Giulia QV takes on C63 S and M3 Comp in an epic track battle
Alfa Romeo is back in the performance car game and
FOR THE past decade, if you wanted a fast, premium, rear-drive sedan, you looked to Germany. There’s 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, there’s a third option from an unlikely Italian source, the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV. For a brand with Alfa’s 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 €5billion to develop and will spawn all manner of vehicles across the Fiat-Chrysler group, but if the Giulia isn’t up to task – particularly in bells-and-whistles QV guise – then the revival may be over before it’s begun.
On paper there’s 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 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 it’s 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 isn’t 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 C63’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 matches the Alfa’s 375kW, but adds another 100Nm. Like the Giulia, it’s sent rearwards to an electronically controlled limited-slip
diff, but here through AMG’s 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. It’s 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 BMW’s $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 M3’s 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 it’s also the best, the mechanical muscles bulging through the bodyshell like it’s been on the Atkins diet.
There’s nothing wrong with its fitness, either. Though the M3 is the lightest car here, there’s a suspicion that Munich’s 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 we’ve 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 dualclutch’s 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 you’ll 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 Alfa’s 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; it’s undramatic, but fast. The 0-100km/h sprint is over in 4.09sec and the Alfa’s lead stretches slightly over 400m clocking 12.05sec at 194.21km/h, its superior grunt and shorter gearing also shaving
D0.1sec from the M3’s 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 won’t 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. What’s 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) – no wonder it has trouble putting its power down.
It’s this immense grunt that dominates the driving experience. There’s an excellent chassis underpinning the C63, with well-weighted, accurate steering and strong lateral grip at both ends, but whether on road or track you’re constantly aware of the need to manage the most torque through the narrowest rear rubber. With heat in the tyres – especially vital if you’ve specced the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s – and patient throttle applications, traction is actually very strong. Over drive and you’ll be left wrestling armfuls of opposite lock on corner exit.
Luffy felt the C63 easiest to drive on the limit – through Winton’s fast sweeper, for instance, it settles into gentle understeer and lifting the throttle holds no nasty surprises – but in Race mode the ultra-stiff damping can make the transition to oversteer very abrupt – there’s 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 C63’s 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 you’re planning track work as they’re 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 BMW’s racetrack performance proves their worth. As Luffy explains: “Probably [the M3’s] biggest weakness is its brakes; after two laps the pedal is all the way to the floor.” 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 you’re planning even semiregular racetrack use, carbon-ceramics are a must.
Despite the lack of stopping stamina, the M3’s outright performance is stunning, its best lap time a second clear of its rivals’. Its lack of mass clearly pays dividends on track, with higher apex and exit speeds through Winton’s 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
Alfa interior doesn’t possess quite the same feeling of quality as the Germans, but it looks good and is relatively intuitive to use. Driving position is spot-on, too
Aussie AMGs come loaded with equipment, including flash sports seats. The only option ticked on our test car was the $9900 carbonceramic front brakes