It is very rare these days for a car to be launched without a series of leaks, scoop photos and more than a few official previews, some more obviously authorised and planned than others. The Alfa Romeo Giulia certainly was not one of those cars that escaped the rumour mill. Indeed, Alfa’s plans for a new rear-driven saloon to try to dethrone the sales successes that are the 3 Series, C Class and A4 first surfaced around the start of the second decade of the twenty-first century, even before Alfa’s last offering in the class, the 159, had ceased production. I certainly remember having it on my short list as a possible new to receive in Spring 2012. It became apparent that it was not going to be ready in time, so I ordered another Audi, an S5 Sportback. As its lease headed towards its conclusion, I started thinking about a possible replacement and once again the upcoming Alfa came to mind, but with not a single photo, even heavily camouflaged having appeared as 2015 dawned, I started to think that it would not be available, or wondering if the car even really existed. It did, and Alfa Romeo finally presented the new car on the occasion of their 105th anniversary at a special event in Milan. Whilst the car’s existence had been much rumoured, its appearance had indeed remained completely under wraps. So what we saw in July 2015 was not just our first glimpse of the car, but also the finished article. Alfa had another surprise up their sleeve. As well as a range of petrol and diesel powered saloons to match the cooking versions of the German trio, they had the fire-breathing top of the range, boasting in excess of 500 bhp, on offer right from the outset. They had guessed – correctly, as it turned out – that they would get a lot more publicity with this car than just a range of executive saloons. On looks alone, Alfa looked to have conceived a winner. Some months later, the first drive reviews came in, and there was universal praise for what had been achieved. Afa had finally, it seemed, hit the proverbial bull’s eye, with a car which went right to the top of the class, with a driving experience that was at least impressive as its looks. Patience was still going to be required, though, as in a determination to ensure that build quality and reliability did not let the side down, as they had done for the 156 (for some people, though my experience was that there were no issues) so sales were scheduled for later in 2016. Which meant that the car was still not going to be an option for me with a lease car replacement due in May 2016. I ordered a Maserati Ghibli and had been driving it for some time before the first Giulia models reached the UK. Huge interest in the car have not translated to as many UK sales as had been expected, though, largely because Alfa have not been offering the sort of discounts and aggressive finance rates that the German brands do. And around 50% of those early sales were of the top spec Quadrifoglio version, which was a far higher percentage than had been predicted. Although I now had a car with a lease that would see me through to mid 2020, I was still very keen to sample the Guilia. When I spotted that Hertz Switzerland had bought some of the Quadrifoglio models, it was not hard for me to find a weekend when the car was available and plan a weekend trip to a country I had loved spending time in when I was working there. For sure this was not the cheapest of weekend rentals, but the deal offered unlimited miles and access to stunning scenery, so I made my bookings and eagerly waited for the designated date to arrive. I was relieved when I arrived to find that Hertz had not been tempted to give me any form of upgrade and there was indeed a Giulia Quadrifoglio parked up, with my name on it. Paperwork completed, it was mine for 48 hours.
The Giulia really is a clean sheet design. It is the first fruit of a massive investment that has been committed to try to rebuild Alfa Romeo back to the glory days of the 60s, which is the era from which a lot of that intensely strong brand loyalty derives. With no suitable rear wheel drive platform to base the car on, the decision was taken to create one from scratch. Called Georgio, it now underpins the Stelvio as well, as we have to assume that it will be used elsewhere in the Group though 3 years on from launch, there is no sign of that yet. New engines were developed, too. The one that powers the Quadrifoglio, a 2.9 litre twin turbo V6 unit putting out a stonking 503 bhp and 600Nm of torque has a close relationship with Ferrari, which is both a selling point in the showroom and real advantage on the road. Quite how close remains unclear, as Alfa’s engineers describe the all-aluminium unit as being ‘inspired by’ Ferrari’s 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8. The fact that the motors share identical – and slightly oversquare – cylinder bore and stroke measurements, an identical 90deg bank angle, very similar compression ratios and turbochargers supplied by IHI would all suggest the relationship is closer than they’re letting on. All Giulias get aluminium suspension arms and subframes, cast aluminium suspension towers, aluminium doors and wings and a carbonfibre driveshaft. The Quadrifoglio version adds a carbonfibre bonnet and roof to that material mixture, as well as a carbonfibre front splitter with active aerodynamic functions. Alfa Romeo quotes a kerb weight for the Quadrifoglio of 1580kg, which does indeed give it the class-leading power-to-weight ratio for which Alfa aimed, Other features include adaptive dampers, a torque-vectoring rear differential working through a pair of clutches that can send 100 percent of drive to either rear wheel, double-wishbone front suspension, a weight-saving ‘by-wire’ electromechanical braking system and a new Magnetti Marelli central electronic chassis management computer, the function of which is to make the car’s various secondary electronics work in harmony. All of this go comes with some show, too. When you see a Quadrifoglio on the road you are in no doubt that this is the version you are looking at, with some relatively subtle but obvious changes made to the appearance, including twin heat extractors on the bonnet, vicious side sills, an active carbon splitter at the front and a carbon spoiler on the lip of the boot – all of which are designed as much for performance as for beauty. Large green cloverleaf badges on the wings remind everyone of Alfa’s racing heritage.
