2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio first drive

Alfa Romeo's charming Giulia Quadrifoglio is a refreshingly thrilling sports sedan

The all-new Giulia Quadrifoglio sports sedan brings an earnest focus on the driving experience, putting the rest of the segment on notice in the process.

“We see the driver as the pilot, and our emphasis is on the driving experience,” explained Richard Cox, Director of Alfa Romeo North America. “The pilot is the most important focus for Alfa Romeo.” It would be easy to dismiss this as the obligatory marketing hype one would expect when launching a new sports sedan, the likes of which will inevitably be compared to high performance icons like the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S.

The Giulia offers a heightened sense of dramatic flair inside and out.

Then you study Alfa’s strategy, and things start to look pretty promising: An all-new platform with an emphasis on low weight, an all-new, Ferrari-derived 505 horsepower bi-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 under the hood, Brembo brakes with optional carbon ceramic discs at all four corners, and near 50/50 weight distribution.

But perhaps even more importantly, “Alfa Romeo also cares as much about the senses as it does the statistics,” Cox added. While those sensations cannot be tangibly quantified, they add up to a whole lot out on the road.

Designed from the Quadrifoglio down (rather than from the base model on up), the Giulia brings some impressive statistics to the table anyway. These include a 7:32.00 lap time around the Nurburgring, which means this sports sedan is faster than a Pagani Zonda F and the Koenigsegg CCX – never mind its direct competitors from the likes of M and AMG – and it gives the Giulia Quadrifoglio the title of the fastest production sedan in the world around the famed German road course.

But this segment is as much about the daily commute as it is about the track, and finding that balance is no easy task. Accordingly, Alfa Romeo brought a squadron of Giulia Quadrifoglios to Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California to give us some seat time both at the track and on the picturesque back roads of wine country to see if they’d gotten the formula right.

Italy takes on the Germans

While the mid-sized sedan segment is, by Alfa’s estimate, the largest premium market in the U.S., the industry has watched contenders like Cadillac struggle to pull buyers’ attention away from established acts with the ATS and ATS-V. The Giulia is undoubtedly an earnest effort in that regard, so Alfa Romeo comes out swinging when it comes to this sedan’s engineering and design.

Alfa Romeo comes out swinging when it comes to this sedan’s engineering and design.

Both the engine and the suspension are constructed from aluminum, while the hood, roof and driveshaft are carbon fiber. A torque vectoring system can send from zero to one hundred percent of the power to either rear wheel as needed to help tuck the car into corners. Two-mode adaptive dampers allow for suspension stiffness adjustment, while a dual-stage exhaust system allows the V6’s sonorous bark to sing loudly when asked to do so and quietly when it is not. An active front splitter provides 200 pounds of downforce on the front end of the car to provide additional front end grip, and it retracts to reduce drag at higher speeds.

But there’s a nod to pragmatism as well. The motor utilizes a cylinder deactivation function during low-load driving to improve fuel consumption, while features like eight way adjustable sport seats, an 8.8-inch widescreen infotainment display, backup camera, blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic detection are all standard on the Quadrifoglio.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio first drive
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

And there’s the Alfa’s inherent “Italianess” as well. While the overall approach stays fairly close to the Germans’ playbook, the Giulia offers a heightened sense of dramatic flair inside and out, from the sculpted bodywork and hunkered down stance to the eye-catching, steering column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters.

As the numbers indicate, it’s a rocket too – 0 to 60 mph happens in just 3.8 seconds with the Giulia’s eight-speed automatic (the manual gearbox, tragically, will not be coming to the U.S.), and the increase in pace doesn’t let up until 191 miles per hour. Bringing things down from speed are Brembo calipers at all four corners with optional carbon ceramic discs that are commanded through a unique brake-by-wire system that uses pedal inputs to dictate braking behavior electronically. All in, Alfa Romeo has created a legitimately formidable package with the Giulia Quadrifoglio.

On road and track

Our drive route took us along the highways and back roads of Sonoma and Petaluma, giving us a chance to acclimate to the Giulia Quadrifoglio in everyday use before unleashing it on the track. With the Giulia’s emphasis on performance, it’s likely here where we’d find any concessions in terms of luxury and comfort.

All in, Alfa Romeo has created a legitimately formidable package with the Giulia Quadrifoglio.

There are a few, but for the most part they’re minor quibbles. Adjusting the steering column, for instance, is done manually rather than electronically, and although the overall interior quality is more or less on par with Cadillac and BMW, it doesn’t quite match the premium feel of Mercedes-AMG. And despite the fact that braking capability is excellent with the standard brakes, they did get quite noisy after a spirited run through a technical section of tarmac, while the brake-by-wire system also lacks some of the input nuance provided by traditional mechanical systems.

But these faults are quickly overshadowed by the charisma of this performance sedan, and how engaging it feels when driven hard. System settings are controlled via a trio of rotary knobs on the center console, with the one closest to the driver dedicated to Alfa’s “DNA” drive mode selector, which adjusts steering weight, shift schedules, stability control settings, suspension stiffness and other performance attributes with a turn of the dial. In Natural mode the Giulia is well suited for daily driving duty, shifting early with minimal harshness and soaking up imperfections in the road admirably. Dial things up to Dynamic and the exhaust gets louder, the suspension stiffer (this mode allows the dampers to be adjusted between Natural and Dynamic stiffness levels) the steering heavier, and the gearbox more urgent.

Race mode removes all driver assistance features while setting the aforementioned performance attributes to full tilt, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, Advanced Efficiency mode puts the systems in their most fuel-conscious state.

While Dynamic mode proved to be entertaining on public roads, it did seem a bit overbearing at times while lapping Sonoma Raceway in terms of stability and traction control intervention. The system seemed determined not to allow any undo wheelspin or rear end rotation, which occasionally meant less verve out of slow corners than the Giulia is capable of. But provided with well-behaved inputs, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is a rock star on the road course even in this driving mode, and the Race setting is always there for folks that trust themselves more than Alfa Romeo (rightfully) trusted a group of overly-eager journalists on a fast and technical race track.

A new contender

While the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio falls a bit short of the segment leaders in terms of opulence, for those who’re more concerned with the actual act of driving, it’s undoubtedly a compelling option. Alfa’s focus on performance rings true here, and while the competition continues to distance the driver from the driving experience through engineering, the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s design emphasis on the old school fundamentals like chassis tuning, weight balance and a feeling of driver involvement through sensations makes this a standout option among some very capable alternatives.

Alfa Romeo hasn’t yet announced pricing, but promises that the Giulia Quadrifoglio will land somewhere in the $70,000 dollar range, which prices it toward the top end of the segment at first glance. But unlike most of the competition, the Quadrifoglio has a long list of standard features while the options list on models like the M3 and C63 S can take them well into $80,000 territory, so we’ll reserve judgment on the value proposition of the Giulia Quadrifoglio until Alfa provides official numbers.

Still, provided that those numbers remain in line with the rest of the segment, sports sedan buyers who prioritize the act of driving over a prevailing sense of affluence would be doing themselves a massive disservice if they overlooked the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

Highs

  • Italian charisma
  • Segment-leading performance
  • Long list of standard equipment

Lows

  • Interior lacks some luxury versus competition
  • Motor can be lethargic at low revs before turbos spool up
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