I had a great opportunity to test drive the new Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio (Q) over the past few days. It is hard not to possess some sort of expectation before boarding. They say you aren’t a true petrol-head until you’ve owned an Alfa. To be honest Alfa hasn’t produced a rear drive monster for a very long time so the hurdle was pretty high on the basis of failure to introduce a Marcus Aurelius style gladiator to an arena filled with Germanic warriors would see thumbs pointed down.
Having tested the latest BMW M3, the one thing the Q has over it is character. Sure it’s easy to dismiss the Germans for lacking a sense of humour as much as silencing Italians by tying their hands behind their backs. The fact is that the engine inside the M3 is a masterpiece. The handling is sublime but the exhaust note is synthesized through the speakers which sort of disappoints like a Greenpeace activist would if forced to sail in a harpoon boat to stop Japanese whalers. The Q has 80hp more from a similar sized engine. It makes a naughty rasp as the tacho sweeps through 5,000rpm and has a tactile nature about it. Where the Q really wins out is ride. I’m sorry but for the mid-life crisis set, harsh ride is something that becomes annoying when you just wish to cruise on a highway late at night to get to the destination. The Q on soft suspension setting is more than acceptable. The BMW is just too jiggly. It is fidgeting. That’s ok doing a track day but when tired and cranky it is something you want to live without
A 505bhp 2.9 litre V6 twin turbo which strangely shares the same bore and stroke of the V8 Ferrari California. The twin turbos mysteriously sit between the V like the Ferrari too. The engine has power anywhere in the rev range. There are 4 modes. Race which switches everything off, D for dynamic which is hyper, N for natural which is hyper (but less abrupt) and A for advanced efficiency (shuts down cylinders) which is great for pootling around town. The suspension can be set to soft on any of the modes meaning you can hoon in comfort.
Naturally it is brisk. The 8 speed box is responsive and in manual mode doesn’t try to second guess you. Perhaps 8th gear at the national speed limit in Japan (100km/h) is too tall given the engine is revving at about 1,650rpm (like a diesel). The engine happily pulls but it has a slight drone. Perhaps the car pleading to get it to at least 2000rpm where the NVH reaches a comfortable level. Not a fault of the car. When you need to overtake the response is instantaneous.
While never giving it the full beans on public roads the handling in the twisty stuff is telepathic and communicative. There is loads of feedback. Bumpy corners don’t upset it and you get the sense that if there were no speed cameras you could do twice the speed into those bends. The car also seems to have a neutral oversteer bias.
The vented 4 pots have oodles of stopping power. Fade free. Perhaps the only slight issue is when trying to modulate the brakes at a set of stop lights to smooth the ride for passengers you end up stopping with a small jolt.
Italians do design better than most. The interior is beautifully presented. Functional and easily hooked up to the iPhone although sometimes the interface is not as intuitive and the voice recognition technology requires work (I found out this isn’t the car but my default Siri setting that is the problem). The lady in the machine is Australian and even conversing with her in a native tongue trying to select an address gave me the directions to a coffee house in America. When she pronounced Japanese words in Her Aussie drawl it was hard not to burst out in laughter as to where she wanted me to go – for instance “Iidabashi” (pronounced E da bash E) was Oida besh E and deguchi (exit, pronounced deg uchi) was “day Gucci”. I didn’t try her in Japanese but I’m sure the problem would be rectified. This is a minor complaint. The phone hooks up quickly and phone numbers are all available for voice activation. There is a scratchpad which allows you to shift through dials. Seats are comfy and fully electric with lumber and heating. Steering wheel is also movable.
I’ll be honest. It isn’t the prettiest Alfa ever made but it looks purposeful. It sits low on its haunches and the carbon trim along the sills is tasteful not gaudy like some Korean airport taxi that has crashed into an Autobacs accessory store.
This car has faults which gives it humanistic traits. it wouldn’t be an Alfa without. When on full lock the car makes a rather disconcerting shudder. However the faults it has are irrelevant when you assess what it is about the purpose. In a day and age where we have systems that help us stay inside lanes, slow us down, brake for us and remove the risks of human error, the Q wants to give the reins back to the driver if they choose.
It is also the feedback. While a Tesla night out drag it the Q will make one smile every time they sit inside. When you rev the engine at standstill the car body will twist. It is nice to know that there are carmakers who are unashamedly looking to petrolheads and ignoring the boredom of cars that breathe health and safety at every turn. Sure the Q has all the gubbins but you can switch it all off. Therein lies the issue.
At the Tokyo Motor Show I spoke to the Honda motorcycle marketing team. He asked what they could do to make their product better. My answer – “make it worse”. Astonished, he asked why? I replied that “riding a Honda is like sitting on a swing machine. It is smooth and efficient but there is no character. When I had my KTM Superduke 1290 it always let me know it was alive . Why not introduce software that makes the engine run rougher and edgier so the rider can engage with the machine and for the boring ‘otaku’ (geek) they can have their sewing machine!” “so you’d pay to make it worse?” YES!!
While it is likely the M3/M4 will outsell the Q in sales volumes the reality is that the true drivers in their hearts would choose the Alfa. While Alfa’s of old had build quality issues, this felt tight as a drum. If Ferrari built a proper 4 door this would be it. It is by no means a poor Maserati either. It is a car long missing from the line up and for a return performance they’ve done an outstanding job. At $20,000 less than a BMW M3 the value proposition is also astounding. It is truly tempting!
Perhaps the sweetest function of all is in the settings where the car will tell you how economically you are driving. Whereas an electric car might coax you to drive to maximize battery life the Q encourages you to blow it off the other scale – in that sense it is a devil for environmentalists (even though fuel economy is vey decent) and that above all makes me want it more!