Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Let's talk about Alfa Romeo's Giulia Quadrifoglio

The new model marks a return to grace for a company that was once the master of performance saloons, says Damien Reid

If you want to start a conversation about cars, or even if you don’t want to, just show up in an Alfa Romeo because it seems every petrolhead has an opinion on the charismatic Italian brand these days.

And this is amplified when the model you’re driving is the performance flagship Giulia Quadrifoglio.

Alfa’s heritage was born in motor racing a century ago and its track record is among the world’s best for winning everything from Formula One to rallying and even in America with IndyCar. Recent products, however, have failed to uphold its sporting credentials.

Following the Alfa 75, which was the last rear-wheel drive model, the company spent the next 30 years producing a range of mild front-wheel drive saloons and hatches that were barely shadows of their former sporting ancestors. At the same time, Mercedes, BMW and Audi muscled in and introduced models that filled the slot, such as their C63 AMG, M3 and RS4 variants.

At last, though, Alfa has bounced back with a worthy competitor in the Giulia Quadrifoglio, which – on paper at least – looks to have placed the company back on track for the first time since the early 1990s as the master of performance saloons.

Its Ferrari-inspired, turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 pumps out 503 brake horsepower and reverts to a traditional rear-wheel drive layout, while it hits 100 kilometres per hour in 3.8 seconds and tops out at 307kph. The best part, however, is that it’s all wrapped in a stylish yet practical four-door saloon body.

The new Giulia marks a return to form for Alfa’s mainstream models, as well as providing the basis for a performance alternative that’s worthy of its historic Quadrifoglio (four-leaf clover) badge. Traditionally, Alfa Romeo has reserved this badge, which dates back to a young Enzo Ferrari’s days as the company’s race mechanic, for its high-performance models.

All Giulias use aluminium suspension arms and subframes along with aluminium doors and wings as well as a carbon fibre driveshaft to reduce weight. The Quadrifoglio adds a carbon fibre bonnet and roof to the mix, in addition to a carbon fibre front splitter with active aerodynamics, to keep its weight down to a relatively lithe 1,580 kilograms. It all plays a part in its nimble handling, which feels lighter than the German competition and more direct, with steering beautifully weighted and reacting to the tiniest inputs from the driver.

As is the norm now, the Alfa comes with a rotary dial in the centre console that, among other things, controls the performance settings, which range from “Advanced Efficiency” for ultimate fuel saving to “Natural”, the default setting, then on to “Dynamic” for a more sporty flavour, and finally “Race” mode. The difference between these settings feels more noticeable than with most other cars as it changes character with each click of the rotary dial.

Race mode opens up the exhaust to deliver a lusty V6 bark while sharpening the steering, tightening the suspension and altering the transmission’s change patterns to make them lightning-quick. It’s a dramatic transformation that takes it from a family, fuel-miser taxi to a track-day toy that feels every bump in the road. It changes gears as quickly as a 488 Ferrari and gives the throttle a hair trigger. Be warned, though, as it also turns off the traction control and you can be reminded very quickly of what 503 unrestrained horses feel like when they are let loose on the rear tyres without electronic aids.

It comes standard with giant 361mm front and 351mm rear vented disc brakes. Courtesy Alfa Romeo Automobiles SpA
It comes standard with giant 361mm front and 351mm rear vented disc brakes. Alfa Romeo

There’s next to no body roll when cornering quickly, which is due in part to a clever rear differential that helps transfer power instantly away from a wheel if it detects slip. Thankfully, it comes standard with giant 361mm front and 351mm rear vented disc brakes to rein it all in without fade after a good run.

From behind the wheel, the Alfa definitely feels like the most driver-oriented of its class, with hip-hugging seats and a clear view over precise analogue instruments. If you’re looking for large tablet-like displays on the dash, however, you will be disappointed as the centre infotainment screen, while smaller than the gigantic unit used in the Mercedes, is more discreet by being enclosed within the natural lines of the curvy dash. It’s not as user-friendly as some and the navigation graphics look a generation or two behind when compared with Audi’s state-of-the-art MMI system, but it could be a fair assumption that buyers of this car may be more interested in what’s under the bonnet than the fewer colours or lower-quality graphics on the centre screen.

The hip-hugging seats are comfortable. Courtesy Alfa Romeo Automobiles SpA
The hip-hugging seats are comfortable. Alfa Romeo

Overall, the interior feels and looks like a quality package, although there are some reminders of the Giulia’s more humble origins as mass family transport, with plastic appearing in the lower parts of the dash. Otherwise, carbon fibre creeps in along with leather stitching.

By any reckoning, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is a magnificent piece of engineering. The interior may not match the Germans when it comes to the infotainment and some plastics, but the driving satisfaction is superior.

It accelerates, brakes and handles as good, if not better than the rest, delivers an engine and exhaust note that, while not as bass-y as the C63’s V8 baritone rumble, is more intoxicating than either the Audi RS4 or BMW M4, and it delivers rivalling interior room with a spacious boot.

At this end of the game, it’s always a subjective purchase driven by emotions, but if it were my money I’d take the Alfa, which I just know will kick off a whole new round of arguments. There’s no room for sitting on the fence when it comes to Alfa Romeos, after all.

Updated: September 14, 2019 05:31 PM

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