The much anticipated Giulia QV high-performance four-door sedan bears the weight of the 'Alfa Romeo renaissance' on its shoulders. But is the Aussie-spec version good enough on track to wear the four-leaf clover crown?
No more teasing. No more boasting. No further promises required. The highly anticipated, high-performance 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifolgio has finally hit Aussie tarmac and it’s show time. And a great many, from the top brass in Turin and its local subsidiary, to the flag-bearing Alfisi and well-heeled petrolheads keen to part good money for a genuine primo-performance four-door alternative, are expecting fireworks. Perhaps the worst outcome for this key anchor point in the century-old marque’s “new renaissance” is that the Giulia QV impacts the motoring landscape with little more than a modest thud.
If you expect an arrival with a screaming engine note, steering planted on the lock-stops and rear tyres mercilessly delaminating in oversteer heroics – much like any action footage of Giulia QV I’ve seen to date – I’ve got good news. That’s exactly the sort of entrance Alfa’s new poster child made at its recent launch at Sydney Motorsport Park. Shredded Pirelli P Zero Corses included. It grabs your attention, it ticks that box… if only one box.
It sidles up next to M3s and C 63s – and RS4s once they rejoin from a current hiatus – and says “check this out: 375kW, 3.9sec 0-100km/h, 307km/h, and 7min 32sec around The Ring!”
It flaunts carbon-fibre and aluminium in the right places, boasts an impressively trim weighbridge ticket (1585kg), segment-topping power to weight, is in perfect 50:50 balance, and has active aero augmenting tricky suspension, braking and torque vectoring smarts. That its maker references “class leading” so frequently in so many areas implies that Giulia QV doesn’t merely happen to top German rivals as a driver’s machine, it downright needs to.
I just don’t believe it is. Not yet, anyway.
I’ll elaborate. The Giulia QV could well be the best premium high-performance rear-driver around, or at least for around its $143,900 list price. But after just six flying laps of the former Eastern Creek’s Grand Prix Circuit – no on-road driving, no key rivals with which to compare in sight – I’m going to need more convincing to believe this Italian tops the German-dominated heap.
However, what I’m certain of, much to the Giulia QV’s credit, is that it’s quite a different experience to established big-hitting players. It grabs you by the seat of the pants, which is not merely a strength but perhaps the most attractive and desirable facet of what’s a very likeable, characterful newcomer.
In the flesh, the Giulia QV is muscular, handsome, oh-so-Alfa – said the right way – and charismatically Italian, if lacking the beauty of Old Alfa or the purpose of, say, the 4C coupe.
Inside, it’s a neat and unfussy design favouring maturity over flamboyance, with excellent driver ergonomics and an ease of clarity – mostly – with just enough carbon-fibre, frosted alloy and double-stitching to imply purpose without tackiness. While hardly the benchmark of material tactility in places, it feels solid, premium and its appealing classic vibe will likely stand the test of time better than techy modernism might.
Helmet on, the DNA Pro drive selector set to Dynamic, and the four-door blasts out of pitlane not in a fog of tyre smoke, but on a heart-racing, maximum grip mission to keep in tow of another Giulia QV currently being pedalled by motorsport ace Alex Davison.
Even before tipping into the double-apex Turn Two, the Giulia QV is clearly no M3 or C63 S wannabe in its core character. The steering it quite light in assistance, the throttle is sharp and engine response is surprisingly punchy in the low- to mid-rev range, while upshifting via the monstrous column-mounted paddleshifter – the Italians can’t help themselves – provides a satisfyingly crisp thud.
It’s unclear how much Ferrari fairy dust has been sprinkled over this 2.9-litre biturbo V6: it’s been described as “Ferrari derived” though FCA carefully label it “Ferrari inspired” and “developed by engineers with a Ferrari background”. But its surprisingly muted howl, as tuneful as it is, certainly lacks the metallic bark you’d associate with an engine touched by Maranello or perhaps those who once inhabited the place.
Like the Prancing Horse’s 3.9L biturbo V8, this V6 uses a stepped torque delivery, meant to output energy in a smooth and linear manner, particularly in lower transmission ratios, though in Dynamic mode the Alfa engine’s urgent shove seems to taper off somewhat approaching the 6500rpm redline. Progress feels just as rapid short-shifting the ZF eight-speed auto and the powertrain combination doesn’t exactly entice you into nudging up against the hard-cut rev-limiter.
