This isn’t the Alfa Romeo that your dad had in college, the Spider that was great on sunny days but wrecked his bank account over and over again with its repair bills. This isn’t the Alfa Romeo of the 1990s, after it left America and turned out one dismal Fiat-sourced front-wheel drive hatchback after another.
This isn’t even the Alfa Romeo that recently cranked out the 4C, a wonderful, hardcore and at times objectively bad car designed only for crazy people. The 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is the vanguard of the new Alfa Romeo, the one that’s the recipient of a huge cash dump from parent Fiat Chrysler in hopes that it can take on the German luxury brands.
It does so with a Ferrari-derived turbocharged engine and some of the best driving dynamics you can find in this class. It also does so with a series of letdowns you might expect from Alfa Romeo, but let me tell you this: when this thing is on, it’s on.
(Full Disclosure: On a recent visit to New York City with my wife to scout out neighborhoods before our move there this summer, Jalopnik’s XO Mike Ballaban thought it would be “fun” if I had a car in the worst car city in America during a snowstorm. But it actually proved quite useful, so thanks, Mike. Fiat Chrysler provided the car and a full tank of gas for a week.)
The Quadrifoglio is the top-trim level of the new-for-2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia sport sedan, designed to compete with the M3s and C63 AMGs of the world with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 pumping out 503 horsepower—a motor that is essentially the turbo V8 from the Ferrari 488 GTB/GTS and California T with two fewer cylinders.
A base four-cylinder Giulia with 280 HP is also available, and so is all-wheel drive, but only on that base model. There’s a diesel too but America’s not getting it. You know exactly why.
The Giulia and the upcoming Stelvio crossover have to be for more than just crazy people. They’re for normal luxury buyers; they’re made to steal sales away from competitors for Alfa Romeo’s ambitious and costly world takeover plans to become a kind of ultra-profitable and volume-selling luxury titan, like an Italian BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
Now forget all the business-side bullshit for a second. If you’re a driving enthusiast then all you need to know is that the Giulia QV is a firecracker. It’s a blast to drive in anger and a delight to drive around town. It’s a symphony of speed and violence with four doors and a carbon fiber hood.
It’s proof that cars can still be weird and full of character in 2017. It looks awesome, sounds incredible, is blisteringly quick, has a sketchy interior and will more than likely have disappointing reliability.
In other words, it’s an Alfa Romeo. They fucking nailed it.
The way it looks, for one. I’m not sure you can call the Giulia classically beautiful, but it is handsome and quite distinctive, sleek and aggressive at the same time.
Car people who knew what it was threw a thumbs-up or a wave when they saw it, or stopped to gawk and hear the engine rev. Casual passers-by turned their heads and stared, some of them no doubt perplexed by the unfamiliar snake and cross badge on the grille.
Next, and the thing you’re really paying for here, is that engine. In a world where turbocharging, once the domain of expensive suicide machines, has been normalized into just another appliance to boost efficiency, this Ferrari-derived V6 truly feels like it has exotic roots.
Do what we did: pop the hood and rev the shit out of it. Listen to it scream at high-RPMs, because that’s where the black magic and the God-noises happen. Watch the motor rumble and shake in its engine bay. Let it howl, unfiltered and unrestrained.
Then there’s the exhaust note. Here is a taste of some of the sound:
Hell yes, right? I’d like to hear your M3 try and do that.
The Alfa “DNA” driving modes—more on those in a bit—are probably the other big highlight. On most new cars, modes like “Sport Mode” and “Eco Mode” don’t mean shit, or do little more than make the steering and throttle feel more aggressive at the expense of balance while creating an illusion of actual performance gains.
Not so, here. These modes dramatically change the ride quality, behavior and sound of the car, making it switch between a comfortable and livable but quick BMW 340i to a vicious and track-ready M3 at the switch of a button, all in the same vehicle. This versatility, this wide range of character and what it can do, is perhaps what impressed me the most.
“I owned an Alfa Romeo,” people my parents’ age would tell me when I drove that 4C a while back, and they’d usually finish that sentence with “and it was a piece of shit.”
Even now, this is the reputation that Alfa and the Italians have in America—a reputation for soul and passion and flare, but of shoddy quality and craftsmanship that falls way short of the meticulous Germans or Japanese.
This feels readily apparent when you step inside. Boy, does it want to be a BMW 3 Series in there. The gear selector, the dashboard, the center console, the shape of the arm rest, the shape and location of the infotainment system’s control knob—all of it feels like it was traced over from the Bavarians, but badly.
The inside is rife with rough and cheap-feeling plastic, not to mention a persistent rattle from the dash plagued us on our weeklong test.
See these carbon fiber-backed “racing seats?” They’re a $2,750 option made by Sparco, and while they do a great job of bolstering the driver and front passenger and offering comfort at the same time, they feel cut-rate and have a bizarre wiggle every time someone sits on them. It’s not the most reassuring thing in the world. They also do not heat and are only partially power-operated. You can pass on that option.
Then there’s that infotainment system itself. Inexplicably, this is not the Fiat Chrysler UConnect touch system we are used to, which is generally excellent. It is an iDrive-like non-touch system operated by a knob (which you can trace letters on like a BMW, something that didn’t work as well here) which proved to be consistently frustrating and difficult to use. I ended up relegating all navigation duties to my iPhone instead.
Early reviewers had trouble with this system and so did I; at one point the audio from the stereo and nav directions stopped working entirely until I restarted at a traffic light. My week with the Giulia QV did little to assuage those quality concerns.
