Test Drive: Five minutes with a Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

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What is it?

Alfa Romeo’s latest challenger in the compact executive series – that means the class occupied by some real heavyweights, in the form of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes- Benz C-Class. A tough crowd, then, but Alfa believes its contender, christened the Giulia after one of the Italian brand’s heritage nameplates, can do the job.

And, like the whole list of stars above, the Giulia comes in regular diesel and petrol guises for business and family users… but it also has a performance icon at the top of the tree, to take on the likes of the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C 63.

And this is that car – it’s called the Giulia Quadrifoglio, which is one of those Italian words that sounds so exotic, until you translate it. Essentially, it means ‘four-leaf’ but, slightly more accurately, it pertains to a four-leafed clover, which you can see in a white triangle on the Alfa’s front wings. This logo dates back to the 1920s and a racing driver called Ugo Sivocci, who used it as a good luck charm when racing Alfas, and the Milanese marque has used it ever since, variously calling its performance cars ‘Quadrifoglio Verde’ (Green Cloverleaf), initialising that to QV, or actually naming hot models for the UK market as ‘Cloverleaf’.

If all this talk of flora sounds a little prosaic, fear not: the Giulia Quadrifoglio is a proper weapon. It packs a 510hp 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, driving the rear wheels alone through an eight-speed automatic transmission that is the only transmission we get in the UK. Performance is ballistic – 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 191mph are the stats. On paper, then, things look very popular indeed.

Why are you driving it?

Even if you’re not hugely into cars, most people know two things about Alfas: one, that you’re not a proper ‘petrolhead’ until you’ve owned at least one of them in your life, something that was propagated by the Jeremy Clarkson-era Top Gear TV programme; and two, while the brand has a long, enviable and storied history, for the past 30 years or so, it has struggled to come anywhere close to truly competing with the German brands.

Plenty of Alfas have come that have been beautiful to look at, or possessed of an interesting drivetrain, or good fun to be behind the wheel of, but quality issues and decades of underinvestment has always left the Italian firm lagging behind the competition.

The Giulia, though, promises to change all that. Fiat Chrysler Automotive’s big boss, Sergio Marchionne, decided to give Alfa a £3.8 billion pot of cash a few years back and told the company to ‘start again’. No more building underwhelming hatchbacks based on Fiat running gear; now the company would concentrate on making itself glorious once more. Fully eight models will be built on a brand-new platform and all of them will be rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with the aim of propelling Alfa Romeo to 400,000 global sales by this time next year.

The Giulia is the first of these eight (it is being quickly followed by an SUV called the Stelvio) and, if this bold plan is to succeed, the Quadrifoglio has to be good enough to convince quite a few people not to sign on the dotted line for an M3 down at their local BMW dealership… so can it possibly compete?

What do you like about it?

Oh, goodness. Contrary to our statement above, if you ARE into cars then Alfa’s decades-long lacklustre performance has been infuriating in the extreme. So many models have come and gone, promising to be ‘the one’ to finally get the company out of the rut, and yet they’ve all been disappointing. The Giulia could have fallen into exactly the same trap. But it hasn’t.

And what you have here in the Quadrifoglio is an utterly, utterly sublime supersaloon, a tremendous performance car from the very highest echelons of talent that almost immediately worms its way into your soul, where it festers into an intense yearning to own one of these wonderful Giulias. So, so much of what Alfa has done here is absolute bang on the money. The chassis is an absolute peach, balanced to near perfection and complemented by bodywork that features a high percentage of carbon fibre, to keep both the kerb weight and the centre of gravity down.

That leads to a car which will change direction faithfully at the drop of a hat, making for magnificent precision driving if you fancy taking on a winding road with vim and vigour. But it will also oversteer in lurid fashion, sliding its back end out with little difficulty in modes where the traction control is more relaxed. All of this would be good news enough, if it weren’t for the fact that the Quadrifoglio has some of the best steering in the business. It’s perfectly weighted and accurate, with genuine feel flooding back through the rim of a steering wheel that’s marvellous to hold – it’s not too thick, it’s not too thin, and it’s made of carbon fibre, leather and Alcantara, so it’s a tactile delight, although we should point out this design is a £225 option. Tick the box when ordering your Giulia Q, trust us.

