This is quite a moment. While Alfa Romeos of recent years have usually been beautiful, they’ve rarely been as good to drive as you’d expect of a company with such a rich heritage of making fantastic sports cars. But that ends with the Giulia Quadrifoglio, a car with which Alfa has once again risen to the top.
We’re talking about a comfortable, roomy, well-equipped saloon with handling to rival the 718 Cayman and the performance to worry the 540C. That’s a formidable combination that proved impossible to overlook when deciding our winner.
LET’S DEAL WITH the elephant in the room first: where’s the Porsche 911 got to? You’d normally expect to see one here, but this year the middle price point has been hijacked, almost out of nowhere, by the intoxicating Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
To outclass one of the best sports cars of all time, the super-Giulia had to be truly exceptional. The brilliance starts with its responsive turbocharged six-cylinder engine, which pumps out 503bhp to give this four-door saloon an almost unbelievable 0-62mph time of 3.9sec.
But the Giulia Quadrifoglio is much more than just a hot rod in a straight line. Its light but delightfully quick, precise steering, massive front-end grip and planted rear axle make for a performance car that is not only exceptionally agile and involving but also trustworthy when you’re pushing hard. Of course, switch off the electronic driving aids and it’ll happily replace Jekyll with Hyde.
That it can also carry four adults and their luggage in comfort over scraggy UK roads and comes with a huge standard kit list for thousands less than the 911 hands it the win.
Our overall rating:
Few car manufacturers possess a name and performance motif as evocative as Alfa Romeo’s four-leaf clover. It’s affixed to only the firm’s most potent models, but in recent years they have nearly all been a disappointment. Step forward the Giulia Quadrifoglio (Quadrifoglio being the Italian for four-leaf clover, in case you were wondering) – this car, based on the impressive Giulia executive saloon, promises far more.
All the right ingredients appear to be there: it’s built on the same lightweight, rear-wheel-drive underpinnings as the Giulia, but the Quadrifoglio version comes fitted with a staggeringly powerful 503bhp turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine. That means it’s good for 0-62mph in just 3.9sec and a downright crazy top speed of 191mph. To put all that power to good use, it gets bespoke suspension and quicker steering, while larger brakes are standard to make sure it stops as well as it goes.
However, it faces stiff competition from some extremely well rounded and established performance cars, including the BMW M3, Mercedes-Benz C63 and Audi RS4 Avant. Does the Giulia possess the performance and handling to take them on and beat them? Read on to find out.
Either way, whichever performance car you settle on, you can buy it direct for the best price and least hassle through our new car deals page.
An expensive performance saloon lives and dies by the way it drives and, in this regard, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is right up there with the best.
Its engine is hugely entertaining and, despite being heavily turbocharged, suffers hardly any lag, thus delivering a button-sharp throttle response. In fact, floor the accelerator from standstill and it’ll out-sprint both a BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 to 62mph and carry on to a higher top speed than those cars, too. The eight-speed automatic gearbox plays a big part in that. Okay, it dithers and slurs a little at low speeds through town, but it transforms once you start to press on, producing finger-click-sharp manual changes when using the Giulia’s gorgeous aluminium column-mounted paddles.
The engine and gearbox are at their best when you’ve selected the sportiest Race driving mode, while Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency modes sit below it, offering more relaxed settings for both throttle response and gearchange. Race is also where the Giulia Quadrifoglio sounds its best, barking loudly as the revs rise and cracking violently on changes. It sounds so much more invigorating than a BMW M3 but, some might argue, not as good as the C63’s thundering 4.0-litre V8.
The brakes are a little disappointing. Not in terms of stopping ability - the optional ceramic brakes in particular provide monumental retardation from high speed – but in terms of feel. Because the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s brakes work via electronics rather than hydraulics, as you press the brake pedal the initial response is a tad vague.
There’s nothing wrong with the way the car handles, though. Thanks to a bespoke suspension tune, which can be made softer or stiffer independently of the drive mode selector to suit the bumpiness of the road, there’s next to no body roll while cornering at speed. The Giulia Quadrifoglio also has a clever differential on its rear axle that helps better distribute power as either wheel begins to slip. Of course, if you want to break traction at the rear and steer using the accelerator, that’s possible too – at which point you’ll discover that, despite its enormous power output, the car’s chassis is so much more forgiving (and considerably less daunting) than the twitchy M3’s.
