Alfa Romeo is back in the performance car game and
tackling two of the biggest hitters in the business
Alfa Giulia QV
As youíd expect, the Giulia QV has plenty of Italian flair, with Ferrari-esque touches like the massive rear diffuser and yellow-calipered carbon-ceramic brakes OR THE past decade, if you wanted a fast, premium, rear-drive sedan, you looked to Germany. Thereís been the odd oriental interloper (Lexus IS-F) and a number of left-field Aussie offerings, but essentially your choice has boiled down to either the BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C63.
Now, however, thereís a third option from an unlikely Italian source, the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV.
For a brand with Alfaís rich sporting heritage, its recent performance offerings have been fairly dire, either overpowered front-drivers that spoke torquesteer as their primary language (147/156 GTA) or glamourpusses that preferred the runway to the racetrack (GT/Brera).
Alfa says the Giulia is different. The Giulia HAS to be different. Its platform cost an eye-watering Ä5billion to develop and will spawn all manner of vehicles across the Fiat-Chrysler group, but if the Giulia isnít up to task Ė particularly in bells-and-whistles QV guise Ė then the revival may be over before itís begun.
On paper thereís plenty of promise. Under the bonnet is a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 with a healthy injection of Ferrari DNA producing 375kW/600Nm, sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and an electronically controlled, torque-vectoring limited-slip differential. Lightweight F 19-inch wheels are wrapped in Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres and hide large Brembo brakes with six-piston front calipers and four-piston rears.
A carbon-fibre roof and bonnet limit kerb weight to 1621kg, distributed 50:50 front-to-rear, suspended by adaptive dampers, while active aero in the front bumper increases downforce and a QV-exclusive Race mode reduces ESP interference to the bare minimum.
If you believe the spec sheet the Giulia is not only the quickest of our trio to 100km/h (3.9sec) but also the fastest (307km/h) and the cheapest ($143,900).
However, add carbon-ceramic brakes ($13,000, plus $910 for yellow calipers), carbon fibre seats ($7150), metallic paint ($1690) and a steering wheel equal parts leather, Alcantara and carbon fibre ($650) and at $167,300 the Giulia goes from cheapest to most expensive in short order. Most think itís a looker, though, the black paint coming alive with flecks of green in the sun and details like the carbon fibre rear lip and huge diffuser adding exotic flair. Only the saggy bum lets it down in my eyes.
Rear-end styling isnít the strongest point of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, either. It looks tall, narrow and slightly anonymous compared to its rivals, though makes up for it at the other end with heavily flared guards and those substantial bonnet ridges giving a clue as to the power underneath. And what power. The C63ís 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 matches the Alfaís 375kW, but adds another 100Nm. Like the Giulia, itís sent rearwards to an electronically controlled limited-slip
says ďThe Alfa was really enjoyable. Itís very easy to drive at the limit, itís a car you can get confident in very quickly; itís really got good front-end and change of direction.
The gearing wasnít suited to around here, but itís got a great engine. It has the lightest steering of the three cars and lacked the most amount of feel. The disappointing thing is in any of the big stops it feels like it does 70 per cent of the slowing down in the last 40 per cent of the stop Ė itís quite off-putting.
You can feel the ESP coming in in a couple of places but itís very soft and it doesnít slow you down.Ē
diff, but here through AMGís seven-speed wet-clutch automatic. Despite the extra grunt, the C63 is claimed to be a tenth slower than the Alfa to 100km/h (4.0sec) and is limited to 290km/h. Itís the heavyweight of the group at 1655kg, though a few kilos are saved by the $9900 carbon-ceramic front brakes fitted to our test car, which bring its price tag to $165,515, undercutting the Alfa by an inconsequential $1785.
This makes the $144,900 M3 Competition look somewhat of a bargain, though equipping it with BMWís $15,000 carbon brakes (front and rear, unlike the C63) would wipe out much of the price disparity.
However, it would only widen its weight advantage, the 1560kg M3 carrying around 100kg less than the C63. This is potentially just as well given the M3ís 331kW/550Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six looks relatively undernourished in this company, as silly as that sounds for a car that claims 0-100km/h in 4.0sec and a 280km/h limited top speed. The rest of its mechanical specification is identical to the others bar the use of a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
The M3 might be the oldest shape here, but to these eyes itís also the best, the mechanical muscles bulging through the bodyshell like itís been on the Atkins diet.
