First Drive: 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio U.S. Spec
Food for a driver’s soul — unless you’re trying to catch it.
NAPA, California — Around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a.k.a. "the Ring," the ultimate petri dish for litmus-testing the world's most scintillating automobiles, it is quicker than the Porsche 911 GT3. And the Lamborghini Murciélago LP640. And the Ferrari 458 Italia. And the Nissan GT-R Spec V.
Oh, and it seats four and has a delightful audio system.
The new 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (also often called the "Giulia QV") isn't simply the most powerful Alfa ever, it's also the fastest production four-door sedan in the world around the Ring. Its recent record-shattering lap time of 7:32, with Alfa test driver Fabio Francia at the helm, even bested purebred two-seaters from the likes of Pagani, Koenigsegg, McLaren, and RUF. The in-car footage is easily found and will clench up your gluteus maximus tighter than Charles Bukowski on St. Patrick's Day.
The Giulia has to be good, as it forms the cornerstone of Alfa's ambitions for the U.S. market. In contrast, the limited-production 8C supercar and even the more affordable two-seat 4C, which have already made the trip stateside, are mere drops in the oil pan; it's the Giulia that Alfa is relying upon to take the brand mainstream. Waiting for the Giulia, though, has been like holding out for "Blade Runner 2." After hearing rumors of its potential arrival for years, Americans finally got their first glimpse of the car way back at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, and several delays have stalled the car's debut since. Finally launched in Europe earlier this year, the Giulia Quadrifoglio — the performance version in the lineup — will at last appear on our shores this December. Sometime in the first quarter of 2017, a less aggressive, turbo four-cylinder version — available with optional all-wheel drive — will follow.
The name Quadrifoglio ("four-leaf clover") harks back to 1923, when Alfa team driver Ugo Sivocci was killed testing the company's new P1 racer at Italy's Monza circuit. For good luck, the notoriously unlucky Sivocci (he was a regular runner-up) had decided to paint a green clover in a white square on his car — whereupon he immediately won the prestigious Targa Florio. Just months later came his accident in the P1 — without a quadrifoglio on its bodywork. Clearly a working lucky charm, the quadrifoglio has adorned Alfa racing cars ever since; it's surrounded by a white triangle rather than a square, the missing corner to honor Sivocci.
Going into battle against proven heroes like the BMW M3 and the Mercedes C63 S, the Alfa QV can't be anything less than righteously equipped right off the landing craft. As it turns out, it's even more righteous than anybody could've predicted. Under its hood lies a 2.9-liter twin-turbo, twin-cam V-6 sourced from Ferrari (think of it as the bi-turbo V-8 from the 488 GTB but with two cylinders hacked off by a chainsaw). Output is a class-leading 505 hp at 6,500 rpm, which translates to an equally impressive 174 hp per liter (given the modest displacement, much of the credit owes to a massive 35 psi of boost). Despite being heavily performance-biased, the engine is equipped with cylinder-deactivation and start/stop technology to stretch every possible yard from each gallon of premium fuel.
Most insiders expected the QV to launch stateside with a six-speed manual transmission, while an 8-speed paddle-shift automatic would be available in Europe. Nope — just the opposite. All U.S.-bound QVs will sport the eight-speed automatic, which is actually the quicker of the two transmissions (Fabio Francia used the paddle-shifter on his Ring-record run). Gear changes are completed in just 100 milliseconds, so (sorry manual purists) the computer can make your manual shiftwork look like you're operating in a tar patch.
From the very start, Alfa designed the Giulia with performance taking priority over all else (indeed, the Quadrifoglio was developed before the less-potent four-cylinder versions, its DNA trickling down). Minimizing weight, therefore, became an obsession. The Giulia's so-called "Giorgio" rear-drive platform is all new and exclusive to the car, and makes extensive use of lightweight aluminum. Moreover, the hood, roof, rear spoiler, rocker moldings, driveshaft, and active front splitter are made of even lighter (and stronger) carbon fiber. Curb weight is around 3,800 pounds with a claimed 50/50 weight distribution. Combined, the potent, all-aluminum V-6 and feathery chassis return a best-in-class power-to-weight ratio.
The exterior is clean and appropriately aggressive, with Alfa's signature grille plus enough strakes, vents, and ducts to leave no doubt about this sedan's métier. It isn't the most distinctive shape on the road (at a quick glance, you could confuse the Giulia for any number of rival sedans), but it is good-looking in a purposeful way. Fat performance tires (245/35ZR19 Pirelli P Zeroes in front, 285/30R19s in back) wrap around 19-inch lightweight-alloy wheels. Bi-Xenon adaptive headlamps are standard, as are LED running lights and taillamps, dual-mode quad exhausts. Inside the attractive wheels, Brembo performance brakes with red calipers clamp down on the rotors.
Inside, it's clear that Alfa spent its money on the important stuff — not flash. The cabin is almost Spartan in its lack of adornment or frills — which is not to say it's unattractive. Instead, the cockpit feels welcoming, uncluttered, and appropriately businesslike — including big central gauges, an F1-inspired leather steering wheel (with standard heating), an 8.8-inch widescreen nav display, and spectacular leather/Alcantara sport seats with conspicuously beefy side bolsters. Carbon fiber accents are standard, though aluminum and a modern-looking wood are optional. Also standard is a vast array of equipment often found on the options lists of rival machines: front and rear park sensors, backup camera, blind-spot detection, keyless entry and start, and SiriusXM radio. The few options include a carbon-fiber steering wheel, a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, adaptive cruise control, Sparco racing seats, and carbon-ceramic brakes.
