Have you ever wondered how fast Usain Bolt (Usain St Leo Bolt, let’s not forget) would have been had he been called, I don’t know, John Bolt or Usain Smith or even plain old John Smith? Me neither, but thinking about it now, and reflecting on both one of the great athletic careers in history and my largely desk-bound life, it’s hard not to wonder whether the Jamaican 11-time world champion and eight-time Olympic gold medallist (and world record holder in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m) had an unfair advantage thanks not to a freakishly purposeful physique and prodigious work rate, but because of his name.
I’m joking, I suppose, but I do genuinely wonder whether growing up with a name like Usain Bolt – having it read out in the class register every morning; introducing yourself to strangers; seeing Mr U Bolt every time you dig your credit card out – might feed into a sense of being destined for a life less ordinary. And might that be worth an extra couple of tenths?
I ask this because I’ve just got out of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce. That name is so beautiful that it would be a bit awkward were the car itself an absolute mutt, but fortunately that’s not the case – there is, it turns out, an awful lot to like about this hottish version of the Turin brand’s Giulia saloon.
There are five variants of the model, ranging from the plain Giulia – via (in ascending order of price and performance) the Super, Speciale and Veloce – to the Quadrifoglio, which hits 62mph from a standstill in under four seconds thanks to a 2.9-litre V6 bi-turbo engine that pumps out 510HP. The Veloce, with a two-litre turbo for 280HP, takes 5.7 seconds, which is nicely quick rather than leave-your-brain-behind rapid – though it costs around £23k less (and has a sexier name).
When you stamp your foot down the Alfa whisks forward with an accompanying muted growl
As it happens, I don’t think the Veloce is the bridesmaid of the Giulia lineup, and I say that as someone who likes fast cars a lot. For starters, there’s no escaping the fact that 500+HP super-saloons generally come with baggage – they’re low, wide, snarling things with huge tyres that are generally designed to let everyone know they’re really badass.
The Veloce, on the other hand, is a little bit more restrained and, as a result, an easier proposition when it comes to real-world driving. Its looks are pretty much in line with its character – the wheel arches flare slightly; the front and rear splitters are purposeful without being overtly aggressive; taut lines flow out from the famous Alfa Romeo triangular grille (they call it the ‘trilobe’). In Misano blue – basically the colour the sky would be if you lived in LA or the Maldives – with the (also optional) contrasting canary- yellow brake calipers, it’s a handsome thing.
Inside it’s a similar story, with a gently sporty flavour that makes it a pleasant place to hole up whether you’re creeping around town, eating up motorways or flinging the Giulia around country roads. All-new leather seats designed specifically for the Veloce are standard, as is a heated steering wheel and aluminium dash inserts, while the 14-speaker Harman Kardon Sound Theatre is a worthwhile upgrade if you want to blast out an operatic soundtrack now that you’ve got yourself an all-Italian whip.
Snaking southwest out of London with the Friday afternoon traffic on one of those Baltic late-winter days, it makes sense to be taking in the sound system and fiddling with the heated seats rather than testing out the performance of the Giulia Veloce. As we break free of the single-lane roads and out onto the motorway, though, there’s the odd opportunity to stretch the car’s legs, and the signs are good.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox communicates flawlessly with the driven rear wheels if you leave it to do its thing
Twist the DNA dial on the centre console – it has three modes: dynamic, natural and advanced efficiency – into D for dynamic and the acceleration and braking sharpen, and the steering wheel weights up. When you stamp your foot down the Alfa whisks forward with an accompanying muted growl – 5.7 seconds to 62mph doesn’t raise eyebrows for a saloon these days, but it feels plenty fast enough in most situations you’ll encounter on the road.
Part of the reason for that – and why it’s even more at home once you leave the motorway behind – is the Guilia’s relatively low weight, which is lower than many of its competitors (and almost 100kg lighter than the Quadrifoglio for that matter). Once we pull onto the twisty, narrow and pony-strewn roads of the New Forest it feels nimble – for a saloon, at least – focused and keen. It doesn’t have the bludgeoning, tarmac-eroding urgency of a super-saloon, but it makes rapid and unfussy progress and keeps its composure when the road gets lumpy.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox communicates flawlessly with the driven rear wheels if you leave it to do its thing, though you’ll no doubt want to take things (literally) into your own hands from time to time, in which case ticking the box for the optional performance pack gets you a pair of pretty aluminium shift paddles to play with (plus Alfa’s Q2 limited-slip diff and active suspension). Either way, the Giulia Veloce is a pretty fun place to be.
The question is, does it own its glorious name? Will you drive around with a big grin on your face whispering ‘Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce, Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce’ to yourself? Is it worth an extra couple of tenths over 100m? Well, all that depends on what you want from a car, but if you’re looking for a fast saloon that’s easy to live with and love no matter what you ask of it, the Giulia Veloce might just have your name on it. Let’s hope that doesn’t slow it down.