Alfa Romeo Giulia QV £61,300 BMW M4 Competition £60,965 WE SAY: IT’S THE ALFA vs BMW BATTLE WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR. PLEASE SEND TYRES...
Abattle royale, a slug fest, a proper ding-dong. Call it what you like, this is the face-of we’ve been waiting for: Alfa Romeo Giulia QV versus BMW M4. Not an M3 unfortunately; the four-door would have sat better with us both visually and psychologically, we simply couldn’t get hold of one at the same time as the Giulia. But as any M3/M4 afcionado knows, BMW set the two cars up to drive identically, so while the suspension settings do difer fractionally, it’s only to take account of the M3’s extra 20kg.
This M4 is a Competition Pack, to try to narrow the gap in power and price to the more potent, pricier Giulia. Let’s focus frst on the M4 – the Giulia has had so much coverage lately you’re probably fairly familiar with it. The Competition Pack is a £3,000 option that uses the same 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six, but now produces 444bhp instead of 425bhp. Torque remains at a prodigious 405lb ft, available at just 1,850rpm.
The springs, dampers and anti-roll bars are all new both front and rear, the adaptive suspension’s driving modes have been reconfgured and the rear diferential settings have been changed to improve traction and reduce the fear factor when exiting corners.
Outside there’s black: black badge, black exhaust tips, black grille, plus 20-inch wheels. But not on this car. The ride on the 20s is frm to the point of harshness, so this one is equipped with 19s. That’s sensible speccing. All told, the front-engined, rear-drive, twin-clutched M4 weighs in at £60,965 and 1,572kg.
The cash in your wallet sorts out the price diference between this and the £61,300 Giulia Quadrifoglio. Separated by only £335 they might be, but the Italian still has healthy 59bhp and 37lb ft advantages and is some 48kg lighter. The chassis is aluminium and steel, there’s
double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, and the torque is divvied up by a vectoring dif able to send 100 per cent of thrust to either wheel.
Ahead of the carbon prop shaft sits ZF’s 8spd auto (some markets ofer a 6spd manual, but it’s no great shakes) and shoving the whole thing along is the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 “inspired by Ferrari expertise and technologies” that just happens to share bore and stroke measurements with the eight-cylinder Ferrari California T motor.
We’ll start inside, because one thing serves to characterise each car – the steering wheel. The BMW’s is fat: thickrimmed and squidgy; the Alfa’s frmer, more slender. Now it’s possible that personal preference plays a role here, but if you like the BMW’s better, you’re wrong. The M4’s makes the car feel clumsy and hard to get hold of, while the Alfa’s implies delicacy.
Both have good driving positions – seats that can be tilted to cup your thighs and steering wheels that pull a long way out. The full touring car. The Giulia is more simply laid out inside – Alfa hasn’t tried to pack too much functionality into the infotainment or too much data into the dash. So revs and speed are easy to read and you can fnd your way between destinations and radio stations without faf. Until you want to zoom in to the map. Then things get trickier.
The BMW is better organised in terms of information hierarchy and accessing it, but the area where it really pulls out a lead is, inevitably, build and material quality. It feels like you’d hope a £60k car would. The Alfa doesn’t. You can overlook most of the Alfa’s trim and plastic issues because they’re not too intrusive, but the gearlever and central screen control wheel really deserve to be better. They look fne, but the actions of both are cheap and there’s play in them which shouldn’t be there.
I’m going to ignore practicality. You can get people in the back and luggage in the boot. Enough for four of you to go away for a weekend, but there’s not much dignity involved with posting yourself into or out of the M4’s back seats, so have the M3 if that’s your thing. Personally I think the 4dr BMW looks better, too. Bigger arch blisters…
So, the driving. The Alfa feels notably faster. I know the fgures suggest it should (330bhp/tonne plays 282), but BMW has always provided extremely healthy horsepower and I hadn’t expected to be able to detect much of a diference in the way these motors picked up and went.