Even more so with this Giulia than any other Alfa Romeo, the engine is the heart and soul of the car. At 503 bhp, it is the most powerful unit that has ever appeared in an Alfa, and when it was revealed, and the data sheet told us just how potent it was, the Germans hastily scrabbled around to try to match it in the bragging rights department. Whilst the M3 and C63 AMG may have got into the same ballpark from a raw output point of view, I don’t think they’ve actually toppled it as an engine. Put simply, it is magnificent. It comes to life when you press the Start Engine button which is housed on the steering wheel boss, and there is a menacing sort of snarl that immediately greets your ear drums. You get even more of this as you even brush the throttle pedal. Alfa appear to have found just the right balance between an angry sound and something that you won’t find unduly wearing. Indeed once the Giulia Quadrifoglio is cruising at a steady speed, it is quiet and peaceful, with little noise from the engine, or for the matter the wind or the road. But move your foot downwards on the accelerator pedal and it is a different story. The red line is at a heady 7300 rpm, and even long before getting even close to this, the sound has gone from great to intoxicating. Make no mistake about it, this car is brutally fast. Even light pedal pressure makes that very obvious and the official 0 – 60 acceleration time of just 3.9 seconds reinforces that view. Whilst the car is quite docile in traffic and those urban areas infested with speed cameras, as so many towns and villages in Switzerland are, then the car is easy to drive and merely hints at what is to come when you get to the open road. For the second day of my test, I decided to head north and into Germany. The autobahn from Schaffhausen up towards Stuttgart on a Sunday morning is usually lightly in traffic and there are no speed limits, so I thought I would go and see just what the Giulia Quadrifoglio could do. This stretch of autobahn is only two lanes, though, and sadly, there was enough traffic that I could not really open the car as much as I had hoped. However, I can report that the acceleration is savage, and the torque means that it is instantly available no matter speed or gear you are starting from. I did not get much over 200 km/h and that was only briefly, so there was quite a lot more available if only I had found somewhere to be able to unleash it. And that will be a problem for owners of this car, on the public road, at least, where traffic and the need to protect the licence will be the limiting factors. That said, it was still huge fun to enjoy those rapid bursts when I could, revelling in the engine noise. The only available transmission is an 8 speed ZF automatic, and it is extremely well matched with the engine. There are paddles if you want to change the gears yourself, but if you leave it all to sort itself out, it will do a splendid job. Shifts between the gears are absolutely seamless, and the car always seemed to be in the right gear for what you wanted to do. On the first day of the test I headed up into the Alps, going up the Gotthard Pass. Lingering snow meant some of the other Passes I had planned to drive on where still closed, but just the Gotthard is a good test of a car’s ability to cope with the autobahn trip to the approach then some steep and twisty roads up to Andermatt and beyond to the summit. Such roads barely seemed to trouble the Alfa at all. Like all recent Alfa models, there is a DNA control, and going through the available settings does what you would expect. There are actually four driving modes in the Quadrifoglio: Advanced Efficiency (A) is clever in that it allows cylinder deactivation on one bank of the V6, contributing to the impressive claims of 33.2mpg on the combined cycle and 198g/km of CO2. Next up is Natural (N), but Dynamic (D) and Race (yes, R) are where it gets interesting as the throttle, exhaust, gearshift, suspension and steering all ramp up the involvement. ESP is also completely disabled in Race. You will probably play with it a bit when you first get the car but how much you would use it in everyday motoring is maybe a moot point. Thankfully, my rental terms gave me unlimited mileage, as I covered a lot of ground in the 48 hours I had this car, and that did mean quite a lot of fuel. It requires 99RON fuel, as you might expect for such a potent machine and it got through it at a rate of 11.2 litres/100km, which equates to 25.33 mpg, not actually that bad a result given the performance on tap, proof once more than a very powerful engine can be quite economical when it is not driven anywhere near flat out.
