Buying a high-performance luxury sedan in the United States in 2017 isn’t difficult. You really don’t have to think about it. If you have the means, Mercedes, Lexus, Audi, Cadillac, and BMW have you covered.
Especially BMW. The Bavarians created the sports sedan and brought it to America back in the 1970s. Ever since then, BMW has improved on the idea, to the point where its 3-Series is the platonic ideal of four-door go-fastness. If you move up the M-Sport M3 from BMW’s performance division, you get the platonic ideal with fire in its belly.
The default choice is therefore obvious. But the default can be boring, and that’s where Alfa Romeo comes in.
The Italian brand is returning to the US after a long absence. Alfas of old were stylish — just think about the convertible from “The Graduate” — but not exactly reliable. Fans put up with this until they didn’t and a surge of dependable Japanese and superbly crafted German vehicles arrived.
Alfa started small and weird with the 4C, effectively a small Ferrari (Alfa and Ferrari used to live under the same room at Fiat, before Ferrari was spun off in an IPO in 2015). We liked the 4C, but it was quirky.
Enter the Guilia, a proper sports sedan. Alfa just started selling it. And also enter the Quadrifoglio performance upgrade. “Quadrifoglio” means “four-leaf clover” in Italian, and the meaning of that totem of good luck for Alfa is nicely explained here by Petrolicious’s Michael Banovsky. Suffice it to say that the green badge on the Guilia Quadrifoglio adds something truly special.
Alfa tossed us the keys to the car for a week and we put it through its paces. So how did this $US77,125 (as tested) challenger to the BMW M cars stack up?
Photos by Hollis Johnson.
We got out first taste of Alfa's return to America with the 4C, a taut little mid-engine roadster that's like a shrunken-down Ferrari.
Our $77,195 test car came with a 'Vulcano' black paint job and Alfa's distinctive front grille, an inverted triangle that evokes the brand's heritage. The Alfa badge, by the way, is probably the most beautiful in the automotive universe.
The lightweight carbon-fibre hood is sculpted, and like so many luxury cars these days, the Giulia's headlights are narrow, somewhat menacing slits.
It's a handsome ride, with just enough Italian panache to make it stand apart from the BMWs and Audis of the world. The roof is carbon fibre, too.
Our Giulia was given the Quadrifoglio treatment and has the four-leaf-clover badge to prove it. Such a beautiful and whimsical touch! Of course, there's some tragedy in this heritage.
They're attached to this, the Giulia Quadrifoglio's engine -- a 2.9-litre, 505-horsepower twin-turbo V6 that's effectively a Ferrari V8 with two cylinders lopped off. The Quadro Giulia makes a lot more horsepower than the base four-cylinder turbo version's 276.
443 pound-feet of torque accompanies the 505 ponies, all of it rev-limited at 7,250 rpm. So you can't wind this Giulia out as far as you would, say, a Ford Shelby GT 350. But the output on this thing surpasses the turbo inline-6 on the M3.
The cockpit is fairly no-nonsense, with easy-to-use controls and a comfortable, well-bolstered driver's seat.
This might be my new favourite steering wheel. It feels just right -- not too thick, not too thin. Note the Ferrari-like red stop-start button and the combination of leather, carbon-fibre, and brushed metal. Mmm-mmm-good. (It's a $400 extra by the way).
OK, about the annoying joystick shifter. Just get rid of it, Alfa. Please. That said, the 8-speed auto (no manual available in the US, by the way) is quite capable and can be operated in manual mode using the excellent aluminium paddle shifters behind the steering wheel -- this reminded us of those of Ferraris and Maseratis.
The central console presents a drive-mode selector ('Dynamic,' 'Natural,' 'Advanced Efficiency' and 'Race' are each on tap) and a hockey-puck-style infotainment knob, all framed in carbon-fibre.
The 8.8-inch infotainment screen occupies most of the middle of the dashboard. It works well -- neither as fantastically as Audi's or Cadillac's, but far better than Lexus's infotainment system.
You have everything you need, from GPS navigation to Bluetooth integration -- and a $900 Harman Kardon audio system, if you choose, that sounds terrific. AUX and USB ports are accessible.
It isn't really an exciting or dramatic system, but it ticks off every box -- and unlike some screens in luxury cars, this one is tucked into the dash rather than sticking out of it.
The interior design has been well thought out. It isn't particularly showy, but it isn't bland, either, and it's full of quietly sporty touches, such as the contrast stitching in green, to match the Quadrifoglio badge.
Let's get to the driving first. What makes the Giulia Quadrifolgio memorable are:
1. The savage growl of its glorious 505-horse six-banger. Yes, there's Ferrari DNA in there, and yes, you can tell. Actually, a bit more than DNA -- this is the same engine that goes into the new twin-turbo V8 in the 488 GTB, minus a pair of cylinders.
2. The marvelously light and balanced feel of the car. Just to detail the competition a bit, the BMW M3 isn't a slug, but it has that solid and planted-to-the-road Germanic feel to it, while also being rear-wheel-drive like the Giulia Q. But the Alfa comes off as downright tossable in your hands, really more like the BMW M2 in spirit. At 3,800 lbs., it isn't exactly a featherweight, but its power-to-weight ratio is ideal and makes it drive like a leaf on the wind.
3. The ease-of-use when you aren't accessing the Julie Q's segment-leading power. If all you want to do is putz around town or cruise on the freeway, the Alfa is a nice place in which to do it. To be honest, the car it reminded me of most was the Buick Regal GS. Except that the Buick can't do 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds with a top speed of 191 mph.
Just quickly, the fuel economy isn't great, but it isn't appalling either, and you do have the 'Efficiency' drive mode: 17 city/24 highway/20 combined. On safety, a $US1,200 'Driver Assistance' package gives you forward-collision and lane-departure warnings.
Back to the driving. On Pirelli ZR19 tires and with Brembos on all four wheels, that river of power that the V6 is cranking to the rubber is beautifully manageable. But when you simply want to poke along at moderate freeway velocities, the Alfa is dignified and easygoing. A car this fast shouldn't feel this good when driving this slow. But it does.
In the sport-sedan segment, notably the sportier subset of the segment, where the BMW M's and the Mercedes AMG's and the AUDI RS's dwell, each ride needs its own logic, a determination of identity. 'Italian-ness' isn't going to cut it -- and besides, that's what Alfa stablemate Maserati already has going for it.
So if the Bimmer M is the state of the art, and the AMG brings the Mercedes luxe vibe, and the Audi RS channels the carmaker's rally-racing heritage (with all-wheel-drive), then what does the Alfa Romeo Quadrifolgia bring to the table?
Basically, just a little bit more -- and a little bit less. What you have in the Alfa Julie Q is a V6 Ferrari in four-door form. That's the more. But you also have a Chrysler sedan, frankly, in a world where Chrysler's mass-market sedans, thanks to the strategic thinking of FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne, are about to vanish from American lands, giving way to the market's appetite for SUVs.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you have a lot of good old-fashioned Italian style with the Alfa. But that's actually besides the point. Put this car up against a BMW M3 and, in many respects, you have a better car. That's saying something. The Guilia Q has been designed to beat BMW at its own game, just as everybody has been trying the beat BMW at its own game, for decades.
The stunner is that Afla Romeo has done it.
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