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Italy has never made a perfect car. They can be beautiful, they can be fast, they can even prove to be reliable, but they never tick all the boxes.
The Italians have also never produced a car – in recent times at least – that we can wholeheartedly recommend as the best in its class. That hasn’t changed with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (nee Verde). However, what makes it imperfect also makes it an excellent candidate for those that dread the idea of adding just another BMW M or Mercedes-AMG to the road.
From the outside, Alfa’s answer to the BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan gives all the right cues to its intent. It sits on gorgeous 19-inch alloys that scream Italian, with a family front design that, while attractive, we feel is completely unmatched to its absolutely stunning rear end that houses a super-aggressive diffuser holding its quad exhausts. Even in this absolutely dull dark-silver colour that Alfa Romeo sent us to test, the Q looks stunning, but it really pops in its hero Italian red.
Given there are so few of these going around, driving this throughout Brisbane certainly turned a few heads. Try that in an M3 and you’ll be lucky if someone even bats an eyelid. In that regard, its uniqueness is a huge reason why you should consider the Alfa over its German rivals. It’s different.
Unfortunately, that difference is not always in a positive fashion. Jump inside and you can immediately tell it’s not on the same footing as the Germans. Sure, it has some amazing signs of Italian craftsmanship with the Alcantara leather seats, the red stitching throughout and the huge amount of carbon fibre – almost unnecessarily, who wants carbon fibre for their cupholders? – but the overall feel is sub-par to both BMW's and Merc’s offerings.
Everything from the gear lever to the air-conditioning dials and the vents feels cheaper than it should for a car that costs $143,900. Then there is the 8.8-inch infotainment screen that is running a surprisingly un-Italian piece of software – in other words, it works – but is housed in an area that makes it look small, with a heap of black space surrounding it. Not to mention that it can learn a thing or two from smartphone screen lamination, given the display itself sits too far back from the glass, allowing for too much glare and reflection when viewed in direct sunlight. The system itself now feels a generation old compared to the latest versions of Mercedes's COMAND or BMW's iDrive.
The back seats offer similar room to the BMW 3 Series, in the sense that two adults can easily be accommodated, but a third would be pushing it for long trips. It has the two necessary ISOFIX points, and we tried it with two full-sized child seats and there was plenty of room for two kids – so long as you don’t intend to use the middle seat. Not that you could.
On the plus side, the steering wheel is a work of art. It belongs in a Ferrari and it’s obviously heavily inspired by the brand, with the red starter button on the carbon-fibre-clad wheel. It has gigantic metal paddle-shifters that you can grab at any angle and make the driving experience that little bit more enjoyable.
Speaking of being inspired by Ferrari, the 2.9-litre V6 engine powering this thing is hard to describe. Dear lord, that engine. We’ve all been singing the praises of AMG with its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 as perhaps the best and most versatile production turbo V8 of its era, and that remains true, but the same must now be said of the one in the Alfa. If we had to give an award to a V6 engine, this would be it. The Ferrari-engineered V6 slaughters the similar-sized offering from Audi in the new RS5 and the six in the M3 for drama and engine note.
With 375kW of power and 600Nm of torque, it falls a little short of the AMG, but well ahead of the M3. Alfa Romeo claims it will go from 0–100km/h in 3.9 seconds, and we feel that is very much a realistic figure – our own tests were low fours on a hot Brisbane day – however, the car doesn’t have launch control, which is an odd omission in this class and not ideal against the dual-clutch street racers of the modern era.
The eight-speed ZF transmission is also not on par with its German rivals (particularly the DCT in the BMW), offering a clunky feel at low speeds, but also – in our test car at least – occasionally lagging substantially on downshifts. It’s a great gearbox when you’re up it and going flat-out, but it's not consistent in its smoothness, which we found rather surprising given how great that same system is in other cars.
