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Let's be honest. You don't buy any Alfa Romeo -- let alone this high-performance 2020 Giulia Quadrifoglio -- for its safety tech, its infotainment smarts, or even its interior furnishings. No, you buy it because it looks like this, and because it sounds like this. You buy it for its heritage. You buy it to not see yourself coming and going. Perhaps most importantly, you buy an Alfa Romeo because of how it makes you feel, whether you're clipping an apex on a racetrack, your favorite canyon road or that one switchback on your commute. Alfas are not about practicalities, they are about passion. You buy one because you can't bear not to -- shortcomings and reliability question marks be damned.
Once you accept this reality, the Italian automaker's primary job is all about removing justifications for passing by their showroom in favor of the safer, more predictable choices offered by the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. For 2020, Alfa Romeo has expended considerable effort sanding down some of the rough edges on its tech and cabin experiences in hopes of converting dithering dreamers and wanna-be iconoclasts into buyers. Has the company done enough with this Giulia Quadrifoglio? Let's dive in and find out.
Under its gorgeous, unchanged-for-2020 skin, the Giulia's powertrain continues to be the same as when it first hit US dealers in late 2016. If you're reading this, chances are you already know the pertinents of range-topping Quadrifoglio model. Just in case you've forgotten, know that this rear-wheel-drive sedan features a Ferrari-derived, 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V6, delivering not only 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, but also a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.8 seconds (a time that neatly coincides with estimates for its chief rivals, the Audi RS5 Sportback and Mercedes-AMG C63 S). Top speed? Glad you asked: 191 mph.
What those (admittedly superlative) figures fail to telegraph is how alive and fizzy this Alfa feels. From the moment you plant your back pockets into its deeply sculpted bucket seats, poke the steering wheel starter button and hear the six-pot engine bark to life, the Quadrifoglio bristles with energy and potential, somehow managing to feel on-the-balls-of-its feet at parking-lot and freeway speeds alike.
It starts with the steering. Even at city-street velocities, it's both insanely quick (2.2 turns lock-to-lock) and properly communicative from right off center to the endstops. Allow me to underline the former. I simply can't recall the last time I drove anything with four doors where so little steering input translated into so much directional change. As a direct result, the Quad feels immediately and sublimely on the attack when you're hammering on a curvy stretch. In exchange, the flat-bottomed three-spoke wheel demands more attention, even on flat stretches of freeway and in everyday urban driving. You'll make more small corrections than you might be used to, and there's heightened susceptibility to tramlining on uneven roads.
It's worth it.
In an era of precise-but-dead-feeling electrically power-assisted racks -- and even riding on my early-spring tester's 245/35-series 19-inch Pirelli Sottozero winter tires -- the Giulia stands out for its alertness and feedback. Way out. That said, if you're the type of driver who prizes isolation, refinement and automation over engagement, you probably shouldn't be looking at the sportier versions of any compact luxury sedan, and you definitely shouldn't be looking at this Alfa.
That same sense of vigilance and immediacy is evident in the brakes, too. On display beneath my tester's gorgeous five-spoke dark-finish alloys ($500), you'll find a set of generously sized carbon-ceramic stoppers (15.4-inch discs fore, 14.2-inch aft). With six-piston calipers up front and four out back, these brakes are, frankly, overkill for the street. I've driven a Quadrifoglio with the standard iron discs, and the brakes are still fantastic.
These Brembo CCM units cost a wallet-wilting $8,000, and unless you're a regular track-day attendee, you're better off spending that money elsewhere. (Heck, even if you're a habitual circuit rat, you'd almost certainly better served putting that dosh towards a high-performance driving school and some track-spec rubber and pads.) As it is, these brakes offer an abundance of stopping power, though their immediateness takes some getting used to (the uninitiated will dismiss them as grabby). Did I mention these same brakes used to cost $5,000? Porca vacca!
One thing worth noting: It might be just my memory playing tricks on me, but it feels like the calibration of the Alfa's ZF 8HP50 eight-speed automatic has improved since the last time I drove a Quadrifoglio a few years ago. As before, regardless of what mode the DNA Pro drive-mode selector is in, you'll find a quick-shifting transmission with calibration that facilitates well-timed gearchanges and spirited driving. Even though the 2020 model still has a sensitive throttle, my tester's cogswapper feels happier tooling around town than the last Quad I drove -- that car's transmission occasionally clunked at slow speeds, as if to passive-aggressively let me know it was unhappy on a short leash.
