The old guys were right.
As a youth increasingly intrigued by sports cars, I’d frequently spend my weekends out at the local road course watching various car clubs and racing associations test their mettle on the track. Back then, I’d read enough car magazines to know that Alfa Romeo was something of a revered name in automotive circles so I always looked forward to watching the Alfa Romeo club run.
The thing was, in the late eighties, the Alfas were all, well….OLD. 1960’s and 1970’s Giulias and Spiders. Their cars lacked a sexiness that I expected from Italian manufacturers. There was more exoticness (and breakdowns) at the Lotus Club gatherings. Were the glory days of Alfa Romeo long past? Had it remained on the European continent and bypassed the US? Looking around the paddock, I’d try to gauge the state of Alfa Romeo. The enthusiasm was still there in the smiles and bright eyes of the drivers. The flame still burned brightly for these guys, who proudly kept it alive. “Best cars ever,” they’d say. “There’s nothing like an Alfa Romeo.”
Alfa Romeo abandoned the American market shortly thereafter though and I assumed that Alfa Romeo was a fading entity passing into oblivion. Fast forward nearly 30 years and Alfa Romeo has returned to the American market. The brilliant yet underrated 4C, the excellent Giulia, and the fast and practical Stelvio are all extremely capable cars. As I drove each in turn over a two year period, I began to understand the appeal that Alfa Romeo had for those old guys at the track. They were fantastically fun to drive while being as practical as a Camry. And the Quadrifoglio – well, there isn’t a better car to help you understand the appeal of Alfa Romeo. And I’d managed to get my hand on one for a full week’s test.
I found myself on a wet twisty road in the forested hills of northern Michigan….
The landscape was starting to blur. The engine was winding out. My fingers brushed up against the cool-to-the-touch aluminum paddle shifters behind the wheel in anticipation. It’s like pulling the trigger on a gun.
I’m not sure whether it’s the blow-off valves or the exhaust valves but each shift prompts a loud boom and the acceleration pushes you back in the seat all over again. The power and sound swell exponentially. Ferociously. Addictively. It dumps a load of adrenaline in your system, which when combined with the scalpel-sharp and lightening fast steering, can actually induce sweating palms and involuntary shaking. Make no mistake – under that attractive sport sedan wrapper, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is a lean race car. It can scramble your brain, exhaust your nerves and body, and reorder your understanding of the supercar world.
We drove and reviewed the Giulia Quadrifoglio last Autumn. Still in huge demand by the media outlets at the time, Alfa had to limit us to four days with it – a short loan since two of those days involve picking it up and dropping it off but it was a tempestuous four day affair. We fell hard and hopelessly in love with her. So after several months of heartache and longing, we decided to ask for a longer loan this year just to spend a little more time with her. Y’know…just to see if our memories were accurate or if time had embellished them.
The Giulia they delivered was the same color as last years: Misano Blue. It’s an utterly beautiful shade of blue that was no doubt inspired by the Mediterranean Sea. The brake calipers this year were black instead of red and unlike last years car, the roof was body colored instead of the optional carbon fiber. The billet aluminum V in the front grille still looked great with the blue paint. Carbon fiber accents along the rockers and the rear spoiler stood out, giving it a very sporting but very aesthetically appealing appearance.
But it’s the heat vents and the white triangle badge featuring the four-leaf clover on the front quarter panels that really get your pulse racing. For these features designate this Giulia as a Quadrifoglio, or QV as it’s known by the the faithful. The QV stands for Quadrifoglio Verde (or “green four-leaf clover”) which has been applied to every Alfa Romeo racing car since early in the company’s ancient history. While it still decorates all their racing cars, it’s also applied to Alfa Romeo’s highest-level performance vehicles. The Giulia and the Stelvio each have a QV version and they’re both insanely fun to drive.
Inside is an appealing mixture of leather, suede, aluminum, and carbon fiber. The seats are leather with suede interfaces to help hold you in place. They’re heavily bolstered to hold you like a baseball glove holds a baseball. As a result, you don’t move much, even through radical transitions. They’re firm but still quite comfortable and they’re easy to get in and out of. They’re heated, as is the steering wheel. Carbon fiber trim is everywhere – the center console, the dash, the door latch bezels. Aluminum also factors prominently into the design.
The door pulls, the steering wheel spokes, the vents, and the paddle shifters are all in aluminum and control trim is colored silver to match all the aluminum. The gauges are large and easy to read – both a tachometer that redlines at 6700 rpm and a speedometer that reads to 200 mph (330kph). What surprises you most though is how roomy the interior is. Even with a passenger, you don’t ever feel crowded or tightly packed in. And the backseat not only has plenty of headroom for adults but there’s plenty of legroom for them also. Everyone wanted the front passenger seat for drives, but no one complained from the backseat either. The interior isn’t as comfortable and soft as, say, a Lexus but it’s still comfortable. It’s less a plush living room and more an office where there are minimum distractions so you can focus on the business of going fast.
