Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review - is this the Alfa we've all been waiting for?
We finally drive Alfa's new super saloon in the UK, but is still as enjoyable when it isn't on its home turf?
What is it?
This is the car that could potentially restore Alfa’s reputation with people, like us, who love driving. It’s got a new platform, it’s rear-wheel drive, it has over 500bhp, it will do a 7min39sec lap of the Nordschleife, it looks fantastic and it has been eagerly anticipated as a result. However, we were excited about the beautiful carbon-tubbed 4C and look how that turned out, so expectations have been tempered leading up to the launch…
Engineers purloined from Ferrari about three years ago have developed both the engine and chassis. The motor is an all-new, all-aluminium, 2.9-litre, twin-turbo, 90 degree V6. It puts out 503bhp and 443lb ft of torque, propelling the Quadrifoglio to 62mph in just 3.9seconds. The gearbox is the latest iteration of the well-known, and well-regarded, ZF eight-speed auto.
Power finds its way to the rear of the car via a carbonfibre prop shaft. There it is subject to proper torque vectoring via two electromechanical clutch packs that sit either side of the differential. A car that comes with IBS might seem unpleasant, but in this instance IBS stands for Integrated Brake System. According to Alfa, IBS combines the stability control and the booster into one unique electromechanical system, providing shorter reaction times. This then links into Chassis Domain Control, which is the Alfa’s brain that integrates and coordinates the actions of the torque vectoring, IBS, ESC and adaptive dampers. Carbon ceramic brakes are optional but as standard there is a carbonfibre bonnet, carbonfibre roof and a carbonfibre front splitter, which is adaptive (it uses two actuators to protrude the splitter further out into the airflow when necessary). The liberal use of exotic materials results in a dry weight that Alfa claimed to be 1524kg.
What’s it like to drive?
As soon as you get into the car you are met with pleasing contact points like the steering wheel, which is a good size and sits well in your hands. The range of movement in the carbon-backed seats and steering column is huge, and you can find the perfect low driving position.
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There are a couple of details that are very Ferrari, with the starter button positioned within the aforementioned wheel and the long, elegant aluminium paddles fixed to the steering column. An experimental pull on one of the paddles reveals a pleasing, tactile action very like the one you would find in a 488 GTB.
There are four DNA driving modes selected by a small rotary knob on the transmission tunnel. Advanced Efficiency (A) is clever in that it allows cylinder deactivation on one bank of the V6, contributing to the impressive claims of 33.2mpg on the combined cycle and 198g/km of CO2. 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. ESP is also completely disabled in Race.
In N the steering feels quick but a little too light through the first few corners. A degree of alacrity is present still, but thankfully the lightness diminishes as you step up to D or R. The engine is wonderfully keen, not only providing ample punch, but doing so smoothly and cleanly all the way to the red line above 7000rpm, with no sense of it dropping off once it’s past the peak of its torque. The sound is perhaps not spine-tingling, but it’s a pleasingly gruff and aggressive and at least a match for BMW’s M3 and M4, if not quite the V8 in Mercedes' C63. There are also delightful brrapps on full-bore upshifts that make you smile.
Once the ESP is all the way off the balance of the chassis truly reveals itself. The quick steering means you can overwhelm the front tyres in tighter corners if you’re not patient, or if you haven’t quite calibrated yourself to the fast ratio. The steering doesn’t transmit detailed information about the grip the front tyres have at their disposal, but you’re well connected to road through the chassis to give you a good enough impression of the levels of grip.
Fundamentally the Giulia just has a beautifully balanced rear-wheel drive chassis. The most impressive thing is the progressive way the torque vectoring allows it to transition into oversteer, with the rear Pirellis (specially developed P Zero Corsas) breaking traction oh so smoothly. The engine’s linear delivery combined with that back axle gives you complete command over the rear tyres.
The quick steering also makes catching slides incredibly easy and natural. This helps you build confidence quickly, piling on the speed but always feeling on top of the car, knowing you can add the exact amount of lock to neutralise a slide, whenever you need. But the Quadrifoglio’s ample power makes it a doddle to ride out the oversteer, with the tyres smoking gratuitously if you so wish.
The Giulia is undoubtedly a fast car, but with 503bhp and 443lb ft of torque, that’s no surprise. However, the car’s chassis allows you to use so much of that performance, thanks to how intuitive it is and the feedback that it generates, that very few cars could keep pace with a well driven Quadrifoglio.
Our initial drive was at Balocco, Alfa’s test track about an hour from Milan, and although this meant it was difficult to judge what the damping might be like on a gnarly British B-road, there was reason to hope that the Giulia would cope well. When we tried it on some Alpine roads in Italy and Switzerland, we became even more optimistic that its chassis would be ideally suited to craggy British roads. The suspension certainly doesn’t feel overtly firm but the Quadrifoglio has a button, just like a Ferrari’s bumpy road button, that softens the damping in Dynamic and Race modes. That means you can have the more aggressive drivetrain and turn the ESP completely off, but still have a supple ride.
For the most time the Giulia at its best, and calmest, with the dampers in their softest settings. It’s also far more supple than its rivals. However, begin to use the Quadrifoglio’s amazing turn of speed and you’ll want the extra body control the firmer dampers offer. Yes it becomes more uncomfortable, but not horrendously so.
But what is it like on UK roads? Well, the Giulia Quadrifoglio was part of our car of the year test in Scotland so we were able to put it through its paces on some of the most demanding stretches of tarmac these shores have to offer. It remained as competent, and as fast, here as it did in Italy. The same cannot be said for the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe, that took the win when it went up against the Alfa in Italy. The tighter, rougher and wetter Scottish roads highlighted the C63’s weaknesses; it simply couldn’t deploy its vast amounts of power often enough and rarely felt as settled as the Giulia. In the end the C63 finished eleventh out of twelve, while the Giulia tied with the hardcore, track-ready BMW M4 GTS in sixth.
Fundamentally, the Giulia felt great fun to drive and it feels like a huge relief to be able to say that. A good Alfa!
The new Giulia starts at £29,180, but that only gets you the base 2-litre model. You’ll need to fork out £59,000 for the Quadrifoglio. That’s slightly more expensive than the BMW M3, but cheaper than the saloon version of the C63. The Alfa doesn’t have the same exceptional interior quality as its German competitors; however, the Giulia is just as fast but even more enjoyable.
Anything else I should know?
You might notice that we haven’t mentioned the manual gearbox. The Alfa Giulia will be available with a six-speed stick shift… but not in right-hand drive. It sounds like an absolute travesty, but having driven both ‘boxes, it’s not as bad as you’d think. The shift of the six-speed gets better the harder you work it, but isn’t particularly special and the oversized spherical knob is a bit cumbersome. Conversely the aluminium paddles of the auto are lovely both to behold and use. What’s more, the engine inevitably feels that bit keener with the eight ratios of the auto and on the limit it felt like the torque vectoring was a bit smoother. Some cars are ruined when their manual gearboxes are swapped for paddle shift transmissions, be it dual-clutch gearboxes or old-school torque converters, but that’s certainly not the case with the Giulia.