There are several ways to make a car jaw-droppingly powerful and mind-numbingly fast. One way is to stuff a powerful, turbocharged engine between the fenders. A second way is to start with a smaller turbocharged engine and add an electric motor that provide gobs of instant torque. Speed enthusiasts recently gathered on an airstrip in California to put the two schools of thought head to head and see which one comes out of the tussle on top.
Representing the turbo camp is one of the most hotly anticipated new cars in recent memory: The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. This M3-punching family sedan embodies the Italian brand’s renaissance with 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque available over a broad band that stretches from 2,500 to 5,500 rpm. It hits 60 mph from a stop in 3.8 seconds, and it tops out at 191 mph.
The hybrid team sent out a BMW i8. Built largely out of carbon fiber, the halo of BMW’s i sub-brand uses a gasoline-electric drivetrain made up of a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine tuned to 231 horsepower and a 131-horsepower electric motor. Rated at a combined 362 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, the hybrid setup sends the i8 from 0 to 60 mph in about 4.4 seconds, and on to a top speed of 155 mph.
Both cars are impressive on paper, but what do those figures mean in the real world? The only way to find out was to line them up side by side, wait for the flag to drop, and give it all.
The Alfa Romeo takes the lead early on in the race — and emits a pleasant, throaty growl while doing it. It maintains its lead throughout the half mile-long race, and goes on to beat BMW’s hybrid masterpiece. The Giulia crosses the finish line at 144 mph; the BMW isn’t far behind at 136 mph, but every second counts in racing.