Does this all-new sports sedan have what it takes to spark a much-needed revival of the storied Italian brand?
The finest Alfa Romeos of years gone by were achingly beautiful things imbued with handling finesse, near-perfect weight distribution and an unquantifiable emotional appeal. The engine was sited at the front, drive was channelled to the rear and weight was kept to an absolute minimum. For the best part of the past three decades, however, the Turin-based brand has diluted this DNA, seemingly losing sight of what made its celebrated wares some of the most emotive on the road and most competitive on the track. Sure, its recent history is peppered with beguilingly styled machines – the majority of them front-wheel drive – but none has delivered the purity or sense of occasion of those classics.
Enter the Giulia, Alfa Romeo’s first real crack at righting those unfortunate wrongs. Built on the all-new, rear-wheel-drive Giorgio platform that also underpins the Stelvio SUV, the Italian automaker’s first compact-executive sedan since the 159 has the established Germans squarely in its sights. And this high-performance Quadrifoglio Verde variant is positively spoiling for a fight.
And what a first effort it is. Drawing its urge from a new 2,9-litre, 90-degree V6 armed with a pair of turbochargers, the cloverleaf-badged Giulia boasts a healthy peak output of 375 kW and will storm past 300 km/h thanks to the conspicuous absence of an electronic limiter. The silky smooth six-pot was part-developed by Ferrari engineers and shares much with the F154 family of V8s … and it shows. At 2 500 r/min, maximum torque of 600 N.m arrives somewhat later than you might expect of a modern forced-induction mill and the result is a hint of lag on pull-away. But, once the tachometer needle whips past that mark, power delivery is progressive all the way through to the indicated 7 000 r/min redline, with oodles of mid-range punch on offer.
And, as we discovered on our test strip, where the sports sedan registered a blistering 0-100 km/h time of 4,15 seconds, the QV has no trouble putting its power down. Most members of the test team, however, weren’t quite as enamoured with the somewhat one-dimensional soundtrack (although it is more soulful than the M3’s artificial inline-six effort, particularly once the revs build), further undermined when the fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation system kicks in. Still, if it’s out-and-out noise you desire, the hottest Giulia will gladly deliver, provided you twist the drive mode controller to race, flinging open the exhaust flaps in the process. Frustratingly, though, this action also disengages the ESP, which makes for measured progress on public roads. We’re hopeful that Alfa will add a dedicated exhaust button when the Giulia receives its first update.
An authentic ability to play the role of both track hero and everyday chariot is perhaps one of this sports sedan’s most noteworthy feats. When driven in anger, for instance, the ZF-sourced eight-speed transmission punches through its cogs with an urgency not far off the BMW M3’s dual-clutch ‘box, yet is still more than docile enough in traffic-heavy situations. The evocatively styled Alfa also manages to pull off an enviable balance between dynamics and comfort, delivering a well-damped, supple ride in spite of its standard 19-inch alloys and sporty stance.
Handily, a prod of the damper-control button in the fiercest of driving modes softens the ride further, although some testers reported a tendency for the nose to bob slightly over broken tarmac. On ordinary surfaces, though – particularly ones that twist and turn with abandon – the Quadrifoglio displays natural balance, flowing from corner to corner with a certain elasticity (again, likely thanks to the influence of that Ferrari-heavy skunkworks team of engineers). And both the reduction in and optimal distribution of heft, due in part to liberal use of lightweight materials such as carbon-fibre (for items such as the bonnet and roof) and aluminium (fenders and doors), are central to this sense of surefootedness.
Lateral grip reserves are plentiful, but a clever vectoring system allows the rear differential to control the torque delivery to each wheel independently, further improving traction on low-grip surfaces. The pleasingly direct steering is palpably quicker than that of rivals and turn-in particularly crisp, although one tester described the tiller feel as “slightly inert”, yearning for more feedback from the front axle.
The unheralded heroes of the package, though, are the standard Pirelli P Zero tyres, each playing a meaningful part in the results of our acceleration tests and rigorous braking evaluations, and helping the Giulia return an excellent average braking time of just 2,62 seconds. Interestingly, Alfa Romeo opted for a brake-by-wire system; it provides retardation right from the top of the pedal’s travel and is easily to modulate. In short, the Alfa proves that it can challenge or even beat the likes of the M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S in the dynamics game (it holds the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record for production sedans, after all) and is arguably more forgiving than its rivals at the limit. Where it can’t quite match the Germans, somewhat predictably, is inside.
While the cabin is quirk-free, with Alfa’s designers seemingly taking cues from the Germans and adopting a largely logical layout, there’s no denying that the quality of the switchgear isn’t up to the standards of its established foes. Still, it’s not all questionable plastics and less-than-premium switchgear. The small-diameter, flat-bottomed steering wheel, for instance, is a thing of beauty, trimmed in a combination of leather, Alcantara and carbon-fibre, and playing host to a menacing red starter button. The upsized paddle shifters, meanwhile, are fixed to the steering column and fashioned from cold-to-the-touch aluminium, announcing each cog swap with a satisfyingly mechanical click that accompanies an antisocial thwack from the quad-exhausts. And the optional Sparco racing seats (standard on the sold-out Launch and Race editions) boast a carbon-fibre shell, providing ample lateral support and emphasising the near-perfect, low-slung driving position. The irregularly shaped, 8,8-inch TFT display integrated in the facia, meanwhile, is conveniently angled towards the driver and pleasingly intuitive in its operation.
So, what about the price? Well, the QV comes in at R1,4-million, which makes it more expensive than the M3 Competition and C63 S, both of which boast lengthier maintenance plans. Is this well-rounded Italian sports sedan really better than the pair of Germans? It was a much-debated, close call, with the test team divided and scores as near as makes no difference, but the QV ousts the previous-champion M3 by the faintest of margins.
It is a result that may surprise some of our readers and it wasn’t a decision we took lightly, but there is no denying that, against the odds, Alfa Romeo has conjured up a dynamically accomplished, comfortable super sedan with serious emotional appeal.
While its competitors have been refined into their polished selves over generations, the Giulia is new from the ground up, with Alfa thankfully resisting the temptation to dip a paw into the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles parts bin. The result is a car that’s about as exceptional as first efforts come.
It’s a big call, but this is the best modern Alfa we’ve driven, capable of standing toe to toe with the Germans, at the very least, and stirring the soul to boot. And it does justice to its 106-year-old maker’s heritage in the process.
A watershed product for the brand? Unquestionably. Welcome back, Alfa.
*From the April 2017 issue of CAR magazine