Alfa Romeo returned to the United States a few years ago with parent Fiat Chrysler's hyperbolic goal of challenging the German brands. First, the Italian brand rolled out the 4C sports car and now comes the Giulia sedan as well as its performance Quadrifoglio variant, which we drove. We can't say whether it will make an impact on the premium performance market, but the Quadrifoglio left one on us.
Appearance: The Giulia (pronounced JOO-lia) is a stylish compact-to-midsize sedan easily recognizable as an Alfa by the brand's distinctive small, triangle grille. The Quadrifoglio variant betrays itself as something more lethal with an aggressive front fascia that sports large air intakes on each side of the grille, a swooping, vented hood, huge rear diffuser, quad exhaust tips and a carbon-fiber spoiler. The hood and roof also are all weight-saving carbon fiber — but painted. In case you forget the model you're driving, there is a large four-leaf clover — quadrifoglio — badge on the fenders. (The symbol has been a lucky charm for Alfa racing since 1923.) Such touches go with performance sedan territory. The 19-inch wheels somewhat echo a clover design. Our car looked especially striking in Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat red.
Performance: We liked the attitude imbued in the Quadrifoglio's appearance, but what really thrilled us was under the hood: a 505-horsepower, Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V-6 engine. That throaty-for-a-V-6 powerplant is mated to an eight-speed automatic in the all-wheel-driver. Unlike its European counterpart, there's no manual option, but the automatic clicks off shifts precisely in Dynamic mode — the only way to get the best out of the transmission. There are four drive modes: Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficiency and Race. We loved the supersized paddle shifters mounted to the steering column; Alfa gets it. The acceleration (Alfa claims zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds) is pin-you-to-the-seat thrilling, the steering light and balanced, and the ease in which you can get the rear end to snap out of line is nothing short of thrilling. Caution is urged. All that power can be slowed by the high-performance Brembo brakes, which can be a bit touchy until you get used to them. Peter expected the overall ride to be performance-first harsh — it wasn't — so nice work, Alfa suspension engineers.
Interior: From its thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel to its driver-centric cockpit, the Quadrifoglio is all about the experience. As such, the layout is practical, especially the center console that groups the shifter, drive-mode selector and rotary controller for the infotainment system, which has a dash-mounted 8.8-inch screen. All controls are within easy reach. We especially like the red start/stop button mounted on the steering wheel. Another nice touch: the circular AC vents. Elsewhere the cockpit is awash in carbon fiber and red-accented Alcantara (think suede). Only a few plasticky controls distract from the upscale feel. The optional Sparco racing seats are well-bolstered and on the narrow side, so larger drivers may find them snug and uncomfortable in daily driving. Unlike the front, the rear is cramped, but a performance sedan this this size isn't made for hauling around passengers.
Our 3 favorites
Style: The Giulia Quadrifoglio means business and looks the part.
Engine: It packs a wallop and a more hearty sound than other V-6 turbos we've driven.
Handling: Might be the best of the performance sedan we've driven.
The bottom line: Time will tell if Alfa Romeo catches on in the U.S. market, but if it does, the Giulia Quadrifoglio could be its lucky clover. Watch out, BMW M3.