2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive

Drive-my.com 2016 / 2017

No Compromise. Engineering without Compromise. Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive of the 503bhp V6 Cloverleaf. The engineers began with a clean sheet to build a high performance, rear-wheel drive saloon powered by an Italian V6, but they didn’t stop there… Story by Chris Chilton. Photography by Michael Ward.

You won’t find a Scuderia badge anywhere on Alfa Romeo’s new super-saloon, but ex-Ferrari fingerprints are all over the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Engineered by Philippe Krief, the man behind the 458 Italia, and powered by a monster twin-turbo V6, it delivers its considerable 503bhp exclusively to the rear wheels, something not seen on an Alfa Romeo saloon since the 75’s U-shaped handbrake clicked on for the last time in 1992. Now we’ve added our fingerprints too. Specifically to the gorgeous shift-paddles that sit proudly behind the three-spoke wheel to find out if the reality lives up to that incredible promise.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

For a car that’s taken so long to get here, the Giulia was completed in record time. To take a car from sketch to showroom in less than three years is almost unheard of. That’s three years for the iteration you see here. You can add the same again and then some if you want to include the Giulia that might have been, a front-wheel drive car axed by chunky knitwear-fan and Fiat Chrysler Automotive boss Sergio Marchionne when the programme was well underway. To compete with the German cars that dominate the compact executive market, the Giulia would have to be rear-wheel drive, Marchionne decreed. That meant a full redesign, and on a brand new rear-wheel drive platform, rather than a shortened version of the one used by Maserati in the Ghibli and Levante.

Unusually, Alfa has chosen to let us drive the circa £60k Quadrifoglio at the same time as the regular diesel, rather than some months, or even years later, as other manufacturers would do. You might remember that it actually unveiled the QV first, so keen was it to make a big impression with the new car. It’s not easy to see why: the last of the handsome but heavy 159s disappeared from showrooms in early 2013 leaving Alfa without anything bigger than the Giulietta. Alfa’s history is full of brilliant performance saloons, but the 159’s been gone so long people need reminded of the fact.

Every Giulia from the cooking 178bhp diesel to the 503bhp QV has the raw materials to be a big deal: lightweight steel chassis with aluminium panels for extra shavings. There’s a carbonfibre prop shaft, double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link setup at the back. Alfa Romeo says the weight distribution is an even 50:50.

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive

But the QV goes further than that. The bonnet and roof are made from carbon, there’s the option of choosing brake discs from the same material, and there’s that very special V6. I made the mistake of suggesting it might be related to the Ferrari 488’s V8 and received a personal phone call from Maranello’s towering PR boss to tell me otherwise. This despite the two sharing a 90 degree vee angle, 86.5mm bore and Alfa Romeo USA’s website actually referring to the engine as ‘Ferrari-derived’.

Couldn’t Alfa have dropped in the Maserati Ghibli S’s 404bhp twin-turbo 3.0 V6 and simply turned up the wick, we wondered? Not according to the engineering team, which claims the Alfa’s 90 degree vee angle made the new engine much easier to package beneath a low bonnet than the 60 degree Maserati V6. And then just to twist the knife, our engineer added that ‘the Maserati engine wasn’t capable of delivering the performance we needed’. Ouch. Take that, Modena.

From 2891cc, this new bi-turbo V6 delivers 503 horses at 6500rpm and a kick in the back like a you’vebeen trampled into the dirt by every one of them as they storm past to the horizon. It’s an absolute monster of a motor: urgent, angry and emitting a deep chested roar that sounds even better from outside the car than from within.

And, like Ferrari’s latest V8s, it does an excellent job of disguising the fact that it’s turbocharged. There’s barely any delay between you pushing the right pedal and the boost from the twin IHI blowers arriving to push you deep into your seat. Although the 443lb ft torque peak arrives from as little as 2500rpm, this engine still goads you to hit the 7500rpm redline with an appetite for revs so insatiable you almost feel like you’re knocking out morse code signals on the paddles, not changing gear, as you rattle through the ZF auto’s eight speeds.

It’s an excellent ‘box, well mapped for those who prefer to leave it in Drive, and well served by those elegant shift paddles (fixed to the column, supercarstyle, note, not turning with the wheel) if you prefer to get more involved. And this is as involved as British buyers can get, because Alfa didn’t consider theexpense of adapting the manual transmission available in other markets to work with right-hand drive.

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive

We were disappointed too, but having driven the pair back to back, it’s clear the automatic version isn’t merely easier to enjoy, but more enjoyable. The Getragbuilt manual feels quite cumbersome, and even the shape of the shift ball isn’t that pleasant, meaning swapping ratios isn’t the fun it could have been.

But it’s the only disappointment with the Quadrifoglio, because this is a brilliant car. Six-piston Brembo calipers bite down hard on (optional) ceramic brakes to give tremendous stopping power and a lovely firm pedal feel, and the adaptive damping system – switchable separately from the usual Alfa DNA drive mode selector – keeps the body flat and stable no matter how hard you ask the sticky 245/35 19 Pirelli P Zero Corsa front tyres to dig in through Balocco’s leftright transitions.

And wow, does it dig in. The steering response is lightning fast, its precision remarkable, and only when the tyres have really gone off after repeated hard laps does it start to understeer at all. Those tyres also helpexplain why, despite the engine’s prodigious power being channeled exclusively through the rear wheels, the QV is actually a doddle to drive quickly. A torque vectoring rear differential helps turn the car and ESP is active in all three of the DNA’s modes for reassurance.