Behind the wheel, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Q is absurdly quick. It’s also extremely well engineered for going fast, be that a result of its 50:50 weight distribution or the way the V6 engine seems to never run out of torque.
Where the BMW might feel awfully twitchy or a little manic and where the Merc might feel like a slightly lazier, tyre-scorching German muscle car, the Q feels razor sharp and highly capable. The engine never lets go and the mechanical grip inspires you with relentless torque. We pushed this car as hard as we dared and it never gave a sign that it had reached its limit. It makes you want to go faster and faster, without ever biting or indicating that your life may end at any moment.
The only criticism we could make of its dynamics is that it’s too good. We found the front end almost too sharp, with a steering system that would make race car drivers happy with its sensitivity. If there were a precision driving game between the Germans and the Alfa, it would be a no-contest in its favour. We would go so far as to say it’s a little too sensitive, and despite playing with all the driver modes via Alfa’s DNA system, it felt like it only had the one mode: f#*king fast.
The brakes are also very much race car like, in that they require a great deal of application in suburban driving before they get warm, and even then they can take some getting used to. But the biggest surprise for us with the Q was the ride quality. It’s superb. It’s the perfect balance between being comfortable in normal modes and highly capable in the extreme settings. We would encourage BMW to buy a Q to work out how to make the M3 ride better for daily driving.
It’s one of the reasons why we would rather have a Q if it were a daily over the M3. It has a more compliant ride without giving anything up dynamically. It’s very Porsche like. We drove the Q through mountainous roads in Race mode and suburbia in Normal mode, and it impressed us with its amazing dual personality.
But as we said at the beginning, it’s not perfect. We can imagine a meeting deep inside Alfa’s headquarters (with amazing coffee flowing), whereby one engineer says to the product planner, “Should we create a button so you can switch the exhaust on even in Comfort mode?” and getting a death stare that would make Maurizio Arrivabene proud. “No, you fool. If he wants it to be loud, he will have to go into Race mode, else f#$k him, he shouldn’t be buying it”.
Yep, so we turned on Race mode and immediately the engine changed its tune to a far more aggressive note. It also indicated on the dash that we had partially disabled the car’s traction and stability systems. Great, that’s what you want on a rainy day on slippery roads. So, the only way you can make it sound good is to put it in Race mode, whereby you lose the car’s less than intrusive but still necessary nanny controls. Not exactly ideal, but very Italian.
Speaking of the engine note, you can have a listen to it on our Facebook page here. It’s not as mechanical or raspy as the six from BMW. It’s too meaty and deeper in its character, you won’t mistake it for a V8, but it doesn’t sound like a puny V6 either. Oh, and it uses a lot of fuel. The official claim of 8.2L/100km is an Italian joke. You should be happy if you can stay under double that.
The good news is that you can actually enjoy your Ferrari engine at all times with a little hack. An Alfa dealer told us that they can manually just switch the exhaust to remain open at all times after you’ve registered the car, so it may be an issue with noise-restriction requirements. Although if that’s the case, we would advise Alfa Romeo to seek the same lawyer that Jaguar uses, for its cars come out of the factory twice as loud with an active exhaust button.
In terms of safety, the autonomous emergency braking system works rather well with good early warning indication without being irritating, in contrast to the lane departure system that pumps out an awful sound from the corresponding speaker (left speaker for left lane) every 30 seconds or so when you even come close to brushing a line marking. You can play with the sensitivity, but you’ll just end up turning it off to avoid going mad.
Overall, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Q is an imperfect car, but its imperfections are as much its strengths as they are its weaknesses. So, while it probably can’t match BMW or Mercedes-Benz when it comes to overall refinement or interior fit and finishes, it gives you something that is a true equal (if not better) when it comes to dynamic capability.
Should you buy one? Sure, why not? No-one needs a car this fast in Australia, but if you’re going to buy your second or third M3 or C63, give the Italians a go. Everyone needs to own an Alfa Romeo at least once in their life, right?