Thereís nothing wrong with its fitness, either.
Though the M3 is the lightest car here, thereís a suspicion that Munichís horses are extremely strong as the BMW bolts to 100km/h in 4.16sec and charges across the quarter in 12.15sec at 193.83km/h. These are the best numbers weíve extracted from the latest M3/M4 and were done the old-fashioned way, walking the car off the line and limiting wheelspin in first gear.
This is not as simple as it sounds due to the dualclutchís refusal to let you stall it up, but remains the quickest way despite the ability to adjust the launch control launch rpm using the cruise control buttons (no joke!). Even the lowest setting results in too much time-wasting electronic intervention on anything but the grippiest surface.
In comparison the Alfa is a complete doddle. Simply load the car against the brakes, feed the throttle in and pull the upshift paddle at the required moment, something youíll need to do rapidly as the Giulia QV has incredibly short gearing. How short? At redline in fourth gear the C63 will hit 235km/h, the M3 211km/h but the Giulia just 151km/h. Such hyperactive gearing seems at odds with the Alfaís broad spread of power, the twin-turbo V6 pulling strongly from low revs with only the slightest of hesitations.
Torque is limited in first gear to improve traction and it works; itís undramatic, but fast. The 0-100km/h sprint is over in 4.09sec and the Alfaís lead stretches slightly over 400m clocking 12.05sec at 194.21km/h, its superior grunt and shorter gearing also shaving
Merc-AMG C63S IN DETAIL
Youíll need lessons to use Mercís COMAND infotainment system. Meanwhile hard plastics can be found, but generally the interior is slick.
Rear seatís a bit tight
ďThe Mercedes is probably the easiest car to drive on the limit Ė itís really confidenceinspiring.
Itís got good weight says to the steering; it was surprising that it didnít match the M3 in terms of pace because it feels very easy to drive, but I think the says gearing just doesnít suit this circuit. Being shorter in the gearing hurts it more than it would at some other circuits.
The Mercedes is a little bit nicer in how it gets into the corner, but at that secondary point where youíre wanting to pull more lock in, thatís where the C63 starts to generate its understeer.Ē
BMW M3 Comp INDETAIL
As the oldest car here, some find the BMWís interior boring, but functional is another way to view it and itís enlivened by carbon trim and the bold choice of white leather
D0.1sec from the M3ís 2.3sec 80-120km/h time.
The C63 S is even faster, yet not as quick. Attempting to launch the Mercedes is like walking the narrowest of tightropes: Too little throttle off the line and the gearbox wonít engage quickly enough; too much and 700Nm bonfires the 265mm-wide rear tyres. With limited time in the end I give up and let launch control do the hard work, frustrated that the times of 4.27sec 0-100km/h and 12.20sec at 195.68km/h quarter mile could be bettered with enough time, patience and, crucially, a better surface.
The fact the C63 is the slowest to 100km/h, yet the quickest to 190km/h speaks volumes for its pace, taking 7.25sec to dash from 100-190km/h versus 7.46sec for the BMW and 7.49sec for the Alfa. Whatís even more interesting is that this C63 is more than 0.5sec quicker across the same increment than the last one we performance-tested (August 2016) Ė no wonder it has trouble putting its power down.
Itís this immense grunt that dominates the driving experience. Thereís an excellent chassis underpinning the C63, with well-weighted, accurate steering and strong lateral grip at both ends, but whether on road or track youíre constantly aware of the need to manage the most torque through the narrowest rear rubber. With heat in the tyres Ė especially vital if youíve specced the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s Ė and patient throttle applications, traction is actually very strong. Over drive and youíll be left wrestling armfuls of opposite lock on corner exit.
Luffy felt the C63 easiest to drive on the limit Ė through Wintonís fast sweeper, for instance, it settles into gentle understeer and lifting the throttle holds no nasty surprises Ė but in Race mode the ultra-stiff damping can make the transition to oversteer very abrupt Ė thereís so little body roll that when the tyres give up they do so quickly. Softening the dampers may not improve the ultimate lap time, but that little extra compliance improves control as it slides.
