You don’t have to be a fan of opera to be familiar with Pavarotti’s legendary crescendo to Nessun Dorma from Turandot – everybody has heard it in one form or another.
Loosely translated, Nessun Dorma means ‘none shall sleep’ or ‘nobody sleeps’. It’s a phrase you can picture FCA supremo Sergio Marchionne offering up with some gusto during the development of the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde (QV for short). An R&D development budget measured in billions tends to focus the mind on the task at hand.
Nobody sleeps until we get this right…
We’ve all seen the Giulia QV sliding every which way around a multitude of tracks all over the world. We’ve also all seen the in-car footage of the Alfa Romeo test driver, Fabio Francia, pedalling the QV around The Ring – and working pretty hard while doing it too – in an eyebrow raising time. In summation, we know the QV is quick, we know it can drift and we know it works on track when it’s in the skilled hands of a master of his craft.
If you’re an Alfa Romeo fan like me though, if you’ve owned a classic Alfa as I have, if you love the history of the brand and what it stands for, a more vexing question than how fast it is, remains. The answer to that question is arguably much more important than power and torque figures and lap times, especially for those who the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV is aimed at.
That question? Is it Italian enough?
Forget comparisons to AMG or M cars. Those will come in due course and will number many in the final wash-up. Further, those comparisons don’t matter to the Alfisti who will buy this car. It’s already better than the Germans in their minds largely because it isn’t German. That loyalty doesn’t add up to an easy win for Alfa Romeo, though.
No, this Giulia QV better be bloody good because those potential buyers have high expectations. They want and need this halo sedan to be as good as Alfa Romeo has claimed and they don’t want to be let down. Make no mistake, the performance car world needs exceptional Italian cars too, beyond the unobtanium of the out-of-reach elite like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati.
It’s no secret that Alfa Romeo has placed enormous significance on this car – and well it should. It's a brand rich in heritage, rich in performance ability, imbued with a unique sense of design and style, that lost its way and delivered a slew of boring FWD boxes, stepping too far away from that storied heritage.
The 4C was a brash signal of the resurrection, but it was nonetheless a toe in the water. It’s limited appeal and hardcore design principle excused it of its flaws. It didn’t need to be perfect, it just needed to evoke emotion and passion and remind us that Alfa Romeo had once again found its mojo and could still design raw, beautiful cars.
We loved the 4C despite its misgivings, but the Giulia QV gets no such leave pass. If you set out to target the likes of AMG and M and you believe you can take the fight to them, you had better deliver.
Now, after Curt’s track review, it’s time to find out whether the QV can deliver on the stage where it will spend most of its time – on the road. Things like ride comfort, bump absorption and user friendliness will now come into stark view.
Parked line astern, the three Alfa Romeo Giulias we’ll move between for our road drive, cut a gorgeous figure in Northern NSW. Signature Alfa Romeo red, a deep metallic blue and my personal favourite, pearlescent white, illustrate the way a beautiful design works with any selection from the colour palette. For instance, I have zero interest in black cars, but I suspect a black QV would look stunning.
The numbers – as I stated – have been well quoted, but let’s quickly revise them here. Front engine, RWD, 2.9-litres, two turbos, six cylinders, 1585kg dry weight, 375kW, 0-100km/h in 3.9sec, top speed 307km/h and a 7min 32sec lap time at the Nurburgring.
I figure the measurement that will reveal the most on road though, is the perfect 50:50 weight distribution, which should result in near perfect handling balance at the limit.
You only need to cut out into the conga line of moving traffic to realise the Giulia carries proper street cred. Everybody looks at it, and judging by the thumbs up, waves and smiles, everybody loves it too. It is significantly more stylish than most four-door sedans and from any angle, there’s nothing boring or conservative in the lines and design cues.
The Giulia QV is a truly beautiful car. Style might be subjective, but few manufacturers could execute a sedan with this much style, this much panache, that sense of travelling rapidly while sitting still, at once delicate and brutal, slender and macho.
The touches of gloss carbon-fibre add to the theatre and adorn the Giulia in the right places too; the front lip and boot spoiler are genuine works of art. Carbon-fibre is present in areas where you won’t ever see it as well – on the underside of the bonnet there’s raw weave to be seen and even the prop shaft is carbon-fibre. It all plays its part to keep the overall weight down as much as possible. There’s no doubt the Giulia is every ounce the Italian thoroughbred it should be from the first second you take in its muscular curves.
Likewise the cabin, which is trimmed in quality materials and is only let down – to my mind at least – by the shifter, which looks a little plain and basic in an otherwise exceptional environment. The leather, the contrast stitching, the layout of the controls and the seats are all excellent, comfortable but also sporting, crucial to the QV’s performance-focused DNA. I’d like the infotainment screen to be a little larger, but the system Alfa Romeo has employed works, is reliable and is easy to familiarise yourself with. The Bluetooth phone connection is simple to establish and reliable once connected.
One of the Giulias we sampled at launch was fitted with the optional Sparco carbon-fibre buckets. Pricing isn’t yet finalised for this option, but they look sensational and add a touch of style and flair to the otherwise understated interior. I use the word understated because the execution of the Giulia’s cabin errs on the side of function over form – not a bad thing either, given outlandish design elements might detract from the otherwise mature styling. That theme plays out in the carbon-fibre and alloy highlights too – where there is enough without going overboard.
