Back on Friday morning...my, what a hellish journey - the connections between Dublin and Cork are terrible, Aircoach needs a proper slap on the wrist: night time buses are overcrowded (they had to run TWO 55-seat buses on Wednesday night at 1.00am, I don't even want to know what happens on the week end) and seat pitch is terrible. I'm 6'1", which is not too rare around here, and there's no way I can fit comfortably in those seats - the pain after spending 3 hours knees heavily bashed against the seat in front is crippling. For 30 Euro (29.70!) it's definitely horrendous value - it's only convenient if you travel alone, two people are already better off driving.
But the knee-bashing on hard plastic was worth it, definitely. First of all, let me say something: Frankfurt is one cracking city. Seriously, it doesn't nearly get the credit it deserves - it's a far cry from the "grey banking venue" most people imagine. I've only been there a couple of days, and just walking around you can find just about anything, there's definitely some great food to enjoy, 24-hours cafes, plenty of nightlife and for us guys...well, let's put it this way: finding a not-so-pretty woman walking around it's actually a somewhat difficult task
. I'm sure the ladies will find the many impeccably-hugo-boss-suited gentlemen of taste as well. I guess it has something to do with the extreme affluence you can sense everywhere; From any angle, it's clear there's a truckload of money flowing through the city, be it in the countless Porsche, Maserati and "S" series Audi and "M" type BMWs (the two Alfas I spotted, both GTs, were both 3.2 V6s!!!), or in the subtle "just spent a week in Cuba" tan most ladies sport - as opposed to the leather-brown tint you get from tanning beds (all too common in Italy). Also, most of the folks I crossed paths with turned out to be quite nice: my German is limited to a bunch of words, most people do have some level of English but, whenever I found myself trying to deal with somebody who couldn't speak the language of Albion (mostly in shops), there'd always be somebody who heard and chimed in to help/translate.
The IAA venue is only a short walk from the train station - about 5/10 minutes, depending on pace. The place is...well, huge. There were some big crowds, even in the morning, and the most visited stand was by far that of...Audi. To the point that I didn't get into it, ginormous queue outside at all hours. Besides, I had no interest in whatever they had inside
. In any case, the "big German three" (Audi, BMW and Mercedes) clearly invest heavily in the IAA - Mercedes had a spectacular display with a live drum player, a supermarket-like display case with its entire cars lineup and live shows with the various models actually driving around a dedicated stage. Note to self: in 2017, I shall take two weeks holiday from work and get a job as one of the "do a few burnouts in front of the crowd in a C63 AMG" driver
Alfa Romeo is at Pad 6, together with Ferrari, Fiat, Lancia, Maserati and Abarth. The stand is actually very elegant - everything in the tone of black and red, overhead displays showing various Giulia promotional videos with the engine roar prominently played over and over. A white 4C, a red 4C spider and a red Giulietta were on display as well. The personnel is impeccable as well - the black-suited security take a very discreet role and a few very elegant hostesses talk to the visitors and offer "tours" of the new Giulia. The Alfa-hubcap necklaces they wear are a nice detail. The crowd was big and international, in the 30 minutes I queued to access the car, I heard German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese being spoken.
I had the opportunity to play around the gungrey Giulia - I am not sure what spec it exactly is, but it's got sports leather seats, although not the race-style ones that are on the red one. First of all, up close and personal it has a definitely Alfa Romeo glow to it - especially from the front, the Giulia has the very same "squat down" stance the 159 has, making it look more like a coupe than a 4 doors saloon; Just like the 159, it looks much wider than it actually is, and the wheels protrude from the arches quite dramatically. It has a generally "wider at the back" shape, which also sports a very muscular looking crease above the door line, again markedly recalling the cues of the 156 and 159; The nose is actually arrow-shaped rather than flat as it looks in the pictures (you can clearly see it from one of the pics below, the shadow betrays its real shape), although a bit less dramatically so than that of the 159. The stance, seen from the rear 3/4 and side, is the familiar "low front, arse up in the air" that was a peculiarity of the 1977 Giulietta, the 75 and the 155. The rear end, from the back window to the sloped boot, immediately have a whiff of the 156. The one thing I don't like, and that I never will, is the shark fin aerial - I understand it's there for aero reasons, but as BMW were the ones making it famous, it will forever have people going "oh, they copied that from BMW!".