At first I did not like driving this Alfa Romeo Giulia. That was in large part because I started my drive in Manhattan rush hour traffic, which is seldom pleasant. It was too harsh-riding, too loud, too jerky between gear changes, with brakes that were too grabby and a throttle that was too sensitive.
“A hyper-aggressive mess!” I declared. “Ill-suited for anything but a day at the track!”
But then I realized the car’s Drive Mode was set to D, which stands for Dynamic; the other modes are Natural and Advanced Efficiency. (A bit forced, but whatever.)
Moving it into N for Natural made all the difference. The car immediately became smoother, a little softer, more laid back and capable of everyday city driving. The firmness of the car’s active suspension is dialed down in this setting and the difference in ride quality is obvious.
But it’s still quick, absolutely. Though the car’s been dyno’d at something like 392 HP, that is still nothing to sneeze at. Around town it has more than enough sauce for on-ramp blasts, quick merges or the kind of assholery necessary for driving the Big Apple’s crowded streets and highways. As I mentioned earlier, in Natural mode it feels like, say, a 340i—powerful and athletic, but easily livable and daily-drivable. Most of the time I preferred this setting.
The car’s sole gearbox option in the U.S. is a ZF-sourced eight-speed paddle shift automatic. I was quite surprised to learn this; in many ways it behaves more like a dual-clutch, especially in its hesitancy to roll from a stop without a bit of throttle. I’ve heaped praise on this ‘box before and it’s deserved. It’s smooth and shifts are lightning quick. I must say this, however: good as the ZF8 is, and it is good, I wish a manual was at least an option on this car. Given that its best competitors have that, it should too.
Rear seat room seemed pretty adequate, never cramped like cars in this segment often are—looking at you, Cadillac ATS. Trunk space is decent too. It may not be as big as some sedans, and it’s no wagon, but it’s a perfectly practical everyday car.
But find the right road and Dynamic Mode makes a ton of sense. It firms up the dampers, cranks up the noise and gives you the throttle response you want. If you want to go fast, this is the setting you desire.
Zero to 60 mph is said to come at 3.8 seconds or so and I have nothing to dispute this. Turbo lag is a bit evident at lower RPMs, but in the midrange and upper part of the powerband the QV really comes alive. These Ferrari motors may have turbos these days, but they kept a lot of their revvy character.
I have to salute car’s electric steering; it’s among the best I’ve encountered, superior to that of the M3 and even the ATS-V, offering tremendous feel and on-road control. It’s tuned perfectly for backroad storming or just driving around town—not too loose, not too tight, lots of feel.
But here’s what you need to do if you find yourself in a Giulia QV. Take that DNA knob, switch it to D, and then crank it clockwise one further to go into Race Mode. That is what shit gets extremely real. Stability control comes off and so does forward collision detection. The car’s full power and wildness and, yes, its incredible noise—the noise you expect from an Italian car with this kind of heritage—is available on tap.
That sound in the video up above? Race Mode. Here is when the car goes from 340i competitor to killer of M3s, from comfortable sport sedan to track day demon, in an authentic way its competitors can only seek to replicate. The aggressiveness of Race Mode, the power and thundering sound of it all, transforms the Giulia into a true exotic sports car—one that just happens to have four doors. Also, stopping power on the $5,500 optional carbon ceramic Brembo brakes was tremendous, albeit an unnecessary splurge for all but the most extreme of track rats.
Above everything else, this ability to switch between normal sport sedan and screaming devil car at the switch of a button is what impressed me the most.
Ferrari owners who need a sedan for practical reasons. People who take their car-buying advice exclusively from Chris Harris the way ordinary people get it from Consumer Reports. Sport sedan buyers who want extreme performance but want something different and are maybe bored with the current crop of offerings from the Germans and Lexus and Cadillac. People who aren’t put off by the relative lack of brand cachet Alfa Romeo has here. Americans who can correctly pronounce both “Giulia” and “Quadrifoglio,” though I look forward to hearing both get mangled horribly.
All that noise and Italian passion and sporty dynamism don’t come cheap. While a base four-cylinder Giulia starts at a reasonable $37,995, the top shelf Giulia QV starts at nearly twice as much at $72,000. And optioned as you see here, it comes in at an eye-popping $87,445.
That is a spicy meat-a-ball, paisanos! And it’s quite a bit more expensive than your average M3 or C63 or ATS-V, even with more power. It’s especially eye-raising with the lackluster infotainment system and disappointing interior quality we encountered during testing. Certainly on the inside it never feels that expensive.
That’s one way to think of it; the other is with the performance and duality this car offers, how it’s basically a comfortable sedan and a hard-edged exotic in one, perhaps its value is justified.
Yes, the price tag is a bit outrageous. Yes, the interior isn’t up to par, and the fit and finish lived up to brand’s reputation in a not-great way. I didn’t care. The drive was too good.
I really grew to love the Giulia QV, as did my staff over the week we played with it. The style, the noise, the power, the duality, the fact that as Americans we could stare at the steering wheel and realize we’re driving a new Alfa Romeo—all of that won us over.
In spite of its flaws, I’m prepared to declare that it’s probably my favorite car in this very challenging segment, and easily the most fun one I’ve driven. It has a wild, lively, organic quality to it, a playfulness that its synthesized German cyborg car competitors do not have.
It’s true Alfa has a long way to go to make American buyers even aware of what it is, and to get past the bad taste its lack of reliability left in our collective mouths more than 20 years ago. I don’t care. I am willing to do what the Alfisti have done for decades and chalk up most of its flaws to that thing that is so elusive in modern cars: character.