It’s not just out of corners that the Giulia Quadrifoglio entertains. As you turn in to bends, it feels light, poised and nimble, the quick steering making it alert but never nervous. And its front wheels grip hard, so you can carry serious speed.
Then there’s the ride. If you think a performance car will be too firm, think again. Because while you can feel the Giulia Quadrifoglio following imperfections, it’s so supple and handsomely damped that it takes out the sting of sharp ridges and never jars.
In fact, the only real downside to the way the car drives is some wind and road noise at a cruise on the motorway. Its rivals, though, particularly the C63, suffer from this even more acutely.
The Giulia Quadrifoglio’s standard driver’s seat is set low and allows you to adopt a hunkered-down position in front of well-positioned pedals. The broadly adjustable steering wheel, with its pleasingly slim rim, complements this. For a hefty premium, Alfa Romeo will fit carbonfibre sports seats. These are brilliantly supportive and worth the extra if you can find it.
There’s quite a marked difference in material richness between entry-level Giulias and higher-end examples, such as the Quadrifoglio. The latter gets a leather-wrapped dashboard and carbonfibre trims that the car needs to bear comparison with the likes of the Audi RS4 and Mercedes-AMG C63. And the aluminium gear selection paddles feel superb, as does the optional leather, Alcantara and carbonfibre-laced steering wheel.
Yet, while it looks good at a glance, the Giulia Quadrifoglio doesn’t match the quality of its rivals on closer inspection. There are too many Christmas-cracker plastics and flimsy switches and buttons dotted around – which simply don’t belong in a car costing this much.
The infotainment system is controlled by a rotary controller and relayed through an 8.8in colour display that appears as if from nowhere behind a smoked screen. Average graphical quality, a slightly dim display and some muddled and confusing menu functionality let it down, however.
Inside, the Quadrifoglio is just like any other Giulia in terms of space and practicality. It isn’t the easiest of saloons to climb into, having a fairly low roofline and low-set seats, but once you’re in, the car caters for full-sized adults fairly well in both rows. The front sports seats are quite wide, adjustable and broadly comfortable, and both shoulder room and elbow room are good. There’s an assortment of cubbyholes to stow your odds and ends, including a sizeable space underneath the centre armrest and glovebox.
In the back, there’s a competitive amount of leg room for the class – as much as the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 offer – and there’s room for feet under the standard front seats. Head room is decent but not outstanding.
Weirdly, the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s boot has the exact same on-paper volume as an M3 but slightly more than the C63. In reality, it’ll fit your golf clubs or a couple of fairly large suitcases. Sadly, if you need more space than that, you’re stuck - split-folding back seats are neither standard fit nor an optional extra.
Nobody enters into ownership of a performance saloon under the impression that it will be a cheap experience, but nobody wants to be throwing money away. The Giulia Quadrifoglio costs a little more than a BMW M3 but slightly less than a Mercedes-AMG C63, and its standard equipment is up there with both. Indeed, there’s no need to go crazy on the options list; 19in alloy wheels, adaptive dampers, xenon headlights, leather and Alcantara seats, cruise control, sat-nav and Bluetooth are some of the luxuries included. Its fuel economy and CO2 emissions are competitive versus those rivals, too, and its servicing costs are similarly eye-watering.
However, looking further down the line, the Giulia Quadrifoglio won’t hold on to quite as much of its value over three years as an Audi RS4, but it should depreciate slower than the C63 and M3, which helps keep PCP finance rates competitive. Since all these cars cost a similar amount to buy and produce hefty CO2 emissions, there’s little to choose between the Giulia Quadrifoglio and its rivals when it comes to company car tax costs.
Euro NCAP awarded the standard Giulia its full five-star rating in its crash tests, and six airbags and automatic city braking technology with pedestrian detection, blindspot monitoring and lane departure warning are standard. Security firm Thatcham Research also had good things to report, rating the Giulia Quadrifoglio as excellent at resisting being driven away and good at resisting and break in.
The Giulia is too new to register in our most recent reliability survey, but Alfa Romeo as a manufacturer did better than you might expect, finishing in the top five of the 32 manufacturers sampled. Happily, all Alfa Romeos come with a three-year warranty that has no mileage limit.