Two years ago the carbon-fiber, 2,400-pound Alfa Romeo 4C exploded on the auto scene, an imperfect, flatulating, frunkless roller skate that was more fun than a seaside romp with Italian actress Monica Bellucci. That spicy Italian meatball whetted America’s appetite for a new menu of Alfa luxury sedans and sport utes based on the 4C’s unique recipe.
The follow-up course to the 4C finally has arrived. And it was worth the wait.
The Alfa Giulia is a head-turning, asphalt-gripping, laugh-out-loud, luxury ... sedan. Yes, sedan. Those four-door things that dad drove to drop you off at school before he bought the five-door SUV. Sedans are the cars everyone wants to make self-driving because the commute is such a slog. Buy a Giulia and you’ll never want an autonomous car again.
This shot of Italian espresso puts the sport in “sports sedan.” Now dad can drop you at school, then take the curvy route to work arriving sideways with smoke pouring off the brake discs.
The United States first saw the Giulia at last year’s LA auto show — not in base trim — but as the weaponized, 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio Verde (QV for short). Its huge biceps and blood-red wardrobe were introduced by dry ice and models in racing suits. How very Italian — and LA. After all, I wouldn’t expect Beyonce to hit the stage in a robe and whisper. No, she comes at you in high-leather boots belting “Put a Ring on It.” Now that’s an entrance.
Shouldn’t all performance cars be the same? Imagine Mustang rolling out the blood-curdling, ear-shattering Shelby GT350 as its first model and you get the idea.
Twelve months later and the media’s first taste of the Giulia QV (you’ll know it by its lucky four-leaf clover badge) wasn’t on a nice urban trot through tree-lined suburbia. It was at California’s Sonoma Raceway. In the right seat. Next to Fabio Francia, the Italian record holder of the fastest lap in a sedan ever recorded at the epic Nurburgring in Germany. For you speed geeks, that’s a 7.32-minute lap. Faster than a Lamborghini Gallardo. Faster than the Porsche 911 GT3.
Fabio was right out of Hollywood central casting. After exchanging pleasantries in broken English on our way down the pit lane, Fabio stopped the conversation, pointed to the track, and said: “OK, we go now.”
At which point, he nailed the throttle up into Turn One and proceeded to destroy the formidable, 11-turn, 2-mile course in a neck-twisting, brake-stomping display of car control. I swear we broke Kyle Larson’s NASCAR lap record.
So that’s what sedans can do.
I spent the rest of the day — on and off-track through lovely Sonoma County — following Fabio’s example in multiple Giulias. The Quadrifoglio is a well-tuned athlete. Unlike its turbo-laggy, small-displacement little brother 4C, the QV’s 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-6 reacts. Right. Now.
Aided by an eight-speed transmission that barks off millisecond upshifts like a Doberman charging an intruder, the engine gulps road at an alarming pace. With a perfectly-weighted, 50-50, rear-wheel-drive chassis and short ratio (2.3-turns-lock-to-lock) steering, corners are dispatched with a flick of the hands. No lurid power slides with arms crossed like pretzels.
Miles pass on country roads at illegal, addictive speeds. The QV demands to be pushed. Rotate the center dial to DYNAMIC. It growls louder. Rotate it to RACE and the growl turns to a guttural yawp that should be Cerberus’s ring tone.
The Quadrifoglio’s sensory magnificence masks more flaws than the Tower of Pisa. The boomerang-sized shift paddles look cool until your realize they have to be that big because they are fixed and can’t be reached when you turn the wheel. And like the 4C, there’s no manual option for America. The tiny back seats seemed to have been designed by Delta for use in Coach Class.
The voice recognition system was so poor, I might have been speaking Italian. Repeated requests to go to “Sonoma Raceway, Napa County” were returned with responses such as, “You want to go to Rhode Island, is that correct?” The nav system was so bleached, it looked like it had been left in the sun for days. And Apple Car Play and Android Auto — standard in Chevys, for goodness sakes — won’t come until later in the 2017 model year.
But all is forgiven because what the Quadrifoglio rock star also masks is an even better base car. Take off Superman’s cape — and he’s still a hunk.
The volume seller for Giulia will be the Ti Sport trim with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, 280-horse mill that will embarrass everything else in class. The Audi A4 I drove to Watkins Glen, New York, and back this fall is the best all-around car in class with its ingenious “Virtual Cockpit” display, AWD and perky 252 horsepower. After driving the Ti Sport, I still think so, but the Giulia is zippier than the Audi.
And it looks like Alyssa Milano next to Christoph Waltz.
On the Pacific Coast Highway north of Sonoma, a Porsche Cayenne owner stopped dead in his tracks when he saw my Alfa Ti Sport — not Quadrifoglio — parked by the road. Now that’s a sexy base car.
Dressed in white with the same smoky, phone dial wheels that are available on the Quadrifoglio, these Italians know how to get attention. With available AWD, it’ll be a sure-footed lynx in Michigan snow. Sticker prices won’t be firm until Giulia hits dealer shelves early next year, but Alfa estimates a low-$40,000 entry price bristling with standard equipment including leather, 16-way seats, first-in-class-electric “brake-by-wire,” a quick-revving, carbon-fiber driveshaft and plenty of console room.
Giulia Ti tells a story all its own. My Porsche friend wants one because he craves the Italian accent.
When it comes to the 191-mph, $70K-something Quadrifoglio, I still prefer German. The QV most closely resembles Cadillac’s excellent ATS-V for its nimble handling and better all-around driveability than a BMW M4 (or heavy Mercedes AMG). But BMW also makes the $56K M2, the best luxe hottie in the business. Though a coupe, its small backseat is no less a problem than Giulia — and its looks and scalpel-like handling are unparalleled.
But this is only Alfa’s first bite at the apple. The first sedan built on the company’s versatile Giorgio platform, there will be many more entertaining generations to come. Park it next to the 4C in your garage and you’ll have the best double date in town.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 Alfa Giulia
Front-engine, rear and and all-wheel drive
five-passenger sports sedan
2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder; 2.9-liter,
3,500 pounds (RWD Giulia Ti as tested, est.)
Low $40,000 base, est. ($70,000 est. for
280 horsepower, 306 pound-feet torque (turbo-4);
505 horsepower, 443 pound-feet torque
Zero-60: 3.8 seconds; top speed: 191 mph
(twin-turbo V-6, mnfr.). Zero-60: 5.1 seconds;
top speed: 149 mph (turbo-4, mnfr.)
Italian standout styling; driver’s car
Washed out nav screen; voice recognition language
Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★