But the QV has another mode: Race. Twist the dial to select it and the engine note becomes deeper, louder, more menacing. Now you’re driving without the ESP safety net and how you want to play things is up to you. You can bonfire the tyres if you like, assuming incredible slide angles. But simply nibbling away at the limit of grip is just as fun, slightly edging into oversteer on the exit before rocketing up the next straight.

Back at the garage at Fiat’s Balocco test track, a facility the Italian giant actually inherited from Alfa Romeo when it took on the marque in the 1980s, we get a chance to stand back and take in some of the Quadrifoglio’s details. The Giulia is not pretty like a 156, or beautiful like a 159 – the effect of pedestrian impact regulations have seen to that – but it’s a handsome car, a mix of sensuous curves and dynamic look straight lines that give it real purpose, and a pleasingly different look to the German opposition.

Even minus the macho swagger of the range-topper with its quad pipes, giant diffuser and active front splitter, the regular Giulia is an elegant machine. How it will look on the 16in wheels that will come as standard though, rather than the 18in wheels of our test cars, remains to be seen. Go to open the door and the entire handle pulls outwards, like on a Mercedes-Benz C-class W205, but significantly less smoothly. Inside, bar the carbon detailing and sports seats that go for a polite squeeze over a reunited-with-a-friend-thought-lost-at-sea bear hug, the interior is every bit as inviting as the QV’s, right down to the bright red Ferrari-style starter button on the beautifully tactile three-spoke steering wheel.

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive

The interior quality isn’t quite up there with Audi’s, but the materials look and feel suitably smart, the design is elegant and the twin-hooded dials are instantly Alfa. The door pocket are annoyingly small and the door mirrors annoyingly big, but the rest is well judged: the BMW iDrive-style infotainment system seems reasonably intuitive, there’s plenty of room in here, both front and rear, and the driver’s seat winds nice and low to reinforce the car’s sports saloon mantra.

And this is a proper sports saloon. You know it from that first twist of the wheel when the Giulia dives into a right-hander with the kind athleticism and precision you just don’t see in ordinary family cars. If anything, it can feel slightly too pointy until you twist the DNA selector to Dynamic to dial out some steering assistance. Now it feels just right. Push overly hard and you’ll get body roll and understeer, but kept within its limits the Giulia is fast, fluid and fun. The rear-drive layout Marchionne insisted upon doesn’t reward with QV-style oversteer (the ESP is non-switchable this time, anyway), but you feel it in the poise through bends, the strong traction coming out of them, steering that’s uncorrupted by engine torque, and the kind of turning circle that 156 owners can only dream about.

Keen not to swamp the market with a confusing array of trims and engine variants after being away so long, the UK lineup is relatively simple. Fundamentally, you have the choice of a basic Giulia and the Giulia Super. Both get a collision detection system, lane departure warning, cruise control and dual-climate control, the more expensive Super adding part-leather trim and 17in wheels. Then you have the option of adding sporty or luxury-themed Sport and Lusso packson top. Exactly how much all this is going to cost won’t be revealed until closer to the Cars’ UK on sale date later this year, but Alfa suggests prices matched to those of the equivalent BMW 3-series F30 / F80.

That would mean around £30k for a car with entrylevel 148bhp diesel. It’s a new engine, an all-aluminium 2.2 that is also available in the 178bhp form we were able to try. Again, as with the Quadrifoglio, the cost of engineering the car to take a combination of right-hand drive with a manual gearbox wasn’t considered worthwhile, so unfortunately for UK buyers, the Giulia is exclusively automatic. But this isn’t an engine you want to rev out anyway. The redline might be set at 4500rpm, but stray much beyond 3500prm and it starts to sound harsh, and that addictive diesel shove in theback drops away. Better to work the engine’s mighty 332lb ft of torque swell lower down the range.

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive

Capable of 7.1sec to 62mph, it’s a pretty quick car, cruises quietly, and the combination of 67mpg and sub 99g/km emissions could make it a fleet favourite.

But it’s not our favourite. That would be the 197bhp 2.0 turbocharged petrol we also tried at Balocco, and will hopefully be offered in the UK some time after the initial launch. Benefitting from all of the handling finesse of the diesel car, but with less weight over the nose for an even sweeter balance and better ride, this Giulia is mated to a fabulous lag-free engine that delivers a proper Alfa snarl at the top end. It’s the pick of the range, the icing on a cake that tastes as good as it looks. We’ve waited too long for the Giulia. Thankfully, it’s been worth every minute.

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive

TOP: Heart of the matter is the 2.9-litre 503bhp V6. It makes all the right noises, especially in race mode.

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia First drive

ABOVE RIGHT: Oversized gear knob on the manual version. 8-speed Q-tronic auto proved to be superior on the track.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Alfa Romeo Giulia Super


CAPACITY: 2891cc
BORE X STROKE: 86.5mm x 82mm
POWER: 503bhp @ 6500rpm
TORQUE: 443lb ft @ 2500rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
BRAKES: 360mm steel discs (f), 350mm (r)
DIMENSIONS: 4639mm (l), 1873mm (w), 1426mm (h)
TOP SPEED: 191mph
0-62MPH: 3.9sec
PRICE (UK): £60,000 (est)

ENGINE: 4-cylinder, DOHC diesel

CAPACITY: 2143cc

BORE X STROKE: 83mm x 99mm
POWER: 178bhp @ 3750rpm
TORQUE: 332lb ft @ 1750rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
TOP SPEED: 143mph
0-62MPH: 7.1sec
PRICE (UK): £30,000 (est)

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