I admit to having a soft spot in my heart for Alfa Romeo. With a heritage going back to the earliest days of Formula 1 and victories in every major category of road racing, Alfa Romeo is absolutely one of those names capable of incarcerating my imagination. It’s also one I consider somewhat heroic.

Of course, an old adage posits one should never meet their heroes, lest they be revealed to have feet of clay. And, while the version of the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan made available to me for testing was the 280-horsepower mid-level Ti AWD model as opposed to the fire breathing 505-horsepower rear-drive Quadrifoglio, I came away from the experience with my ardor for the Alfa Romeo brand intact—mostly.

First of all, just look at it. Easily the most distinctive-looking car in its class (which includes the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class) the Giulia stands out in any company. The triangular Alfa Romeo grille is nicely juxtaposed against a slender headlight treatment and large air intakes along the lower front valance. The face of the car attracted positive attention everywhere I went. Further, most people knew exactly what it was, even though the Giulia had only recently been released for sale.

The rakish good looks of the Alfa’s exterior carry over nicely into the interior. Eye-pleasing shapes abound, while the hooded speedometer and tachometer harkens back to vintage Alfa Romeo models. This carries tradition forward into the interior of the car, in much the same fashion as the iconic Alfa Romeo grille recalls the past for the exterior.

The comfortably sculpted sport seats were nicely complemented by light-colored wood accents, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and leather trim for the dash and doors. The driving position was perfectly suited to brisk motoring and all of the primary controls were easy to find, readily accessible and logical in their functioning.

An 8.8-inch touchscreen gave access to all of the infotainment features, and everything you expect to find in a modern sport sedan was present and accounted for. The Harman Kardon audio system sounded wonderful, although tracks with low bass notes did tend to vibrate the door panels in sympathy with the rhythm of the music.

Power comes from Alfa’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, delivering 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering column. Fuel economy is rated at 23 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 26 overall. I averaged 27. As good as this sounds though, when it comes to the engine, I must admit, I was mildly disappointed with the Alfa.

I expected its voice to be more on the raucous side. Instead, the Giulia was almost too quiet. You do get something of a pleasing engine note at full throttle, but it wasn’t at all what I expected from an Alfa Romeo sport sedan. However, the good news is the powerplant delivered more than adequate thrust to keep the sleek four-door moving quickly, even while ascending the western face of the Sierra Nevada.

Handling was well balanced, giving me plenty of options when I went streaking into corners. The all-wheel drive system helped tremendously in this regard, as it let me power through an apex, rather than waiting for the exit to get back into the throttle.  Late braking was accomplished with utter confidence and outstanding modulation. Turn-in was precise, steering feel was good and the body was mostly free of roll. These qualities made predictability one of the Giulia’s major attributes.

Long story short, the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia AWD Ti is a first-rate driver’s car, fully on par with anything Audi, BMW or Mercedes has to offer. Parked side-by-side with its German rivals, the Giulia simultaneously fits in and stands out. Plus, you have the benefit of driving something people don’t see every day. While I wouldn’t exactly call it heroic, this Alfa is definitely interesting.

 Pricing starts at $41,995 for the Ti AWD version, the base price is $40,990.

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