edging forward at blind junctions unnecessarily fraught.  We also found the drivetrain jerky in slow-moving traffic, while the thick A-pillars obscure vision through right-hand corners.

The quality levels aren’t where we’d hope for a car at this price point, either, with variable panel gaps and switchgear that operates without any real satisfaction.  The oversized controller for the media system feels particularly flimsy, while the parking sensors on our car had malfunctioned, requiring them to be disabled at every start-up to prevent death by beeping.

And while there’s plenty of adjustment in the driving position even for tall drivers, the controls for the electric seats are wedged in a crevice against the sill making them difficult to access, while head- and legroom for rear seat passengers are both disappointing.  The boot’s narrow, too, largely due to the location of the battery and the fully enclosed wheel-arches.

All of which is a shame, because as a place to spend time the Giulia’s cabin is really quite appealing, especially at night when everything is bathed in subtle LED hues.

Alfa’s engineers even managed to back this up with impressive wind noise isolation, although the same can’t be said for the suspension that crashes and thumps away to itself at the slightest provocation.  Engine noise, too, is louder than it should be at town speeds, although it does settle down well on the motorway.

Never before have I been so equally in awe of a car’s performance as I have been frustrated by its shortcomings.

But that about sums up the Alfa Giulia: annoying as hell, yet strangely brilliant.

Tester’s Notes

  • Brilliant handling – well balanced, responsive turn-in, naturally agile
  • Rides firmly but well, if noisily
  • Eight-speed ZF auto excellent, although jerky in slow-moving traffic and difficult to creep forward at junctions
  • Steering very quick, almost too quick just off centre. Light and not much feedback, though. Scuffs tyres badly in tight parking turns.
  • Brakes snatchy at low speeds; Parking brake doesn’t auto release
  • Gearshift lever – trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist
  • Indicators – again, a ‘solution’ in search of a problem
  • Cruise control can only be set to the nearest 5mph, i.e. 50mph or 55, but not 51, 52, etc.
  • Start/stop can’t be modulated with light brake pressure, rolls back on hills while restarting
  • Can’t turn off alarm unlock/lock beep; Too many warnings beeps – door open, engine running, seat belts not fastened, etc
  • Gearshift paddles get in way of column stalks
  • Non-height adjustable seat belts
  • Not much legroom for rear passengers if behind a tall driver
  • Narrow boot due to battery and fully enclosed wheel-arches
  • Media controller feels flimsy; Widescreen infotainment display like using satnav through a letterbox
  • Not much in the way of trip computer functions, although DNA A mode has some weird unintuitive planet thing
  • Wind noise well controlled, but whistles around windscreen seals at 80mph; Engine noisy at town speeds, but quiets down well on the motorway
  • Thick A-pillars obscure vision through corners
  • Impressive 50 mpg on test
Entry-level Price £29,550 Price as tested £39,910
Engine 2143cc 4-cyl turbo-diesel Transmission 8-speed auto
Power 180hp @ 3,750rpm Torque 450Nm @ 1,750rpm
0-62 7.1 secs Top speed 143 mph
Economy 67.3 mpg CO2 109 g/km
Dimensions 4639 x 1860 x 1426 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1445 kg