Then there are the carbon ceramic brakes (they’re, er… £5,500), which offer unbelievable stopping power time and time again. And the exceptional metal paddle shifts for the brilliant eight-speed gearbox. Or the switchable damping, which offers supple ride comfort in ‘Soft’ mode and unshakeable body control in their tougher setting. Honestly, it’s a dynamic delight – and we’ve not even talked about the engine.

This V6 is, reputedly, going to find its way into an ‘affordable’ Ferrari sports car in the very near future. It’s also developed from the 3.85-litre turbocharged V8 as found in the Ferrari California T. And it’s the shining star in what is a glittering firmament. The power it delivers, the noises it makes, the smoothness of the delivery and the management of its torque – it’s simply exquisite. Like the whole car, really.

Any issues?

Okay, trying to keep an objectiveness here, the Alfa isn’t perfect. Priced at less than £62,000, in reality you’re going to want to spend more like £75,000 on it optioning it up to the most desirable spec; however, its chief German rivals pull much the same trick, so it’s not like the Giulia is alone in having a slightly misleading windscreen sticker.

Moving on, the interior is a sterling effort from the Italians, as they have gone their own way in making it look wholly unlike a straightforward copy of an Audi cabin. And it’s a largely successful venture, but there are just a few plastics which leave a bit to be desired, some of the switchgear haptics are a little ropey, the infotainment – while good – nevertheless still looks dated and operates in an antiquated manner compared to the touchscreens that are all the rage now, and the information screen between the dials in the cluster could do with some serious graphical polishing. But that’s about all we can think of. And none of these ‘flaws’ is what you’d call a dealbreaker, certainly not in the face of the blindingly good manner in which the Quadrifoglio drives.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

Well, 500hp+ saloons aren’t often the first car you’d think of for business use but, strangely enough, the Quadrifoglio manages to just sneak out of the highest banding for Benefit-in-Kind taxation, sitting at 36%.

That’s because its turbocharged engine kicks out reasonably low levels of CO2, considering its outputs, and so it’s also not the most punitive in terms of road tax. We also saw around 30mpg from the Giulia while driving steadily on motorways, so it can sip at its fuel if needs be – albeit, it has a smaller fuel tank than is ideal, so its cruising range isn’t the greatest.

Where does it rank in class right now?

It’s top. And we cannot tell you how heartening it is to write that, nor how miraculous it is that Alfa has managed to achieve this Herculean task off the back of years and years and years of mediocrity. The Mercedes-AMG C 63 is one of the greatest performance cars you could wish to drive – it has a belting V8 engine, it has a chassis that blends comfort and handling to an extraordinarily accomplished degree, a first-class interior and a rock-solid image.

Then there’s the BMW M3, for years the benchmark in this particular class and having the benefit of 31 years of continual development by Munich to make it the best it can possibly be.

Audi will probably do a new RS 4 before too long. Jaguar is making a mental SV Project 8 version of the XE. When Volvo updates the S60 onto its new SPA chassis and hands it over to Polestar, there will likely be a 400hp+ hybrid variant of the Swede that will be well worth considering.

And yet, you’d be mad to be looking at any of these, over and above the Giulia Quadrifoglio. This is a proper Alfa. It’s the first genuinely world-class machine the company has made since at least the 1970s, maybe before. It’s mesmerising, it’s jaw-dropping, it’s just a stunning piece of kit in every conceivable way. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is, far and away, the best car we have driven this year, in any category. You need to have one of these things in your life.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
  • Price: Giulia range starts from £29,875; Quadrifoglio from £61,595
  • Drivetrain: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol, eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Economy: 34.5mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 189g/km – £800 VED first 12 months, £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter; 36% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 191mph
  • 0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
  • Power: 510hp at 6,500rpm
  • Torque: 600Nm at 2,500rpm