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Driving an Alfa Romeo in Italy, isn't just fun, it's a religious experience if you're behind the wheel of the latest Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde.
As a former member of the Alfisti, I’m the first to admit I have a soft spot for the legendary Italian car company.
My last Alfa Romeo was a beautifully restored 1975 Spider, but my dream car back then was a 1987 GTV6 2.5 QV, with its distinctive power bulge, fat exhaust pipe and an engine note that would still turns heads today.
But while the all-important GTV6 2.5 nameplate spoke volumes about the car’s increased performance over its 2.0-litre siblings, it was the four-leafed clover on the front panel, spoken in Italian as ‘Quadrifoglio Verde’, that stood out most on the red paint.
It dates back to 1923, when Alfa Romeo works driver Ugo Sivocci added the symbol for luck on the bonnet of his Alfa ‘RL’. It must have worked. Entered in the Targa Florio – a famous endurance race that used the Sicilian Mountains near Palermo – Sivocci won.
But it didn’t stop there, Alfa went on to win the Targa Florio for six consecutive years.
From that victorious stretch onwards, the cloverleaf became the symbol of Alfa Romeo racing cars – which included the unbeatable 158 and its derivative, the 159, that took 47 wins from the 54 races it entered.
Years later, it was also gifted to sporting versions of Alfa’s road cars, of which the 2015 Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV is the latest incarnation.
Like its more potent ancestors, it’s also just as easy to spot, especially this special ‘Launch Edition’ we’re driving in Italy, which boasts carbon spoilers and mirror fairings, front and rear sports dams, side skirts and classic 18-inch five-ringed Alfa Romeo alloy wheels in a glossy anthracite finish hiding the Brembo brakes.
Inside, the Giulietta has never been inspiring, and it still isn’t, but at least this new version does gain a few welcome improvements. There’s a new flat-bottom steering wheel and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and all the usual infotainment functions. The highlight, though, are the proper body hugging sports seats trimmed in leather/Alcantara with some nice detail in the green stitching that matches the four-leaf clover on the badge.
It’s all decent stuff, but the heart and soul of this Alfa Romeo lies under its bonnet.
The Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde shares its direct-injection 1.75-litre turbo-four with Alfa’s stunning 4C supercar, so yes, it’s properly quick. The aluminium block saves around 20kg and the engine makes 177kW of power and 340Nm of torque in the Dynamic mode (up 4kW/40Nm).
Alfa claims six seconds flat for the 0-100km/h sprint, but that’s only if you use the launch control function, which is as easy as holding your left foot on the brake pedal, squeezing the downshift paddle, and flooring the throttle.
It’s not a particularly aggressive action, but it does seem to fire out of the gates with lots of pace and minimal commotion.
This really is a wonderfully responsive engine, with one of the most visceral engine notes in the hot-hatch business – even at moderate pace. Bury the throttle, though, and you can forget the Bose audio system, there are far more decibels derived from the seriously satisfying mid-range exhaust snarl.
The Giulietta also benefits from a new fuel delivery system that cuts turbo lag to an absolute minimum. Combine that with the fact that 80 per cent of the car’s peak torque is available from just 1800rpm, and you’ve got the perfect Italian recipe for blasting out of low speed corners.
Also borrowed from the 4C, is the six-speed twin-clutch gearbox and just like the Ferrari 458 Italia (Ferrari is owned by the Fiat Chrysler Group), it’s available exclusively with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters – and I don’t mind that one bit.
It’s certainly a smooth-shifting unit, but I would argue strongly that the overall driving experience would be greatly enhanced by snappier shifts, at least in Dynamic mode.
I’m also not a fan of the Giulietta QV’s oversized steering wheel. It seems out of place in an Italian hot-hatch and frankly, I never warmed to it, even after 500km in the driver’s seat. Why not fit the smaller and sportier tiller from the 4C? Surely that ‘Quadrifoglio Verde’ badge deserves nothing less.
That said, there’s a nice even weight to the steering and its quick enough to exploit these curvy Italian B-roads at a relatively good clip. And there’s absolutely no kickback either, regardless of how bumpy the surface becomes. Body control is pretty well sorted, too, even when pushing. There’s some initial lean on turn-in, but then it settles, and the Pirelli P Zeros bite hard.
Push on, and without the aid of a limited-slip differential (mechanical or electronic) found on rivals such as the Renault Megane RS265 and Volkswagen Golf GTI, it’s a little too easy to make those front tyres squeal in tighter corners.
The brakes by Brembo are four-pot all round and while they’re nicely progressive and provide decent all around stopping power around town, and on Europe’s high-speed motorways, they can also struggle under sustained heavy loads on steep descents.
Our test car was shod with the standard low-profile 18-inch tyres, so the ride is understandably firm, as a proper hot-hatch should be. Problems arise when the car hits a hard edge, like a pothole or those nasty metal expansion joints, and there’s too much crash felt through the cabin.
The latest Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde still manages to trump its rivals when it comes to style, character and sheer pizazz.
It’s also got one of the best engine notes in the hot-hatch business – no mean feat.
Rest assured though, that’s likely to change when Alfa reverts to rear-wheel drive in 2016 – until then, arrivederci.
The 2015 Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV is due to go on sale locally in February next year, with pricing and specifications to be announced closer to launch.