One thing that didn't need changing with the gearbox: those massive, column-mounted, aluminum paddle shifters. Yes, some people will initially be annoyed they won't find the usual amount of hand clearance between the steering-wheel rim and the turn-signal stalk, but unless you've got catchers' mitts for hands, you'll get used to it. The payoff is wonderfully tactile and responsive paddle shifters that you'll want to use again and again, if only to hear the engine lunging towards its 6,500-rpm redline while doddering off to Starbucks.
The suspension is wonderfully tuned, as well. Firm, yes, but far from sponsored-by-the-American-Dental-Association firm. Cornering is flat, and between the aforementioned aggressive turn-in up front and the torque-vectoring limited-slip differential out back, this 3,800-pound sedan feels unerringly balanced and nimble, as if its wheelbase is a foot shorter than its 111 inches.
Despite no significant powertrain changes, according to EPA, the Giulia Quadrifoglio has mysteriously managed to eke out better highway fuel economy for 2020. Official estimates call for 17 miles per gallon city, 25 highway (up 1 vs. 2019) and 17 combined. While these figures won't win you any citations from the Sierra Club, they're essentially the same as rivals.
So that's the 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio's driving experience: At once spectacularly visceral, rapid and wonderful, all in a way that even those accomplished Germans don't quite manage. Of course, you already knew all that, or at least, you probably could've intuited much of that just by mulling Alfa's reputation and looking at these pictures.
So... what about those improvements to the convenience and safety tech, and to cabin furnishings?
In a nutshell, despite an excellent driving position and mostly well done key driver touchpoints (seats, steering wheel, pedals and the aforementioned paddle shifters), pre-2020-model-year Giulia cabins were underwhelming. They came across as hollow-feeling melanges of subpar plastics, insubstantial switchgear and sub-par infotainment that would've been disappointing to find in a garden-variety Mazda or Volkswagen, never mind in a sport sedan aiming to charge upwards of $75,000.
I'm happy to report that things are comprehensively better this year.
On the infotainment front, there's a new 8.8-inch display from Magneti Marelli, and it features a more intuitive, configurable layout along with better graphics and new features. There's also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, plus a WiFi hotspot and available wireless charging. The system is touchscreen-based, but there's also a revised control knob with improved construction and handwriting recognition, along with voice-control capabilities. Additional features include performance pages and a new Alfa Connect app for your phone with vehicle heath monitor, remote start, and so on). The new hardware even allows for over-the-air firmware updates.
Ultimately, while a tremendous improvement over 2019 models, this new architecture remains inferior to FCA's own Uconnect, let alone current versions of Audi's MMI or Benz's MBUX. That's true in anything from boot-up time to feature richness, intuitiveness or general slickness of appearance.
The same can be said for the updated materials and switchgear. There's a restyled leather-wrapped gear selector, new rotary knobs with better-feeling actions, plus a thoughtfully redesigned center console with improved storage and better cupholders. Again, while these changes represent not-insubstantial victories for ergonomics and feel, they still don't measure up to the parts used on competing offerings.
For 2020, the entire Giulia range, from the base model ($39,400 plus $1,295 destination) on up to this loaded-up Quadrifoglio ($74,445 base; $90,840 as tested including its oddly pricier $1,595 destination fee), benefits from standard forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. In addition, my car comes equipped with a new Active Driver Assist Package, a $2,000 Level II tech bundle that features adaptive cruise control with lane centering, plus traffic sign recognition, lane-keep assist and active blind-spot assist.
Clearly, performance and passion doesn't come cheaply, but the Quadrifoglio's pricing is actually right on the money for the segment, and this car's stunning looks and relative rarity means you're more likely to get nods of approval at your local Cars & Coffee draw than those who roll up in RS, AMG and M rivals.
In the end, the 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio continues to deliver singularly superlative, engaging performance while benefiting from a bevy of substantial improvements to its weakest points. While I suspect these updates ultimately won't be enough to lure a whole new crop of buyers into Alfa showrooms, those who were on the fence previously will likely have a much easier time justifying going out for Italian.