It’s not just the engine that Alfa got right with the Giulia, but the chassis as well. They were so determined to do this that they went to the trouble and expense of developing a completely new platform, known as Giorgio, for the car, though as this now underpins the Stelvio as well, they will be able to spread the cost across both model ranges. All the things that matter to an enthusiast behind the wheel are spot on. The steering is well judged. It is electrically assisted but this car is proof that this arrangement can still deliver, as there is plenty of feel and a nice weighting which is just right. There are just 2.25 turns from lock to lock, so yes, that does mean that the turning circle is, well, not exactly tight, but who cares? I am used to that with my Abarth! And the handling is also excellent, helped no doubt by the evenly balanced weight distribution. To see just what the Quadrifoglio can do would take a trip to the track, and that was not an option for me, but I did take it on roads that had swooping and high speed bends on the autobahn and some much tighter ones up in the Alps and it was just such a fun car to take on these roads. There’s lots of grip, and no body roll, and you certainly feel that the car has far more talent than most who will drive it. There’s not even a penalty when it comes to the ride, which whilst not pillowy smooth was certainly not uncomfortable. There are larger tyres on the rear – 285/30 ZR19 than the front, which has 245/35 ZR19s. These are low profile but the fact that they are “only” 19″ may help explain the ride quality. All around visibility was about par for the modern course. You do get assistance when parking up, with sensors front and rear, which can be turned off and there is a rear-view camera. In fact judging the back of the car, with its relatively short tail was not that hard. On the move, the view from the door mirrors left only a small blind spot area. On the whole this was an easy car to drive and position on the road.
The Giulia has a definite Alfa style to the interior. That is mostly a Good Thing, though there are those who have criticised the quality of the materials as being sub-par. Whilst they are certainly quite up to Audi levels of look and feel (and let’s be honest, at this price point, nothing else really is), I found everything to be perfectly acceptable. There’s plenty of leather and carbon fibre in use. That extends to the steering wheel which features a mix of both, as well as alcantara, and it also applies to the dash facings and the door casings, and there is carbon in the centre console. Red stitching is used to provide some colour and further ornamentation. Everything certainly seems to fit together well. Raised air vents at either end of the dash are a definite feature and then there is a swooping cowl which gradually goes lower from a high point in front of the driver to a much lower position by the passenger’s door side. There are two main dials, recessed quite deeply in their own individual half cowl, for speedometer and rev counter and smaller gauges for water temperature and fuel level using a series of illuminated dots are positioned on the outer edge of the larger dials. Between them is a digital display area for all the usual trip computer type functions including a useful digital repeater of the speedometer. Everything you need is here, though you may be surprised that there are not more dials as you would surely found in a car of this type a few generations back. Alfa have resisted the urge to over-burden the steering wheel boss with functions, using the spokes for audio repeater and cruise control and the Start Engine button is to the lower right of this. There are twin column stalks for indicators and wipers and the lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The display screen for the infotainment system is properly integrated into the dash, positioned up high, but it is not all that large, at 6.5″, as there is not the real estate space to fit anything bigger within the confines of that swooping upper surface. Slightly surprisingly, it does not have a touch interface. I was not particularly keen on the graphics used for the navigation system, but when I did use it, it proved easy enough to operate, with a control wheel – the one item which did feel a bit cheap – in the centre console. There is a Harman Kardon audio system and the sound quality from this seemed to be good, though I will admit that a lot of the time I preferred the engine note to anything I could find on the radio. There are rather fewer features in the overall Infotainment system than you will find in the car’s most obvious rivals, but ask yourself whether that really matters and whether you really use them or not. I suspect that “not” is the truth for most owners and what is here will actually meet their needs of sound, and navigation and pairing with their phone. Lower in the centre of the dash are three rotaries and a number of buttons for the dual zone climate control. The centre console has the DNA button, a knob for radio volume and the electronic handbrake as well as the gearlever.
