“Dare to be different” is a clarion call often ignored in the modern automotive landscape. That’s especially true among luxury brands, who work hard to establish a strong, singular identity that can be pasted across an entire lineup of automobiles and then more easily marketed to badge-savvy buyers. Platform sharing, rigid design languages and small stables of amazingly capable but remarkably similar engines have blurred the boundaries between one model and the next.
Never before has “one sausage, five lengths” felt more applicable to the automotive buffet laid out before us.
However, things are cooking up a little differently inside the kitchens at Alfa Romeo, which has avoided the same-same trap by devoting its North American showroom space to just one sedan and one SUV, each elegantly sculpted so as to share only a facial resemblance that identifies them as siblings. You can have a Giulia (four-door) or a Stelvio (five-door), and that’s it — unless, of course, you’re interested in emptying your wallet in the name of speed.
In that case, there’s a redheaded cousin in the mix that Alfa will gladly introduce you to, one that’s been hitting the gym and is all too eager to find the nearest race track and start flashing its headlights at every BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C63, and Audi RS4 it can find: the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. It stands apart from the rest of the luxury performance pack as a gorgeous, ferocious and a little bit unpredictable choice for sport sedan fans sick of the status quo.
A Sport Sedan That Dresses the Part
Don’t worry, Alfa Romeo’s muscle-bound relation doesn’t show up to the party wearing a tank top and board shorts. The Giulia Quadrifoglio’s sculpted sheet metal is more Armani than Adidas, and it cuts a far sleeker figure than the puffed-up, fender-bulging Teutonic terrors that trend at its $76,000 price point. The sedan is almost uncomfortably attractive, the automotive equivalent of showing up at your high school reunion with Keanu Reeves on one arm and Rosario Dawson on the other. Once it arrives on your radar the Giulia is there to stay, swiveling the heads of everyone walking by and tripping you up as you keep turning around to get one last look after parking.
That besotted headspace is a little less occupied by the interior of the Giulia, which doesn’t quite match BMW or AMG in terms of detail or features. Some of the Alfa’s simplicity is welcome, as the large analog tach and speedometer call back to the days when driving was the primary reason you were sitting behind the steering wheel. The skinny and occasionally clunky infotainment interface, however, could take a few lessons from corporate parent Stellantis, which offers the excellent Uconnect touchscreen in most of its other vehicles.
Alfa Romeo Proves Less Is More
The Giulia Quadrifoglio’s drive is nearly as out of step with the status quo as its looks. In a world where insulated, pre-packaged speed experiences are doled out in precise amounts according to how many dollars you’re willing to allocate to your monthly lease payment, Alfa Romeo has done its best to peel back the many layers between the driver and the road that are now part and parcel of modern automotive performance.
It starts with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 that has been tuned to deliver 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted by way of enormous batwing paddles affixed to the steering column. You’ll have to pony up for the BMW M3’s Competition package or step across to the Mercedes-AMG C63 S and its V8 if you want to match those figures on paper, but neither competitor can approximate the Quadrifolgio’s tempestuous character, which provides excitement through nearly the entire rev range as opposed to the M3’s more civilized low-end torque drop and the C63’s V8 rumble.
The route Alfa Romeo has chosen to enliven the Giulia’s character is to reduce its drive modes to the bare minimum. The Quadrifoglio offers a simple trio of road-friendly modes ranging from Eco to Dynamic that provide varying degrees of throttle response, exhaust note and suspension stiffness, but all kept under the watchful eye of digitally programmed guardian angels that patrol for wheel spin and tail slide.
Then there’s the Race mode, which removes traction and stability control from the equation and asks you to rely on your wits and fear of oblivion to keep the car in line. This all-or-nothing approach avoids the endless granularity of its competitors’ performance settings and has the side effect of pushing pilots more often into the realm of actually driving rather than coloring inside carefully delineated boundaries. This is accented by the sedan’s quick steering and thoroughly responsive chassis, which gives the Giulia a playful and willing character that many of its ultra-competent but not necessarily “fun” rivals lack.
What Price Is Passion?
When I first drove the Giulia Quadrifoglio several years ago, I was flummoxed by the skate-or-die choice it presented, and less than enthused about what I perceived as overly sensitive throttle response and peaky behavior from its turbo V6. I’m not sure whether it says more about my own journey as a driver, the dramatically different sport sedan landscape, or Alfa Romeo’s fine-tuning in response to early customer feedback, but the car came across as far more approachable this time around.
It may also be that the original example I drove was, well, not exactly performing within spec. Herein lies the word of warning that must accompany all talk of Alfa Romeo, and that’s to be prepared for the fact that your service manager might spend more time gazing upon the Giulia’s stunning curves than you will in any given month. Reliability is far from a watchword for the automaker, and there are plenty of horror stories out there about Quadrifoglios whose warranty claims pile up quicker than mileage on the odometer.
The 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is as close to the old school of automotive performance as one is likely to get when shopping for a current luxury rocket. Undeniably quick, impossibly sultry and out of step with the carefully curated nature of its turbocharged cohort, the Giulia is focused on thrilling the driver at all costs — and willing to occasionally step past the limit in a way that no other sport sedan currently allows.
While this could lead to an unexpected track-side shunt or no-start condition one workday morning, at the very least the car will look fantastic on the rollback as it heads to the dealership, where the service manager will have “the usual” waiting for you in the customer lounge.
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