Hey did you hear? Alfa Romeo is back in America! And not just with a low-volume sports car, but with stuff normal people might actually buy, like the Giulia sedan and the upcoming Stelvio crossover. These seem to be awesome cars to drive, but I’m not so sure you should actually buy one.
Alfa Romeo is a beloved Italian brand that has made some absolutely gorgeous cars over the years, and many of them—maybe even most—have been excellent performers both on the racetrack and on the street. But over the years Alfas developed a reputation for building vehicles that were not the most reliable. Alfa fanatics referred to this trait as their cars having “character.” From any other brand, those quirks would be considered unacceptable.
Now that Alfa Romeo is making a serious lunch in the U.S. they have fielded some cars that exude the performance and sexiness the brand is known for, unfortunately, it seems that the old-school Alfa “character” remains as well.
It a recent super-sports-sedan shootout in Car and Driver magazine, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio took on the BMW M3, Mercedes C63 AMG, and Cadillac ATS-V, and guess what? The Alfa won the comparo.
Car and Driver had no shortage of superlatives: “...the V-6 throbs out a deep, snarly bellow that jeers at the suave manner of the Benz V-8…..“The eight-speed automatic is spectacular….“there is no other 1.00-g chassis that rides as well as the Giulia’s…” and so on. It all sounds very nice.
Except for one minor detail. Of the four cars tested, the $73,000 Giulia Quadrifoglio was the only one that actually died during the test.
From Car and Driver:
Another reminder that we were in an Italian car hit us when we briefly warmed up the Giulia using the remote-start feature. After we entered the car and pushed the start button, the Alfa died. A quick restart illuminated the check-engine light and brought up two messages: “Service Electronic Throttle Control” and “Service Engine.”
The Giulia still drove, but it wouldn’t move out of its low-boost advanced-efficiency mode. Fortunately, at the next stop, our always prepared assistant technical editor, David Beard, plugged in his OBD II scanner and cleared the codes. It cured the Alfa, but the fault returned when, in the interest of science, we tried remote-starting the car again.
Alfa should include an OBD II scanner as standard equipment, and customers should consider themselves part of the development team.
Emphasis mine. I know our pals at C&D were being cheeky with that last part, but all jokes aside this event is not an isolated one for the Alfa Romeo brand. As industry analyst and expert number cruncher, Tim Cain from The Truth About Cars points out about the Giulia’s testing glitch,
...it’s the kind of setback that corresponds perfectly with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ horrible results in J.D. Power’s recent Vehicle Dependability Study.
Every FCA brand in the study finished below the industry average. Of the five lowest-ranking brands, four were FCA marques. The lowest-ranking brand, Fiat, was further behind next-worst Jeep than Jeep was behind third-ranked Toyota.
Despite the fact that Alfa Romeo is billing itself as a premium brand to go up against the likes of BMW and Mercedes—and let’s be honest, those two aren’t exactly famous for low maintenance costs—Alfa’s historical baggage combined with FCA’s notorious lack of quality control doesn’t bode well for what is essentially an unknown brand among luxury car buyers.
The sad part about all of this is that FCA has been giving Americans Italian luxury cars with style and speed but sub-par build quality for several years now. The Maserati brand hasn’t fared well in the US market mostly due to an outdated lineup that that doesn’t hold up to the similar offerings from other premium brands.
Take for instance a recent Maserati recall on their rear-camera system. The recall states, “Temperatures below freezing, the entertainment telematics module (ETM) may place itself in a protection mode, disabling the back-up camera.” Rear cameras are a feature that has been around for years, and can be found on the cheapest of econoboxes, yet Maserati and FCA couldn’t program their computers to keep the camera working if it gets a bit too chilly out.
While the writers at Car and Driver might be able to forgive Alfa’s reliability quirks due to an incredible driving experience, does FCA really expect luxury car buyers to put up with such inconveniences? Not every day is a sweeping back road where you’re doing battle with an M3. Sometimes you just need to go to work or get the kids at school.
There was a time when performance and everyday reliability may have been mutually exclusive, but that isn’t the case anymore. Whether you put stock into JD Power rankings or not, the same study that put FCA brands at the bottom placed Porsche at the top.
Call me boring but the 718 Boxster and Cayman come across as a much more compelling car to actually own and drive every day over the Alfa Romeo 4C. At least Porsche has the courtesy to offer me mid-engined sports cars with a manual gearbox, and I don’t have to worry about my brand new Porsche deciding that it doesn’t want to drive today.
Alfa Romeo has a steep hill to climb if it wants to take market share from the established luxury brands. Being different and sexy isn’t going to cut it. Luxury car buyers expect things to work and will make their voice known when things don’t. Brands like Mercedes, BMW and Lexus thrive on repeat business. Alfa and FCA need to step up their game to not only get a slice of the pie but keep the customers coming back.