Inside, the Giulia is HUGE. While the general dimensions outside look roughly the same as the 159, somehow the made the cockpit much bigger. Sitting in the back seat, my knees are a good 10-15 cm from the front seats (the guys sitting in the front was just a bit shorter than me - maybe 5'11"). The car I sat in had the black/cream combination of interiors which is a favourite of mine; The leather feels very smooth and soft to the touch. Once in the driver seat - face it, the only one that actually counts in an Alfa! - I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it is. Those of you who know me also know I'm no small fella, and I often find that most "sports seats" are designed to sit anorexic smurfs with zero muscle of any kind - essentially the "wings" of the seat dig into my back and shoulders big time. The ones fitted on this specific model of the Giulia are not like that - they somehow still feel positively sporty, "swallowing" the driver but are very, very comfortable. In general, the interior feels like a very welcoming yet futuristic place to be in; Compared to other cars (e.g. 3-Series), it has a more harmonic glow to it - nothing is sticking out, like LCD screens etc., and feels very classy. It's got a less airplane-like setup compared to the 159, but still somewhat manages to have the "wrapping around the driver" style that most Alfa 4-door saloons of the past had.
There is also a rear-view camera that switches on as soon as reverse gear is engaged - I promptly baptised it the "anti-flattened child camera" - because view from the back window is akin of that of the 75, 155 and GTV; You essentially see the sky.
The steering wheel has a very good, chunky and solid grip, the pedals have the familiar Alfa feel - the brake pedal is right in front of the driver, the accelerator slightly more to the right than on most cars...and it's hinged at the bottom, rather than the top, favouring a quick, sporty driving style. The the clutch is...heavy, as it should be. The gearbox feels very sharp; Of course I could only play around with it in a stationary car, but the gears slot in very sharply with a very satisfying, dampened "click". From what I can tell, the sound came from right beneath the driver, so the gearbox seems to be at the front (one bit of info Alfa hasn't released).
The engine bay lets you actually see things - it doesn't have an "everything covered" approach like most German rivals. There is a plastic lid over the engine proper, but that's it. It does have an old fashioned dipstick and everything, at least on the Quadrifoglio, is very tightly packed. The underside of the car seems to be completely covered by a flat-bottom like cowling (yes, I did stick my nose underneath the Giulia, soliciting quite a bit of hilarity from the people around
Last but not least, something I feel it's important to share - one thing that really struck me was the fact that, regardless of what car I was around, most people sat into them and straight away, started playing around with the audio/infotainment system. Most of them paid little to no attention whatsoever to the wheel, the seat, the driving controls. They played with touchscreens and tapped here and there on the plastics, sometimes opening storage containers and the likes. I was one of the few - actually, the only one I noticed - who, straight away, would put the seat in a correct driving position (I hate the electrically controlled ones!!!), regulated the wheel position, tried gear changes, the pedals and whatnot. With this kind of attitude, it's no wonder that more and more cars are becoming nothing but extremely expensive white goods.
In this light, I see the fact that the infotainment system in the Giulia was locked as a good idea (it was probably locked also because the software isn't 100% ready, but anyway) as people had to pay more attention to the car proper.
Another interesting takeaway: the Polizei had a stand about road safety, and it heavily focused on drink driving/drug abuse. Not a single mention of speed, speed cameras and the likes.
Last, the Subaru BRZ. I understand it's supposed to be an affordable "toy car", betting everyting on driving enjoyment and the likes, but it feels extremely cheap and tacky on the inside. I couldn't get in the GT86 as there was an huge queue of hoodie-wearing teens trying to have a look at it (so much for breaking the stereotype, in Germany too...), but I can say that if Fiat or Alfa, or even Renault or Peugeot made a car like that, they'd be lambasted into kingdom come with criticism about material and build quality by every single motoring press outlet.
Here are some pictures:
The rest of IAA 2015
(spot the intruder!!!)