When you're driving a car that routes over 500 horsepower exclusively through the rear wheels, grip is always going to be at a premium. Add a healthy amount of rain to the equation, plus a selection of freshly fallen leaves and deposits from nearby livestock, and the driving experience can become a bit of an adventure.
"Adventure" would be a pretty good description for my time behind the wheel of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, a 505-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive, four-door sedan that clearly has cars like the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 in its sights. Those are cars that draw upon decades of evolution and refinement. But, according to Alfa, those cars lack emotion and engagement, two things the new Giulia has in spades.
Giulia (pronounced "Julia") is built around an all-new platform that places a 2.9-liter V6 up front. It's a Ferrari-derived lump, twin-turbocharged and very closely related to the V8 found inside the California T. Power goes to the ground exclusively through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission here in the US, though a proper manual will be available elsewhere. Hold that disappointment: With shifts executed in 100 milliseconds and a "manual" mode that never automatically upshifts, it's not such a bad deal we've been handed.
In the US we'll get all the other assets the top-shelf Giulia Quadrifoglio has to offer, including extensive use of carbon fiber. The hood, roof and driveshaft are all made of the stuff, while the suspension and much of the engine are made from aluminum. This helps give the car a curb weight of roughly 3,600 pounds, and a "perfect" 50/50 front/rear distribution. That puts it right in line with the M3, and significantly lighter than the Merc.
Go with one of the lower-spec Giulias and you'll have to make do with a mere 280 hp from a 2.0-liter inline-four, again routed to the rear wheels or, optionally, all four wheels on the Ti trim -- which stands for "Turismo Internazionale," by the by.
Regardless which model you pick, you'll get a car with incredibly eager steering that makes it feel unique. This may sound a bit hyperbolic, but the first car that came to mind when I turned a wheel in the Giulia was the Ferrari 488. Obviously the Giulia isn't nearly that extreme, but the Quadrifoglio is radically different from anything else in this class.
That aggression continues to the suspension tuning. As you'd expect, the Quadrifoglio features fully adaptive dampers that go from soft to firm at the touch of a button -- or twist of a knob in this case. But turn that knob all the way to Race mode (exclusive to the Q) and the car gets properly stiff. The refinement is still good enough that your fillings won't be at risk, but owners will want to take care with larger bits of orthodontia.
In this mode the car is loud and fierce, baffles in the exhaust parting to deliver more of the vicious snarl that is the trademark of those motors. The
But if the weather, or your nerves, should demand something a little more soothing, you can toggle down to the sporty Dynamic mode, the more-relaxed Natural mode or, most tame, Advanced Efficiency mode. Here the suspension is still quite firm and, while the drive is still very engaging, it's no longer punishing. Likewise, the edge is taken off that engine, but it'll still kick the tail out with the slightest provocation.
All the trims have access to the same infotainment system that's new for the Giulia. Controlled by a simple rotary dial between the seats, the Giulia does all you need it to but not much more. Navigation is simple and intuitive, as is media playback and the other baseline features, but don't expect niceties like custom color schemes or Google Earth satellite imagery.
Sadly, no software update will rectify some very unfortunately cheap feeling plastics in the interior. Sit in the top-shelf Quadrifoglio and you'll find yourself going through a rollercoaster of emotions. The (optional) carbon fiber Sparco racing seats look lovely and hold you like a glove. Meanwhile, many of the leather, Alcantara and carbon fiber touchpoints in the cockpit are truly very nice.
However, many of the other touchpoints are genuinely bad. Hard, sharp plastics abound, and the auto trans shifter stalk looks like something you'd find in a Chinese BMW clone. That it's topped by sticky rubber doesn't help matters.
Focus on the positives and there's a lot to like in the interior, but there's certainly no shortage of things to frown upon in here. Thankfully, that issue does not extend to the rest of the car. The new Giulia offers a genuinely great drive. And, perhaps equally importantly as the brand strives to re-establish itself, this truly is a car with character. You feel it as soon as you turn the wheel.
But Giulia's character will not be for everyone, and the Quadrifoglio's raucous nature may be a bit too much for many to consider for daily driving. And, of course, this will also prove too expensive for many. The base Giulia will start at $37,995, while the top-shelf Quadrifoglio almost doubles that, starting at $72,000 -- and options will surely let you push that much, much higher if you like.
Giulia hits dealerships in December, first in Quadrifoglio trim, with the lesser models coming early in 2017. While I wouldn't exactly recommend the car as a winter driver, if you're looking for something a touch spicier than the German competition, look no further.