Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review – ride and handling
Alfa's first performance saloon in over a decade is a winner
Before you even start the Giulia Quadrifoglio you get the feeling that the team behind this car really cares about driving. You sit low, with your entire body cupped by the optional carbonfibre-backed Sparco seats. The huge range of adjustment on the steering column means you can pull the steering wheel into the exact position you want, too.
The starter button is positioned on the steering wheel while two long aluminium paddles, that follow the curve of the rim, are actually mounted on the column. Both feel very Ferrari-esque indeed. But that’s no surprise, because Alfa poached engineers from Ferrari to help develop the Giulia.
Another aspect of the Alfa that feels oh-so Ferrari is the steering. Just metres down a road you become aware that the Giulia has a very fast steering rack indeed, more than a little reminiscent of that found in the Ferrari 458 and 488, no less.
The perfect seating position and super fast steering instil a confidence in you that you could deal, react and drive through just about any situation with supreme accuracy; the conviction that you’d be able to tame a wild and unruly rear-wheel drive turbocharged car with ease.
But the Quadrifoglio isn’t the rabid, spiky animal its numbers might suggest. Don’t get us wrong, it’s certainly fast, but the way the performance is delivered from its 2.9-litre V6 is progressive and linear. The engine is muscular from low down and the car’s speed builds rapidly, but in perfect conjunction with the revs. There’s never that heart in your mouth moment when a huge wave of torque takes over, the revs spike and the car squirms in protest. Instead it just powers forward in the manner you dictate.
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There’s a suppleness to the chassis which feels odd for a car with such sporting pretensions. The ride is rounded and plush, unlike the firm ride the Alfa’s rivals exhibit. It’s only as you being to really push the Giulia that softer chassis feels slightly lacking in body control, and a touch too much roll is apparent.
But the Giulia's DNA drive settings allow you to stiffen up the chassis as well as sharpening the throttle, adding weight to the steering and making the exhaust a bit louder. There are four DNA driving modes selected by a small rotary knob on the transmission tunnel. Advanced Efficiency (A) is the most fuel efficient and allows one bank of the V6’s cylinders to shut down.
Next up is Natural (N), but Dynamic (D) and Race (yes, R) are where it gets interesting as the throttle, exhaust, gearshift, suspension and steering all ramp up the involvement.
The heavier steering is useful as it helps to slow your inputs and keep steering wheel movement to a minimum. The exhaust sounds bassier too, and you get either a satisfying crack or a slightly mediocre burp at every upshift. You can never predict which of these noises you’ll get when you pull the paddle though, as it’s not that consistent.
The biggest change is to the chassis however. Dynamic firms up the dampers, but the car still feels compliant. Should you wish to have the noise, steering and throttle of Dynamic with the softest suspension, a button in the middle of the DNA dial allows you to relax the dampers.
Race mode is firmer still, but just as in Dynamic you can back the dampers off to a softer setting; not fully soft, but the same setting as the default in Dynamic. No matter which mode you’re in though, the suspension never feels unbearably stiff. Only the very bumpiest of roads makes Race feel less than ideal, but the slightly tighter body control is still preferred by some of the evo team. Others prefer the more compliant modes, as it never really feels wayward or unrestrained. Either way, there’s a setting to suit everyone.
Race mode also disables the ESP and traction control - it’s the only way to deactivate the safety systems. This might suggest, as well as its name, that Race is a no-go on the road. That is not the case. The chassis and tyres provide so much grip you can still use a lot of throttle in the dry, while the engine’s predictable delivery means it’s easy to judge just how much throttle is necessary to maintain traction. If you’re more brutal with your right foot the tyres will relinquish their hold on the tarmac, but the fast steering means you can instantly react with the exact amount of corrective lock and control the car immediately.
Away from open B-roads and in town the Giulia reveals some slight quirks. It shakes and rocks at idle and the diff is reluctant to lock up; the inside rear wheel often spins as you leave junctions. The carbon ceramic brakes are very hard to modulate at low speeds, and you find yourself fighting the car as it wants to creep forward until you add more and more pressure to the middle pedal to stop it.
These low speed peculiarities are easy to overlook because the Alfa is such an accomplished car when driven enthusiastically. Everything about the way the Giulia behaves is transparent, readable and dependable. As ludicrous as it might seem, the 503bhp, turbocharged, rear-wheel drive Giulia is incredibly approachable.
On track the Giulia’s soft compliant chassis is still more than capable of controlling the saloon. It is best in Race mode where the suspension and steering combine to make it feel supremely agile. The engine and drivetrain also work together to allow a fantastic degree of adjustability, and you can control and balance the car from apex to exit.
It doesn’t want to play the hooligan like its rivals do. Provoke the Alfa into a slide, which is easy to do thanks to all that power, torque and grippy front end, and the diff seems to want to contradict your actions and push you straight. Keep fighting to maintain the slide by sawing at the wheel and using lots of throttle and it will stay sideways throughout a bend.
After one or two corners of tomfoolery the diff will call time, a message will appear on the dash saying ‘Service ATV System’, it will fail to lock up, acting instead like an open differential. Park it up for five or ten minutes and the diff will have cooled enough for you to continue.
Keep your laps neat and the Alfa is very fast and effective. Keeping the oversteer to a minimum is demanding, but it actually adds to the fun.
Celtic Tuning’s power upgrade (from 503bhp to 585bhp) also causes the Giulia’s clever LSD to have some issues too, even on the road. It doesn’t always lock up when you expect it to and extra power can wasted through wheelspin of one wheel rather than any extra forward momentum. However, when the diff does engage all of the Alfa’s transparency and approachability still remains despite it having to deal with an extra 82bhp. Being able to drive it at a reasonable pace with such comfort and confidence means you can actually use the extra performance from the upgrade too.