Nonetheless, the C63ís front-end communication is the best of this trio, as are its brakes. The optional carbon-ceramic fronts cost a cool $9900, but are a must if youíre planning track work as theyíre seemingly unkillable with brilliant pedal feel. If anything they provide more stopping power than the tyres can handle, constant ABS intervention lengthening its 100-0km/h stop to 34.6m, 2.3m longer than the Alfa and 1.2m longer than the steel-braked M3.
Those figures might suggest the composite rotors on the Alfa and AMG are an unnecessary expense, although the BMWís racetrack performance proves their worth. As Luffy explains: ďProbably [the M3ís] biggest weakness is its brakes; after two laps the pedal is all the way to the floor.Ē While they never give up completely the soft pedal and increasingly audible groaning under heavy braking suggests a good service is in order. Once again, if youíre planning even semiregular racetrack use, carbon-ceramics are a must.
Despite the lack of stopping stamina, the M3ís outright performance is stunning, its best lap time a second clear of its rivalsí. Its lack of mass clearly pays dividends on track, with higher apex and exit speeds through Wintonís many tight corners and a willingness to change direction that eludes its weightier rivals.
As ever with the current generation M3/M4, though, accessing this performance is the tricky bit. The
y ďReally good balance on track.
Itís very nimble on change of direction, good in the front end in mediumslow speed corners.
I think the tyre probably hurts it through the higher load, higher radius corners. The M3 is very much, you do two or three laps and take a breath and know youíve worked to produce the time. You feel you can get to the limit of the Alfa and AMG much easier than in the BMW, itís more on a knifeedge.
The gearing was really perfect for the track, but its biggest weakness is its brakes; after two laps the pedal is all the way to the floor and youíre just not sure what itís going to do.Ē
Diff erent means, similar end results
0-10km/h 0.40 0-20km/h 0.79 0-30km/h 1.17 0-40km/h 1.52 0-50km/h 1.86 0-60km/h 2.20 0-70km/h 2.61 0-80km/h 3.06 0-90km/h 3.55 0-100km/h 4.09 0-110km/h 4.66 0-120km/h 5.27 0-130km/h 5.97 0-140km/h 6.69 0-150km/h 7.46 0-160km/h 8.35 0-170km/h 9.34 0-180km/h 10.41 0-190km/h 11.58 0-400m 12.05sec @ 194.21km/h 80-120km/h 2.2sec 100-0km/h 32.3m
SPEED IN GEARS 1st 52km/h @ 6500rpm 2nd 81km/h @ 6500rpm 3rd 121km/h @ 6500rpm 4th 151km/h @ 6500rpm 5th 197km/h @ 6500rpm 6th 259km/h @ 6500rpm 7th 307km/h @ 6330rpm* 8th 307km/h @ 4920rpm* As tested by MOTOR: Winton Raceway, 4.
0-10km/h 0.40 0-20km/h 0.89 0-30km/h 1.31 0-40km/h 1.68 0-50km/h 2.04 0-60km/h 2.44 0-70km/h 2.83 0-80km/h 3.21 0-90km/h 3.66 0-100km/h 4.16 0-110km/h 4.69 0-120km/h 5.33 0-130km/h 6.02 0-140km/h 6.76 0-150km/h 7.58 0-160km/h 8.41 0-170km/h 9.40 0-180km/h 10.46 0-190km/h 11.62 0-400m 12.15sec @ 193.83km/h 80-120km/h 2.3sec 100-0km/h 33.4m
SPEED IN GEARS 56km/h @ 7300rpm 104km/h @ 7300rpm 159km/h @ 7300rpm 211km/h @ 7300rpm 280km/h @ 7300rpm 280km/h @ 6170rpm* 280km/h @ 4900rpm* N/A 23pm, 17 degrees, dry. Driver: Sco
0-10km/h 0.48 0-20km/h 0.91 0-30km/h 1.32 0-40km/h 1.72 0-50km/h 2.11 0-60km/h 2.52 0-70km/h 2.92 0-80km/h 3.33 0-90km/h 3.77 0-100km/h 4.27 0-110km/h 4.84 0-120km/h 5.45 0-130km/h 6.11 0-140km/h 6.81 0-150km/h 7.58 0-160km/h 8.40 0-170km/h 9.37 0-180km/h 10.40 0-190km/h 11.52 0-400m 12.20sec @ 195.68km/h 80-120km/h 2.2sec 100-0km/h 34.6m
SPEED IN GEARS 73km/h @ 7200rpm 112km/h @ 7200rpm 167km/h @ 7200rpm 235km/h @ 7200rpm 290km/h @ 6500rpm* 290km/h @ 5320rpm* 290km/h @ 4740rpm* N/A tt Newman. *Manufacturerís claim
BMW takes the honours BMW takes the DESPITE lacking the outright grunt and massive stoppers of its rivals, the M3 Competition shows BMW hasnít forgotten how to make a car quick around a racetrack. Its lighter weight and broader tyres the honours allowed the M3 to carry more speed through Wintonís tight corners and spot-on gearing launched it out of them cleanly while the Alfa and AMG were stuck in no manís land between second and third.