Leaning into the six- and four-piston steel Brembo brakes with even moderately firm pressure sets the hazard lights flickering, seemingly before breaching the ABS threshold. And it repeats the same distracting fanfare at three heavy points around each lap of the circuit, even during the daunting high-speed squeeze prior to tipping in the high-speed Turn One.
Equally mystifying is that, once the hazards ‘go disco’, the ZF transmission becomes unresponsive to paddled downshifts and, of course, get caught short-changed in the middle of a corner and those column-mounted flappers are suddenly out of fingers’ reach. Dammit!
Tipping into corners, though, the steering weights up beautifully, without excessive weight or fight, and the front end tracks the chosen line confidently.
Loaded up on its outside rear tyre, the chassis does move and dance around without much provocation even tracking a consistent line. The result is a playful and quite enjoyable character, if one that isn’t overly planted in medium- to high-speed corners or one harnessing the maximum grip levels from those hefty Pirellis. These are the same tyres – albeit in a different, bespoke Giulia QV construction – as those fitted to the Porsche 911 GTS I tested recently, a car that felt like it generated noticeably more mechanical cornering grip.
Exiting the corner with a head of steam also demands circumspect restraint, partly because, together, the lightly sprung throttle and engine’s frisky responses tend to want to unhinge those rear tyres quite suddenly. The more you dig into the Giulia QV, the closer the edges of friction the rubber gets, the more suddenly the tail tends to want to shift sideways.
The Giulia QV has what’s called Chassis Domain Control, a governing system that manages the active suspension, torque vectoring, Integrated Brake System and even the active front aero splitter. Plenty of tech cred then, though in the Dynamic drive mode I’m advised to use the calibration of the subsystems at play. The dynamic character of the car doesn't seem to react intuitively to, well, my driving style. It’s not as natural or well resolved as I’d hoped, and over six flying laps it’s hard work adapting to the Giulia’s dynamic whims when the task at hand is the cleanest and quickest laps possible.
I imagine that, instead, this Dynamic mode would best suit red-misted back-road punts more suitably, where a bit of playful movement at eight-and-half tenths would no doubt inject the Giulia QV experience with a big dose of fun. Above Dynamic is Race mode and you don’t need to be Einstein to figure out that that’s where the sedan’s race circuit mojo resides.
Thing is, as FCA explains, Race mode equals ‘drift mode’. It’ll supposedly allow the Giulia QV to hang its tyre-frying inner child to full extent short of actually allowing the car to swap ends. Problem is, FCA’s mandate for the day’s on-track frivolity is that ESP remains on and, unsurprisingly, activating Race mode presents an in-dash symbol displaying that stability control has been deactivated…
I err to FCA’s wishes, mostly as I don’t want to be the first person to throw an Aussie-spec Giulia QV into the concrete because, frankly, I’m a believer that once inertia takes over, ESP is in a losing battle. If etching Pirelli rubber into SMP’s manicured hotmix at moderate speed is the play of the day, then I’m up for the game. Instead, when attempting to stay in Mister Davison’s wheel tracks, keeping it clean, neat and wringing ever last ounce of pace from the Alfa is the order of the day, and in the drive mode I’m instructed to use, I’m working for it.
Verdict? The jury is out as to the Giulia QV’s ultimate high-performance prowess. Exploring the extent of its ultimate talent is a test for another day. That said, there are enough signals to suggest that, even using a lot of modern dynamic technology, ample ability and soul is in there, I just haven’t had the opportunity to sample it yet.
Is it on pace with BMW’s M3 and Mercedes-Benz’s C63 S? I believe so. But what makes the Giulia attractive and a worthy adversary is that, characteristically, it’s a very different driving experience to either German rivals.
Whether it makes the Italian the dominant force in the segment many expect it should, is highly debatable. But what is undeniable is that the Giulia QV is oh-so Alfa Romeo, and emphatically Italian enough in presenting a mid-sized sedan-based solution to going very fast and delivering driving thrills. Not to everyone’s tastes, mind, though all the better for it.
Soon enough, we’ll hit the open road in the car the iconic marque is very much hinging its renaissance on. No doubt that will provide a clearer picture as to where it sits in the hierarchy of the world’s performance four-doors. And, importantly, we'll dig into its holistic goodness beyond the racetrack.