Still as lithe, fast and fluent as a sports car on the road, but now has greater track stability and stamina too
The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio super saloon has met with little but glowing praise since its launch in 2016. It came like manna from heaven for a great many car enthusiasts who’d longed to see the Italian marque make a performance car you could compare with the very best in class. The agility and purity of the car’s rear-driven handling, its handling fluency and compactness on the road, and the idiosyncratic fierceness of its Ferrari-derived V6 engine all won it instant recognition.
Now, in a rare move in the modern performance car market, Alfa has moved to make the car better by actually making it simpler. The car gets the same mid-life tweaks that were deployed on the regular Giulia earlier this year – new headlights, a new ‘trilobo’ radiator grille, new digital instruments, and an updated infotainment system. But specific to the Quadrifoglio version is a hike in peak engine power to 514bhp, and a recalibration of the car’s suspension and driveline specification intended to give the car what Alfa performance engineering lead Domenico Bagnasco calls a ‘mini-GTA feel’.
Alfa’s ‘100 Anniversario’ version (which we tested, and celebrates the centenary of Alfa’s green cloverleaf iconography) gets gold-edged badging and detailing. There will only be 100 produced for the global market – and all coming to the UK are already sold.
With the aim of dialling out a little of the on-track frailty and dynamic scruffiness that the Giulia’s old damper calibration and torque-vectoring rear differential could create (the latter especially, which was given to overheating when given lots to do), fairly bold decisions were taken about this car’s mechanical specification. For one, that electronically controlled ‘eDiff’ was chucked in the bin, replaced with a more conventional mechanical limited slip differential with a locking ratio of up to 35% under power and 50% on the overrun.
“We wanted more predictability, quicker chassis response, and more old-school handling feel from the car,” explains Bagnasco, “and so we also increased anti-roll bar stiffness on both axles, and firmed up the calibration of the electronic dampers when working at their firmest. The feeling of the rear axle – how quickly it follows the direction in which you’re steering – is now improved, and limit handling with the ESC switched off – a possibility we feel we have to include on an Alfa Romeo performance car – is more consistent.”
The Giulia’s low and well-supported driving position, simply laid out cockpit and controls, and sense of compactness and litheness on the road all still appeal as much in 2023 as they did in 2016. It doesn’t feel like a car seeking a higher-strung temperament either, as that ‘mini-GTA’ billing might have suggested. The ride and damper calibration remain gentle when you stick with ‘natural’ driving mode; the steering feels light but direct; and the engine and gearbox are mostly docile enough to rub along with in normal traffic, albeit with occasional moments of low-speed driveline shuntiness from the transmission.
The extra few horsepower, I rather suspect, is mostly for the birds. There’s no extra torque or turbo boost conjured by the 2.9-litre V6; just a slightly greater appetite for revs at the top end. It’s still a very appealing engine, with its elastic rush of mid-range torque and keenness for the redline – but it would benefit from a bit less exhaust rort and a bit more genuine combustion noise.
I needed the few laps afforded to us at the bumpy, cambered handling circuit at Montlhery Autodrome to really tell any difference made to the hot Giulia’s handling by Alfa’s chassis revisions; because, on the road, the car feels very familiar to drive, if perhaps a little more roll-resistant.
But on track, it does feel improved: better tied down over fast crests and through compressions, a shade more precise and feelsome in its high-speed steering – but most of all, more stable through tighter turns from the apex onwards, with greater traction.
While fun, the original Giulia ‘QV’s active diff could pitch the car quite hard into corners initially via an overdriven outside rear wheel, only to throw its hands up once the car had started to slide and you were looking for assured traction to take you onwards. The new mechanical one feels quite mildly calibrated, but tolerates an exuberant line and input style better. WIth improved basic stability, you can fling the new Giulia around with greater confidence, but drive it out of corners much better – and still take it to lurid drift angles if you so choose.
This car will evidently continue in the same vein as it started, then; as arguably the most natural, poised, and intuitive-handling super saloon you can buy – just now with the track precision and staying power that it used to lack.