Equal parts Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, this ludicrously loud Italian will tolerate city driving, but only makes real sense when it’s able to roam free.
I was warned by not one, not two, but three of my well-meaning colleagues before getting behind the wheel of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
“In the wrong conditions and with the wrong driver, this can be the most dangerous car on the roads,” one said. “It’s all about getting those tyres warm and staying away from race mode in wet weather,” another suggested. “Just… be careful,” warned another.
Reader, I don’t know if you can tell from my previous reviews, but I’m not exactly Peter Brock. The left lane is my safe space, and my idea of 'drifting' is less to do with smokey burnouts and more to do with 'drifting off to sleep' on the couch with a good book. And yet here I am, tasked with reviewing a car that’s the envy of many. No pressure.
(Editor's note: should you need the thrills and chills, you can find more performance-oriented Giulia Q reviews here and here. Also note, the updated 2020 Giulia will arrive later this year, likely as an MY21 model.)
For the uninitiated, the Giulia is Alfa Romeo’s sporty four-door sedan, while the Quadrifoglio badge marks out the Italian carmaker’s performance-focused road cars and race cars. It translates to ‘four-leaf clover’ in Italian, and is a good luck charm that harks back to Alfa’s racing team in the 1920s.
In this case, adding the clover to the Giulia means taking the inherent sportiness present in all Alfas and dialling it up to 11 by way of a Ferrari-developed 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine. Regular variants only score 2.0-litre, four-cylinder units.
The V6 engine in the Giulia Q outputs a mega 375kW and 600Nm, driving the rear wheels only via an eight-speed automatic transmission, with ginormous steering wheel column-mounted paddle shifters that actually make it hard to reach the indicator and wiper stalks. Clearly, this is a car with its priorities straight.
And what does all that power do? Well, it takes you from a standstill to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds and, if you’re legally permitted to do so, it can be driven up to 307km/h.
That compares with competitors like the Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan, which has a 4.0-second sprint time and a 250km/h top speed, or a (now departed) BMW M3 Competition that, similarly, gets to 100km/h in 4.0 seconds and tops out at 280km/h. On paper, the Giulia Q is a menacing rival.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio starts at $145,900 plus on-road costs. That puts it on the more affordable end of the premium performance sedan offerings – but take the term ‘affordable’ with a grain of salt.
The Mercedes-AMG C63 S four-door starts at $166,200 plus on-road costs, the Audi RS5 Sportback begins at $157,700 plus on-road costs (with an updated mode on the way), and the BMW M3 Competition, despite being discontinued after its 2018 model year, started at $146,529 plus on-road costs.
With options, however, the Giulia Q tested here came to $159,860 plus on-road costs, with the bulk of that extra cost coming from the optional $7150 carbon-fibre seats fitted and the $4550 red tri-coat paint.
There’s a bit of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ about the Giulia Quadrifoglio courtesy of its various drive modes. For city driving, you’ll want to stay safely in ‘natural’ mode, which adjusts power delivery and ups the comfort level of the suspension settings, or ‘advanced efficiency’ mode, which decreases fuel consumption and is “strongly recommended in low-grip situations”.
In either of these modes, the Giulia Q almost disguises itself as a normal sedan. It’s certainly got more of a growl than others of its ilk, and the engine gently trembles and rumbles away beneath you while idling at traffic lights, but none of it is enough to turn heads.
Traction is boosted so you will feel a little more confident in wet weather and on loose surfaces, but it’s still a far cry from an all-wheel-drive SUV if that’s what you’re used to, and you’ll have to proceed with caution on rainy days.
Of course, suburban driving isn’t where the Giulia shines, but it certainly has to be tolerable in between spirited sprints along rural roads.
And, for the most part, it is. Even at city speeds, the eight-speed automatic transmission does an excellent job of moving effortlessly through gears and responding instantly to pedal input, while the idle-stop system blends impressively well into the whole package.
Generally speaking, the Giulia sits somewhere between a full sports car and a regular sedan in terms of ride comfort. Particularly in natural mode, it mostly disguises – if not entirely eliminates – noise, vibrations and harshness.
One thing I really struggled with, however, was the skating sensation generated by the Giulia’s Pirelli P Corsa Zero tyres when manoeuvring at lower speeds. They’re 245mm at the front and 285mm at the rear, and wrapped around 19-inch forged alloy wheels.
No matter how much I warmed them up, or how slowly I proceeded, or how much I avoided putting the steering on full lock, it couldn’t prevent the wheels from slipping and clunking loudly as they turned – enough to pull some stares from passers-by. I felt on edge in parking lots, and dreaded having to do U-turns or three-point turns because the sensation was so unpleasant.
I found that while the cabin comfort, steering response and visibility were impressive, maintaining the balance between too much torque and not enough traction was a delicate and somewhat terrifying tightrope walk. Taking off from a standing start on a freeway ramp will see the wheels spin a fair amount before getting a grip.
Along with ‘natural’ mode, there’s also the racier ‘dynamic’ mode, which boosts the brake and steering response. It’s here where things start to get interesting. Steering is one of the Giulia’s strong suits, and in ‘dynamic’ it feels as though you can direct the car with very little input.
