► First drive of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia
► CAR tests both the 503bhp QF and 2.2 diesel models
► A four-door Ferrari? You'd better believe it
Alfa Romeo’s Giulia Quadrifoglio is the closest thing you can get to a factory-built four-door Ferrari. We drive the 503bhp BMW M3 rival plus the diesel Giulia that aims to bring some Latin flair to your company car list.
What’s all this four-door Ferrari talk?
It’s more than talk. The Giulia Quadrifoglio (Cloverleaf) was engineered by a team led by ex-458 creator Philippe Krief, is powered by a twin-turbo V6 that’s essentially a cut-down 488 GTB V8 and sends its power exclusively to the rear axle of a brand-new chassis via a torque-vectoring differential.
Alfa’s engineers claimed the Maserati V6 used in the Ghibli S would have caused packaging problems and wouldn’t have produced the required power reliably, so lopped a couple of cylinders off the Ferrari V8 to create a very special 2.9-litre V6 with 503bhp and 443lb ft.
Other markets get a choice of manual or auto, but the cost of engineering the stick-shift to work with right-hand drive wasn’t considered worth the hassle. Don’t lose any sleep over that: it’s pretty clunky anyway, and the excellent ZF auto we do get has eight rather than six gears giving you even more opportunities to chase the redline.
Despite downgrading the crank to a more conventional cross-plane variety, this engine loves to rev. It doesn’t scream exactly through those quad tailpipes, but switch the drive mode selector to the fourth mode, Race (regular Giulias just get the regular Alfa Drive, Natural and Advanced Efficiency settings), and it growls like an Italian union rep asked to work a bank holiday. Alfa says 3.9sec to 62mph and a 191mph top end. Not slow, then.
So it gets the straight-line stuff right. Any other ticks?
How about all of them? Great brakes (okay, ours had the optional ceramics), excellent driving position and sports seats, and fabulously exploitable rear-drive handling.
Unlike its German rivals, the QF doesn’t want to slew into oversteer at the merest brush of the throttle. Sticky P Zero Corsas let you lean hard on the front end to tuck the nose into a corner then transfer load to the rear as you arc through it. You can tease the back end, trimming your line with the right pedal, choosing to keep things neat or (in Race mode, which disengages the ESP) lob a smoke grenade at the apex and disappear in a cloud of tyre vapour.
The 156 and 159 had famously abysmal turning circles, but the rear-drive layout gives huge steering articulation on the QF that’s as handy in city traffic as when recovering the unrecoverable slide on track.
Sounds like a great car, but meanwhile, back on planet Earth, how does the ordinary Giulia fare?
Predictably, it’s nowhere near as exciting, but this is still a genuinely appealing car. Like the QF, the spec is pretty trick: aluminium panels for the steel shell, double wishbones at the front and a carbon propshaft because the Giulia is rear-wheel drive.
For Brits it’s also automatic only, which again might sound disappointing, but the huge metal shift paddles (fixed to the column, supercar-style, rather than the wheel) look and feel fabulous and put you in touch with ZF’s excellent eight-speed ‘box.
There are only three engines for the UK: a 2.0 petrol with 197bhp and a new 2.2 diesel with either 148bhp or 178bhp. We drove the latter. It’s pretty potent (7.1sec to 62mph), and strong on economy and emissions too (as much as 67mpg, as little as 99g/km), but although it cruises quietly, it gets rowdy when you get much past 3500rpm so it’s best to shift early and make use of the impressive 332lb ft of torque.
Torque-tastic. Quadrifoglio-style drifts on every corner then?
Sadly not. You can’t switch the ESP out, but Alfa has got the important things right. The steering is quick and precise, the turn in is crisp, and that 50:50 weight distribution makes for a nicely balanced chassis. Provided you don’t push too hard, where it starts to roll and then understeers, it’s good fun to drive. Can’t speak for the ride though. Our drive was limited to Fiat’s Balocco test track.
What about the interior? Flakier than a choux pastry?
Not at all. Audi’s A4 has it licked for interior quality, but it’s more stylish, vastly better finisher than Jag’s XE and massively more roomy.
How much are the Giulias going to cost?
On a par with BMW in each case, so hovering around £30k for a diesel and double that for a Quadrifoglio. But Alfa says the Giulia will beat the Germans for spec every time.
The Giulia has been a long time coming, arriving almost four years after Alfa sold its last 159s, and while we’ll have to wait for a road drive before delivering a definitive verdict, it seems it was definitely worth the wait.
The diesel version finally gives Alfa a class-competitive, if maybe not quite class-topping, fleet saloon and the Quadrifoglio is downright spectacular. Alfa is back in the game.
You can read more about the Quadrifoglio and other Giulias in the June issue of CAR magazine, on sale 18 May.