Sports-style seats feature and they are trimmed in a mix of leather and alcantara. There is a wide range of adjustment on offer, all of it electrically assisted. It took me a little while to get the setting I wanted and then the first time I turned the ignition off, the seat powered well back, and did not return to where I had put it when I restarted the car. It proved necessary to use one of the seat memory settings to ensure that it would subsequently return to my chosen position. You can set the seat quite low so it feels more like a sports car that you are sitting in rather than some cars where you are perched up high. There is an extensible bolster under your thighs which can pull out for those who have particularly long upper legs. That’s definitely not me! Adjustable lumbar support is also offered. Combine all this with the telescoping steering column and I was able to get that optimum driving position, and so, I believe can everyone else. Long gone are the days of the slightly idiosyncratic driving position that some found in an Alfa Romeo. Seat comfort was good, with enough side support to hold you in place, which you might want were you to take your Giulia to the track and test out the real handling ability. I was more interested in how I would feel having spent three or so hours from Zurich to the Alps without stopping and the answer was ready for a lot more time had the need been there.
One consequence of the switch to a rear wheel drive platform is that space in the back is tighter than you might expect. Or even need. The Jaguar XE suffers from the same problem, and BMW only solved it for the 3 series by making each successive generation longer and longer. Leg room may be a big of a challenge if the front seats are set well back. The angle of the backrest is such that headroom should suffice for all but the extremely tall. The seats are shaped very much to take two people here, and the high central tunnel will be a further disincentive to trying to put a third occupant in the middle. Slightly surprisingly, there is no central armrest. Stowage space comes from nets on the back of the front seats and some rather pokey bins on the doors.
The boot is also on the modest side and there is a relatively small opening, so getting bulky items in may be more of a problem than actually housing in what is a nice rectangular shape. There is no additional space for items under the boot floor and the rear seat backrest is fixed, unlike in some of the lesser versions of the Giulia. Places for odds and ends on the cabin are just about adequate. The globe box is not very big and stuff seemed to have a habit of falling out of it when opened up. There are rather small bins on the doors, a cubby over the driver’s left knee and a bigger and deeper item under the central armrest and there are a couple of cupholders under a sliding cover in the centre console as well as quite a sizeable if shallow recess in front of the gearlever.
The Giulia Quadrifolgio sits at the top of the range, very much a model in its own right, with no trim variants, just an options list that you can resort to. Listed at well north of £60k even before you peruse the options list, it is considerably more costly to buy than the other models in the Giulia range, but at this price, it is also considerable cheaper than an AMG C63S and a bit cheaper than a BMW M3, though rumour has it that you can secure hefty discounts on both of these without even trying very hard. Mostly you are paying your extra money for the upgraded mechanicals, so the equipment levels may not strike you as all that generous. But everything you probably need is there. Among the features included are 19in alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, front fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, leather and Alcantara sports seats that are heated and electrically adjustable, cruise control, a DAB radio and navigation, dual zone climate control and a wide range of safety kit like autonomous emergency braking – enough, in fact, to reward the Giulia range with a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating. Extras range from special paint to carbon ceramic brakes, additional lashings of carbon fibre, larger wheels, Sparco carbon backed sports seats, all the usual sort of stuff and be warned many of these do not come cheap.
My expectations for the Giulia Quadrifoglio were very high, fuelled by so many positive reviews that I had seen ever since the press launch. I think it is no exaggeration to say that having been behind the wheel, those expectations were not just met, but blown away. This was an absolutely incredible car. Were I ordering one, I would probably choose one of the other available colours – either Misano Blue or Alfa Red are both particularly attractive – but even in this rather sober grey, it looks fabulous. The Giulia shape is just so right, as opposed to so many cars these days which are not, and the changes between a regular Giulia and a Quadrifoglio are well judged adding the just the right level of sporting intent and plain aggression without going over the top. Whilst the looks will appeal every time you look out of the window and see the car, the real enjoyment comes when you get behind the wheel. Every aspect of the driving experience seemed to be just spot on: the car sound great, it is blisteringly fast, it grips the road for dear life, encourages you to be naughty on the bends (and the straight bits until you remember your licence and the law!) and yet it is quiet and refined when cruising at a steady speed on the motorway so it is civilised when you need it to be. It is comfortable and roomy enough for four or may be five if you need to fill the car with people and luggage and it is nicely finished and well equipped inside. Some have said that the interior quality lets the car down, but I beg to differ. It might not have the material richness of an Audi, but it is at least the equal of the 3 series or C Class and it is definitely good enough. So what does count against it? Well, just the cost. Like its direct rivals, this is not a cheap car to buy and it is not going to be cheap to run. Complex high performance cars of this type never are. But get past this hurdle, if you can, and I can think of no good reason not choose one of these. Selecting the replacement for my Ghibli in 2020 is going to be a tougher decision than ever before.