Competition upgrades have undoubtedly improved its on-limit predictability, but thereís still a lack of communication that leaves too many questions unanswered in the driverís head. Traction is quite strong once itís hooked up, but once rear grip is lost it can be difficult to regain and, crucially, itís not always clear which scenario youíre going to get.
The M3ís front-end is incredible, so much so that trail-braking will have you entering a corner sideways like a crazed Japanese drifter, but the steering doesnít feel to respond in a linear fashion and the variablerate rack makes judging the required amount of lock for slow corners a challenge. On the road the BMWís accuracy and aversion to understeer means it gets away with it, but the lack of feedback robs confidence.
When it comes to robbing confidence, however, nothing approaches the bizarre on-limit feel of the Giulia QVís brakes. In the words of Luffy: ďIn any of the big stops when you first get on it youíre almost looking for an escape route [as] you think youíre going to fire it off the track.Ē Any large brake input is initially met with total indifference; the pedal remains firm but the car doesnít feel to slow down whatsoever only to shed speed at an incredible rate in the second half of the stop.
It must be said the data doesnít support this feeling, showing a relatively linear deceleration trace, but thatís of little consolation when youíre approaching Wintonís turn one at 200km/h. The culprit appears to be the Giuliaís brake-by-wire system, which eliminates the need for a physical connection between pedals and calipers and saves four kilograms, but it seems thereís still a few bugs in the system. In addition to their on-limit issues, the brakes also need a hefty push at low speed to bring the car to a complete halt.
Also in need of further refinement is the steering, relati con bra p iss 11 12 which feels unnaturally light and overly responsive off-centre, though it improves with acclimatisation.
These chinks in the Alfaís armour are frustrating as thereís so much about it that is brilliant. Its greatest asset is the friendliness of its chassis. If driving at the limit is a tightrope in the M3 and a country road in the C63, in the Giulia itís a four-lane highway. Despite its huge power, sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres and the fact Race mode virtually eliminates the ESP, the Alfa can immediately be driven hard with utter confidence.
It still requires respect, as the short gearing means itíll happily power oversteer in third gear, but it couldnít telegraph its intentions more clearly if it was holding a giant neon sign. The Giulia QV development bosses were also responsible for the Ferrari 458 Speciale and the Alfa shares that carís propensity to make the driver feel like a hero. With focused rubber, massive carbon brakes and mega grunt the Giulia arguably should have been faster than the M3, but in terms of challenge versus reward thereís no comparison.
If anything, the Giulia is even more impressive on the road. Itís quiet, both in terms of road and engine noise, the eight-speed ZF auto is impeccably behaved and the primary ride is so good in its regular damper modes that you almost forget youíre driving a potent sports sedan. It offers a stern lesson to the Germans that sharp handling and a supple ride arenít mutually exclusive, breathing with the road where the C63 in particular wants to beat it into submission.
The Alfa brings the C63ís ride and refinement shortcomings to light. Even in comfort mode the C63 feels like a sleeping tiger, always ready to attack, whereas the Giulia is more of a house cat on steroids.