I had chance to sample the QV on the roads in and around California's Napa Valley — plus hot laps on twisty, rolling Sonoma Raceway. As often happens when you're testing a performance car with the handling limits of a centrifuge, it rained. A lot. Just keeping this highly pressurized beast in a semi-straight line promised to be as challenging as singing a honey badger to sleep.
Immediate impression upon pressing the red pushbutton starter on the steering wheel: the turbo six is gloriously smooth. I prodded the tach needle upward a few times without so much as a shiver from up front. Instead, I was treated to an intoxicating swell of revs, the exhaust crackling on the overrun, the motor practically begging me to get going.
Second impression after only a few miles out on the road: the QV is a car overflowing with character. It's fast, melodious, and thrilling on its feet—even when you're tip-toeing through the NoCal rain. Among its rivals, there isn't anything else quite like it.
Much of that character derives straight from the powertrain. The engine is hugely powerful, gunning the car forward with a ferocious urgency (and a Pavarotti timbre) at even modest throttle settings. Adding to the drama is the superb 8-speed; in manual mode, shifts crack off in the air and smack your backside. The transmission feels nearly as quick as a dual-clutch unit, and the giant paddles behind the wheel feel so good to your fingertips you'll never want to leave the shifter in automatic mode. The car injects its Alfa Romeo sports/racing heritage straight to the core of your cerebellum.
You haven't felt "quick" in a chassis until you've driven this QV. The ride is firm and clearly tuned for response above comfort (the ride is not harsh, however). Steering ratio is just 11.8:1 — turn the wheel even a fraction, and the Giulia bites to the side now. Indeed, steering is so quick that it takes a while to learn to dial back on the amount of input required. The car likes to be driven with your fingertips, with a delicate touch. That's an incredibly rewarding manner in which to pilot a performance car. You don't need spurs and a crop to goad this Alfa into doing your bidding. It'll do all you ask, and more, with a whisper.
Brakes are extremely potent but touchy. You'll need practice before you're easing into them without banging the nose down. Again, though, this a racy characteristic, more track car than road car. For sure, stopping power is abundant; it's just a matter of adjusting to the unique feel in modulation. The optional carbon ceramic brakes are grabbier still; then again, much of this behavior was undoubtedly due to the rain.
On the undulating Sonoma race circuit, slick with well-worn asphalt and rain, the QV demanded gentle inputs in every corner of the friction circle — gas, brakes, cornering — or it was going to fly off straight to San Francisco. With the Pro Drive Mode selector set to "Dynamic," the Alfa's tail would step sideways with so much as a poke of the gas. (Even the Alfa test driver who took me on a few exploratory laps in the car quickly switched from Race — no stability controls — to Dynamic mode. Even then, he kept getting the car sideways, too.) Limit handling? I haven't got a clue how the QV feels there — never even got close. All the more reason why I can't wait to try the car on a dry road surface. Even in the wet, it was a sensory riot every moment.
Alfa also had a few four-cylinder Giulias (rear-drive only) on hand, and I managed to snag an hour in one. Available in base and Ti (Turismo Internazionale) trims, the entry-level Giulia sports a turbo 2.0-liter, direct-injection four making 280 hp at 5,200 rpm and 306 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm. After the monstrous, Ferrari-sourced V-6, you'd think driving the little four-banger would be a huge letdown. You'd be wrong. The engine is zesty and eager, and mates with the same ZF 8-speed paddle-shift auto as its bigger brother. The engine's reduced mass and, probably, the car's smaller tires (18 inches with the optional Sport package; the base tires are 17s) help the little Giulia feel nippier in the turns, even lighter in its responsiveness. Even in the rain, it lacks the cornering power of the QV, but the driving experience is only different — not "worse." Many buyers are going to find the four-cylinder Giulia far more entertaining than they expected (the availability of all-wheel drive is sure to be a draw, too).
"Character." That word keeps coming to mind when I think about the Giulia QV. This new sports sedan has loads of it—from its immense performance to its soaring engine note to its playful chassis to its stylish Italian physique. Too many cars today perform well but do so innocuously, almost robotically. Not this Alfa. This is an automobile with a feel and personality distinctly different from its rivals. Indeed, its flavor may be too strong for those who simply want some bragging-rights horsepower under their leather-lined luxury chariots. The 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, instead, is a driver's sports sedan through and through. Everything else is secondary. Your passengers won't complain — the car is plenty comfortable — but it's clearly going to be you at the wheel who's having the best time of all.
Alfa Romeo, you made exactly the right call.
2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Specifications
|On Sale:||December 2016|
|Price:||$70,000 (est. )|
|Engine:||2.9L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/505 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 443 lb-ft @ 2,500|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||17/24 mpg (city/hwy est. )|
|L x W x H:||182.6 x 73.7 x 56.1 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.8 sec|
|Top Speed:||191 mph|