And going fast is what the Giulia QV does best. The direct-injected and turbocharged 2.9L V6 makes 505 hp and 443 lb-ft and is tuned for maximum performance. Attached to a chassis that weighs only 3500 lbs, it provides massive thrust that can best be described as “rocket-like.” It makes this power through the entire rev range so no matter what gear you’re in, there’s enough power on call to warp space and time. It has a slightly rough idle, no doubt due to how highly it’s tuned, but once you’re rolling it’s a smooth as washed glass. It’s hooked to an electronic 8-speed automatic transmission with evenly spaced gears and beautiful large aluminum paddles behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
All this technology works together to reach 60 mph in under 4 seconds, 100 mph in about 7 seconds, a top speed of close to 190 mph (though we didn’t come close to that number – for obvious reasons) and a Nurburgring record time of 7 minutes, 32 seconds. Yeah, it’s amazingly fast. The mid-range and upper range powerband is enormous. Quickly downshift a few flips of the paddles and plant the throttle and the turbo’s rush of power catapults the car down the road like it borrowed an engine from one of SpaceX’s rockets.
All that power is arrested very capably by enormous Brembo brakes. The front discs measure 360mm in diameter and the rears measure 350mm. The 6-piston (front) and 4-piston (rear) calipers pinch down on the drilled discs with a vengeance and stop the car RIGHTNOW. While they’re extremely effective, they do feel a little spongy at first. Not something you’d expect from Brembo, so maybe they were a little tired from so many journalists abusing them.
The brakes hide behind attractive 19” Alfa Romeo 5-hole wheels that are shod with very sticky 245/35ZR19 tires. The grip doesn’t seem to end, though with judicious use of the throttle you can burn them up pretty easily. Otherwise the car just sticks and goes. It’s up to you whether you take the fast line or the hooligan line. Both are massively rewarding in the Giulia Quadrifoglio.
The suspension is firm but extremely effective at controlling the chassis movement in all situations, including the most extreme driving maneuvers. The front consists of double wishbone control arms and active coilovers, while the rear consists of a multilink setup. It’s all tied together by Alfa’s DNA selector on the center console. The round knob allows the driver to select A (all-weather), N (natural, or default), and D (dynamic).
All weather slows all the systems reflexes, retarding the engine responses, softening the suspension, and increasing the control of the various traction control systems. Natural is the natural default when you start the car and it’s a good blend of performance and comfort with the emphasis on comfort though the performance is available with a little push of the throttle. In Dynamic, the performance systems take center stage and the valves in the exhaust system open fully, the responses quicken, and a little slip is allowed into the performance envelope.
Finally, there’s Race mode which is engaged by turning the DNA dial past Dynamic to Race and holding it there for a few seconds. The nav screen lights up an image of the Giulia and it lists all the systems that have now been turned off. Suddenly your only safety net is your control over your right foot. You can immolate the rear tires. You can slide the back end around corners. You can immolate corners. If Dynamic turns on the performance, Race gives it a shot of ephedrine. You can’t imagine that the car can get any faster, yet it does. It becomes frantic, frenetic, furious.
While all that sounds amazing, you just have to experience it to believe it. If you enjoy spirited driving, you’ll love the QV. You quickly realize that it’s a friendly and forgiving platform, encouraging you to push a little harder than you did last time, and rewarding your efforts for trying. Within a few hours you’re able to push the QV so hard and fast that your focus and reflexes are forced to increase in order to keep up with the car’s abilities.
You don’t realize how much your reflexes have adjusted to this higher order of performance until you stop and take a break. As you wander the aisles of the convenience store or refuel the car, you notice that your breathing is shallow, your body is shaky, and your hands are sweating. You find yourself getting irritable with people who aren’t thinking and acting as quickly as you are. The only solution to this malady is to get another fix, to get back into the Giulia QV and plant your right foot again.
Surprisingly, and despite our best intentions, we averaged around 20mpg in the week that we drove it. While fuel economy isn’t exactly the Giulia QV’s specialty, it did quite well.
The base price was just above $74,000; just shy of $79,000 with a few decorative options and the delivery fee. People laughed when I told them it was a bargain but for the performance it delivers and the smile it plasters across your face, it really IS a bargain.
The Giulia Quadrifoglio has been reviewed by nearly everyone by now. It’s been universally lauded and rightly so. There are few cars that are as capable and entertaining on the market today. God bless the Italians for keeping things interesting. As for the reverence of Alfa Romeo, I get it now. I understand the appeal of Alfa Romeo; why those guys at the track with their old Alfas were so happy to be hanging out at the track on a cold October day, driving and sharing the day with other people who understood the Alfa Romeo appeal. There’s just something special, some undefinable thing that grabs you. The old guys were right. There’s nothing like an Alfa Romeo.