As weíve said before, given the performance on offer the C63ís stiff-legged ride is tolerable, but it never approaches comfortable. Thereís also substantial road noise and the low-speed gearbox stumbles are unbecoming of a $160,000 luxury car. The M3 suffers similar issues, its firm ride acceptable given its focus
but its gearboxís occasional propensity to have you kangaroo-ing down the road is less so.
Itís not often the quickest and cheapest car in a MOTOR comparison comes last, but while the M3 Competition is a potent animal, its ultimate performance is still too difficult to extract for anyone other than a professional racing driver for it to challenge the top spot. Itís a thrilling challenge, but too often driving it quickly feels like survival rather than enjoyment. The caveat to this is that the recently announced $129,900 M3 Pure may have won this comparison simply by virtue of being the performance bargain of the century.
As it is, however, itís a straight fight between the established star (C63) and the new kid on the block (Giulia) and, frustratingly, itís impossible to split them. Following weeks of deliberation and dozens of changes of heart, the only fair conclusion is that the Alfa and AMG have such divergent strengths and weaknesses that itís going to be the personal preferences of the individual buyer that decides a winner.
The C63 needs a softer suspension mode, smoother gearbox and wider rubber, yet it only takes one fullthrottle hit of that 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 for you to forgive all its ills. Its noise and power are constant reminders of where your money went and give it a character the Giulia QV canít match.
Conversely, the Alfa is in many ways the new benchmark sports sedan, capable of providing undemanding everyday transport yet incredible, easily accessible driving thrills. However, its engine isnít as special as the AMGís and while its control inconsistencies, particularly the brakes, only show up in specific circumstances, that theyíre there at all is tough to forgive. Power vs finesse, take your pick. M
Turbo sixes versus V8
BODY DRIVE ENGINE BORE/STROKE COMPRESSION POWER TORQUE POWER/WEIGHT TRANSMISSION WEIGHT SUSPENSION (F) SUSPENSION (R) L/W/H WHEELBASE TRACKS STEERING BRAKES (F) BRAKES (R) WHEELS TYRE SIZES TYRES PRICE AS TESTED PROS CONS STAR RATING 4-door, 5-seat sedan rear-wheel 2979cc inline-6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo 84.0 x 89.6mm 10.2:1 331kW @ 7000rpm 550Nm @ 1850-5500rpm 218kW/tonne 7-speed dual-clutch 1560kg struts, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar 4671/1877/1431mm 2812mm 1579/1604mm electrically assisted rack-and-pinion 380mm ventilated/drilled discs; 4-piston calipers 370mm ventilated/drilled discs; 2-piston calipers 20.0 x 9.0-inch (f); 20.0 x 10.0-inch (r) 265/30 ZR20 (f); 285/30 ZR20 (r) Michelin Pilot Super Sport $144,900 $146,837 Agility; pace; value; looks Firm ride; lacks communication 11112 4-door, 5-seat sedan rear-wheel 3982cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo 83.0 x 92.0mm 10.5:1 375kW @ 5500-6250rpm 700Nm @ 1750-4500rpm 227kW/tonne 7-speed wet-clutch automatic 1655kg multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar 4756/1839/1426mm 2840mm 1609/1546mm electrically assisted rack-and-pinion 402mm ventilated/drilled carbonceramic discs; 6-piston calipers 360mm ventilated/drilled discs; 4-piston calipers 19.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 19.0 x 9.5-inch (r) 245/35 ZR19 (f); 265/35 ZR19 (r) Michelin Pilot Super Sport $155,615 $165,515 Monster engine; great steering; brakes Ride; refinement; gearbox stumbles 11112 4-door, 5-seat sedan rear-wheel 2891cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo 86.5 x 82.0mm 9.3:1 375kW @ 6500rpm 600Nm @ 2500rpm 231kW/tonne 8-speed automatic 1597kg (as tested) double A-arms, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar 4639/1873/1426mm 2820mm 1555/1607mm electrically assisted rack-and-pinion 390mm ventilated/drilled carbonceramic discs; 6-piston calipers 360mm ventilated/drilled carbonceramic discs; 4-piston calipers 19 x 8.5-inch (f); 19 x 10.0-inch (r) 245/35 ZR19 (f); 285/30 ZR19 (r) Pirelli P Zero Corsa $143,900 $167,300 Great ride; friendly chassis Brake and steering feel 11112