Video review: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Alfa takes direct aim at the BMW M3.

Alfa Romeo is one of those automotive brands that manages to have a legend larger than its actual standing in the world; despite the fact it hasn't produced a compelling mass-market vehicle in years, Alfa Romeo is still revered as a driver's brand.

But the higher-ups at Alfa Romeo seem to have suddenly realized they've been resting on their laurels for the last two-decades, and in the process ceded the sporty premium sedan market almost entirely to BMW. Not willing to give up it's traditional territory without a fight, Alfa Romeo is now taking the battle to BMW and its darling M3 with the high-performance Giulia Quadrifoglio.

What is it?The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is a high-performance mid-size luxury sedan based on the standard Giulia model — the formula is almost exactly the same as the one BMW uses to turn its normal 3 Series into the M3. At the heart of the Giulia Quadrifoglio is a Ferrari-derived 2.9L twin-turbocharged V6 that's good for 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. Like the M3, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is rear-wheel drive. However, unlike the M3, you can't get the Giulia Quadrifoglio with a manual gearbox — an eight-speed automatic is the only transmission on offer.

Performance is breathtaking, with the Giulia Quadrifoglio capable of accelerating from 0-60 in 3.6 seconds and hitting a top speed of 191mph. Despite those impressive figures, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is still able to return up to 24mpg on the highway.

What's it up against?As you might have guessed, the BMW M3 is the Giulia Quadrifoglio's main rival. The Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan also checks many of the same boxes as the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Although not in the same performance league as the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio, people shopping in this category might also take a peek at the Audi S4 and Infiniti Q50 Red Sport.

How does it look?Like a proper Alfa, which is pretty high praise.

The Giulia Quadrifoglio really doesn't have a bad angle. From the front, it's a sharp-looking car with just the right amount of vents and aero pieces. Alfa even did a good job of grafting its signature grille onto the nose of the Giulia Quadrifoglio — that kind of transplant doesn't always go well. Every styling element just seems to be in perfect balance.

In profile the Giulia Quadrifoglio is classic sports sedan with a long hood and short deck lid. The green house of the Giulia Quadrifoglio tapers toward the rear, but it's not one of those silly four-door coupe treatments. And although the Giulia Quadrifoglio's wheels are big, they don't look out of place within its relatively compact frame.

The view from the rear is the Giulia Quadrifoglio's sportiest angle, with a carbon fiber rear spoiler, quad exhaust outlets and a large diffusor easily giving the sedan away as something special.

And on the inside?Step inside the Giulia Quadrifoglio and you'll find even more beautiful Italian styling. The Giulia Quadrifoglio's dash is one flowing line of stitched leather and carbon fiber, with a bezel-less infotainment screen seemingly melting right into it. The steering wheel looks as if it was plucked right from a race car with its alcantara and carbon fiber accents and bright red start/stop button. And the gauges are the kind of big analog units you'd expect to find in a proper sports car.

HVAC controls are logically arranged just under the main infotainment screen, but the knobs feel a few rungs below the Giulia Quadrifoglio's asking price. And the same goes for the three dials behind the shift lever — the ones that control the vehicle settings, infotainment and radio volume. They don't feel anywhere near as substantial as they look.

But those are the only cheap-feeling parts to speak of. Everything thing else in the Giulia Quadrifoglio feels of quality — the leather is soft and supple and pretty much all of the plastic surfaces are soft touch. It's just a shame Alfa chose to cheap out on the parts of the car you touch the most.

Although heavily bolstered, the Giulia Quadrifoglio's front buckets are actually quite comfortable. Leg and headroom are also generous for front seat passengers, the latter aided by our test car's lack of sunroof. The rear bench of the Giulia Quadrifoglio is on the tight side and is best reserved for kids or smaller adults.

Unlike a lot of other FCA vehicles, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio doesn't use a version of the automakers Uconnect infotainment system. As a result, the Giulia Quadrifoglio's infotainment system is less than stellar, with some questionable functionality. At times it can be difficult to navigate from one function to another, such as going from the radio setting to the navigation system. And despite having a widescreen display, less than half of the infotainment screen is used for the backup camera, making it hard to use.

But does it go?Unlike people in a laxative commercial, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has no problem going. Mash the Giulia Quadrifoglio's skinny pedal at any speed and it'll take off at warp speed — this thing is seriously quick. And that power is matched with a razor-sharp steering system. The Giulia Quadrifoglio is willing to dart wherever you point the wheel. But despite its lighting-fast rack, the Giulia Quadrifoglio doesn't feel twitchy — you don't have to give it constant corrections to keep on a straight line. That can often be a trade-off for responsive steering, and we're glad that's not the case in the Giulia Quadrifoglio.

While a manual option would be nice, there's not much to complain about with the Giulia Quadrifoglio's eight-speed auto. Shifts happen quickly and smoothly, and you can take the reins via a set of paddle shifters fixed to the steering column. And the paddles in the Giulia Quadrifoglio are some of the nicest we've come across — they're not only large, but also made of metal.

However, those over-sized shifters do have a downside. They stick out almost as far as the turn signal stalk, making it slightly annoying to signal for that upcoming turn.

Our test car was fitted with Alfa's optional carbon ceramic brakes, but we'd strongly suggest saving yourself the $8,000. It's almost impossible to stop the Giulia Quadrifoglio smoothly with them — there's maybe an inch of brake pedal travel where nothing happens, and then it's suddenly 80 percent braking force. We're sure the ceramic brakes pay dividends on the track, but they're hopeless on normal roads.

The Giulia Quadrifoglio offers several different driving modes via its ‘DNA' dial. N is the normal setting while D is a bit sporty and A is tuned for economy. If you want to go all-out, you can switch the dial to its most aggressive race setting.

The Giulia Quadrifoglio totally transforms depending on the mode selected, including changes to the suspension, throttle, transmission and exhaust. In Race mode the Giulia Quadrifoglio feels ready for the track; you can almost feel the car hunker down around you. The engine is noticeably more responsive and the transmission shifts even faster. The exhaust also opens up to let the V6 underhood roar. The ride turns firm, but it's tolerable on smoother road surfaces.

In its most comfortable setting, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is surprisingly, uh, comfortable. You won't be lulled into thinking you've just stepped into a Lexus ES, but the ride in normal mode is quite compliant for a sports sedan - you don't have to sacrifice everyday usability to have 505 horsepower.

Our Giulia Quadrifoglio test car was fitted with an optional driver assistance package, but that's kind of missing the point of the Giulia Quadrifoglio in the first place.

Leftlane's bottom lineAfter a multi-decade layoff we were expecting Alfa to need a vehicle or two to knock off the rust, but instead they knocked the Giulia Quadrifoglio out of the park. There are still some issues to work out, such as the cheap-feeling controls and less-than-stellar infotainment, but the Giulia Quadrifoglio is absolutely a worthy alternative to the BMW M3. There's no ‘yeah, but,' the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio has the performance and the luxury to compete with any vehicle in this segment. Long-term reliability remains a real question for the Alfa brand (our test car's infotainment system restarted abruptly during one drive), but it's good to know that you'll be able to enjoy the Giulia Quadrifoglio worry-free for 4-years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio base price, $72,000. As tested, $87,095.

Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat Exterior Paint, $2,200; Driver Assist Dynamic Plus Package, $1,500; Carbon Ceramic Ultra High-Performance Brembo Brake System, $8,000; Harmon Kardon premium audio, $900; Quadrifoglio carbon fiber steering wheel, $400; 19-inch wheels, $500; Destination, $1,595.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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