Pop it into ‘race’ mode (which takes two twists of the drive mode dial so you don’t do it by accident) and things get Mr Hyde. The underlying throaty gargle instantly transitions into a deep and resonant roar (I won’t lie, I got chills), the digital speedometer doubles in size, a message pops up saying the electronic stability control and driver-assist systems are off, and the car politely informs you that this mode is best used in conjunction with manual shifting.
In race mode, the steering firms up dramatically and the slightest nudge is all it takes to nose around a corner. Gear changes give off the most satisfying of pops, and shifting between them is made light and easy by the large paddle shifters.
The brakes are firm and fast – you’ll need them to be – and can get a little noisy at times, squealing occasionally (possibly in excitement). Meanwhile, acceleration happens so quickly your head will legitimately hit the back of the seat.
It’s a ton of fun and best utilised on winding rural roads with lax speed limits, where you can lose yourself in the rhythm of rounding corners and be lulled by the symphony of engine sounds.
While the Giulia Q can prove comfortable and compliant around town, it’s like asking an Olympic sprinter to go for a gentle jog. This is a driver’s car and is best utilised for carefree weekend jaunts over everyday commutes.
Despite my colleagues’ warnings, the Giulia is a safe car if you know how to drive it. Although the Quadrifoglio variant hasn’t explicitly been ANCAP-tested, its regular stablemates were tested in 2017 and received five stars.
As standard, the car receives all the essentials like six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and a reverse camera with front and rear parking sensors. There’s a speed limiter, but unlike other cars, it’s not accessible via steering wheel controls, and must instead be set ahead of time via the infotainment screen and can’t be easily changed mid-drive.
The car also has a pre-collision warning, which will sound an alarm and tell you to ‘BRAKE’ if it senses you are getting too close to the car in front. Of course, a lot of these systems disappear in race mode, so proceed with caution.
Alfa Romeo quotes 8.2L/100km of combined fuel consumption and advises that the car drinks 95RON. However, my time in the Giulia Q returned a fair higher fuel consumption figure of 14L/100km over 500km, but that was with more than a few jaunts in race mode.
While you'd hardly expect a car like this to be fuel-efficient, plenty of owners will drive it predominantly in race mode and, as such, can probably expect consumption over the 10L/100km mark at least – which well exceeds the quoted figure.
One thing that impressed me was how well the Giulia's idle-stop system paired with the huge engine – it’s barely noticeable and turns the car on and off smoothly, even in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
For a car with performance in mind, the Giulia is surprisingly comfortable for driver and passengers, with plenty of cabin space to luxuriate in. The 480L boot is short in height but long in depth, and you could fit a fairly substantial supermarket shop in there.
Because the car and its seats are lower to the ground, getting in and out requires a bit more energy, but thankfully the driver’s seat can be electronically lowered or raised (although the rest of the seat controls are manual if you option the sporty Sparco seat shells).
On the topic of seats, the leather and Alcantara combination is lovely and soft, but the deep, carbon-fibre-backed front seats are a little snug. That's worth noting if you happen to be on the broader side (my husband is 190cm and found them a little claustrophobic).
Back-seat occupants score a single USB port, two air vents, heated outboard positions (but again, only in conjunction with the standard front seats), some small door bins, ISOFIX points on the two outboard seats, but no armrest or cupholders. Leg room is sufficient, although the hard seat backs aren’t all that comfortable for knees, and head room is actually quite generous thanks to the way the seats slope down, making the most of the cabin space.
Visibility in the Giulia is surprisingly great for a sedan thanks to the big rear windshield, and reversing in and out of car parks is also aided by front and rear parking sensors and a reverse camera.
As you’d expect from a car at this pricepoint, the Giulia receives a long list of standard infotainment and driver-assistance technology.
This includes an 8.8-inch infotainment screen controlled by rotary dial (a touchscreen would be a vast improvement), a 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, and all the aforementioned safety features. There's also a small digital driver's display nestled in between the instrument clusters.
In terms of gripes, I had a few. Alfa's infotainment system certainly doesn’t look or feel as advanced as those in BMW or Mercedes cars – it has a Windows '98 feel compared to intricate, animated offerings. While it's perfectly functional, I hated controlling it via the rotary dial as I found it too fiddly to operate, especially while driving. Additionally, the rotary dial system doesn't pair well with CarPlay, and requires you to do endless amounts of scrolling in order to select the icon you're after.
Additionally, the heating system is effective, but can get pretty loud if you’ve got it on a moderate-to-high setting.
Overall, one blast down the freeway in race mode and it’s easy to see why people fall in love with this car. It has performance, behind-the-wheel feel and X-factor in spades.
Alfa has also done an excellent job of upping the functional factor of the car for around-town driving, but a few finicky qualities (most notably the high fuel consumption and the awkward handling and steering at lower speeds) rule it out as an everyday ride.
If you're in the market for a second car that's no business, all pleasure, few do pleasure better than the Giulia Quadrifoglio.