Crucially, the driving position is spot on. You sit nice and low into the cabin, visibility is excellent both fore and aft, and you feel as if you’re hunkered down into a cockpit, exactly as a sporting Alfa Romeo should be. It’s comfortable too, even after more than 300km behind the wheel.
Curt’s initial track impressions translate to the road more directly than you might expect. The QV is certainly a different driving experience to anything it will compete with – another factor that will separate it from the pack and put a smile on the faces of those that will buy it. There’s a default driving mode that sits above economy and both of these modes result in a quiet exhaust note and relaxed drive.
Swap into either ‘Dynamic’ or ‘Race’ mode though and everything changes. The exhaust note deepens and gets louder (even at idle in Race mode), the engine holds revs right up to redline, the response of the gearshift, throttle and steering sharpens and the active suspension comes into play. That clever suspension combined with exceptional braking and torque vectoring mean you can then access the very best that the Giulia platform can offer – up to the point where your bravery reaches its limit, that is.
In Race mode, the throttle response is precise and linear and the Giulia rockets off the mark with a shriek from the tailpipe, piling on speed quickly. The sensational steering makes picking your line easy and you can hold that line through the corner with almost no correction needed.
The weight distribution and intrinsic balance does come into play here too, coaxing you to push harder, slicing through corners with aplomb, never feeling skittish or off kilter. The relaxed nature of the traction and stability control systems allow you to hang the tail out effortlessly (even in Dynamic, let alone Race), and steer into the slide as much as you dare.
This is a car that is ridiculously easy to drive rapidly and to slide if you feel the need – in short, it makes you look like a better driver than you are, the mark of many great cars. The steering is absolutely sensational, regardless which mode you choose and how hard you’re driving. It enhances the feeling of agility and makes scything through corners even more enjoyable such is the precision with which you can attack the task.
You might not feel the active suspension or the torque vectoring working away beneath you, but rest assured they are, and it’s a vital cog in the Giulia’s greater wheel. It makes driving quickly so much easier and reassured than it might otherwise be. Brake hard – even the standard system is excellent, let alone the optional carbon ceramic brakes – turn in with the weight over the front Pirellis, and then wait as the weight transfers rearward as soon as you squeeze on the throttle. The subtle shift to the outside rear tyre feels near perfect and even mid-corner bumps don’t properly unsettle the Giulia’s excellent chassis. As Curt suggested in his track drive, the tendency to let the rear tyres step out in Dynamic and Race modes engender the Giulia with a sense of excitement, and delivers a whole heap of fun too.
The response and willingness of the twin-turbo V6 is part of this on-road theatre too. There’s no perceptible lag, it revs all the way to redline cleanly and never seems to run out of puff if you grab the paddle and shift to the next gear just before redline. The power can tail off a little if you run right to the limiter. At speed, the gearshift is rapid fire either up or down the gearbox and there’s no loss of momentum once you work into a rhythm. Do I love the exhaust note? Yes. Would I like it to be louder? Absolutely. It’s a beautiful sound, but I’d like a little more of it, especially in Dynamic mode.
What most surprised me about the Giulia QV on-road? The relaxed way in which it copes with the typical pock-marked and rutted urban excuse for a road network that we get served in Australia. In either of the – let's call them lesser – driving modes, the Giulia is quiet, comfortable, solid and refined. You can also adapt the dampers to suit your preference independent of the driving modes, and with them in their softest setting, it’s a genuinely comfortable every day sedan.
The suspension is compliant enough to absorb whatever you ask of it even in the harder settings, and the cabin doesn’t shake and shimmy over every road expansion joint. The platform beneath is definitely high quality, but the execution of the body atop it is also worth noting. Pinpoint the Germans and the Giulia would need to exhibit that carved from stone feeling... which it does.
Around town, the only negative we can find, is the slight hesitation and surge the eight-speed gearbox exhibits at low, traffic crawling speeds. It’s as if the Giulia is straining at the leash, begging to be set free, which is fine in metaphorical terms, but a little grating until you get used to it. We know the eight-speed ZF to be world-class, so there’s something about the software that Alfa Romeo has ‘tuned’ into it.
The Giulia is efficient too – in the eco mode we saw the average figure drop into the low eights on the freeway. After a 70km jaunt around town, the average sits at 9.5L/100km.
Sergio Marchionne might have demanded that nobody sleep until the team of engineers and designers got the Giulia right where he wanted it to be and the effort that has gone into the development of this stunningly beautiful sedan is evident from the minute you sit behind the wheel. It is as good as Alfa Romeo claims and it is as beautiful as it should be, befitting of the Alfa Romeo badge that adorns its shapely snout. I have no doubt it will sate the thirst of fans around the world who have waited so long for Alfa Romeo to return to its RWD performance roots.
Oh, and that towering crescendo I mentioned that brings to an end the masterpiece that is Nessun Dorma? Big Pav is singing: Vincero! In other words, ’I will win!’ He’s not a man who tends to arrogance, but I reckon Signore Marchionne might just be having the last laugh.
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.