Giulia QV takes on C63 S and M3 Comp in an epic track bat­tle

Alfa Romeo is back in the per­for­mance car game and

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

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

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