But you really, really can. The BMW is so muscular low down, drips torque and
“The Alfa wouldn’t go above 6,800rpm, but it’s already dispatched the BMW”
delivers it with a deep, rorty note. But it never builds enough from there. It’s just colossally fast wherever you go in the rev range. Although the engine note varies a little, there’s not enough of an improvement in noise or acceleration to make it necessary to venture beyond 5,500rpm.
I kept on being disappointed the Alfa wouldn’t go beyond 6,800rpm. It would be nice if it revved a bit higher, but, to be fair, it’s already dispatched the BMW in a straight line. It needs more revs to really wake up, but once past 3,000rpm it forces itself down the road harder than the M4. The BMW cannot match the Alfa’s topend surge, which feels more vibrant and hedonistic, nor is the exhaust note as zingy. I know the fgures say that the Alfa is only a tenth faster to 62mph (3.9secs plays 4.0), but don’t forget the BMW is assisted by a quicker-shifting twin clutch, where the Alfa ‘makes do’ with a regular automatic.
You might think this gives the BMW’s ’box the edge, but no. I’ve said this before, but I think BMW was so nervous about the shift to turbocharging with the current M3/ M4, that it deliberately made it a bit savage in other areas – traction specifcally, but also gearbox response. Up the shift speed (which you can in the confgurable settings) and an uncomfortable surge accompanies each shift. The Alfa’s ZF auto makes a far better fst of being a sports transmission than you’d credit. It’s best when you pull the paddles yourself, but that’s no bother because they’re a tactile delight.
But we have an issue. In the BMW you have control over all the settings for engine, suspension, steering and ’box, whereas in the Alfa there’s the DNA mode dial – you twist (Advanced Efciency, Normal, Dynamic, Race) and the car confgures itself to suit. But the sport exhaust is only activated in Race, and in Race the traction control is turned of. As in disabled. Hmm.
You see, you want the sports exhaust always, as it sounds great, but when it’s on, the safety net is of. This is daft. Because 442lb ft of torque will easily overcome nearslick Pirelli P Zero Corsas. Imagine what’s going to happen when owners attempt to depart a Cars and Cofee morning…
The Competition Pack makes the M4 a much more cohesive car. It brings more feel and control to the back axle so you can manage it better out of corners. In isolation it’s terrifc – grippy and well balanced, it’s got great turn-in grip, there’s little roll, it delivers plentiful speed and as we’ve found in the past, it’s a sharper-handling, more satisfying car than a Merc-AMG C63.
But alongside the Alfa it feels rather blunt and inert. The Alfa is not only a tremendously magnanimous car to drive, but its sharper, much faster steering rack (2.2 turns between locks) lends it a sense of energy and response that’s missing from the BMW. That could easily make the Alfa feel edgy, but the genius of this car’s set-up is that it never feels less than stable, so although sharp, it’s also more friendly at the limit than the BMW.
Through medium- and long-radius corners, it’s nothing short of glorious: the tyres take up an edge and it’s all tippy-toey. You feel it moving around, it’s adjustable and controllable. Yeah, it has a little more roll and that ought to make it feel lazier on turn-in, but the super-fast steering overrules that.
The springs are detectably softer to the beneft of the ride and although the road roar from the semi-slick rubber means it’s no quieter or more comfy on long journeys than the BMW, around town it’s calmer. It also has a terrifc turning circle. All the systems: steering, back axle, diferential, chassis, engine power delivery feel better integrated and amalgamated. It’s a purer, simpler and more satisfying car to drive.
On track, the more tautly suspended BMW does stage a slight fghtback, but it still never fows as happily as the Alfa, isn’t as playful and generous in a tight spot. Is there any dynamic area where the BMW has the edge? Well, it has the more positive brakes (both had ceramics) and they’re frmer underfoot from the word go, while the Alfa’s need some heat in them before they start working properly.
I ran an M3 for a year and quickly grew to adore it – in fact, I think it’s one of the best cars I’ve ever run, but given a straight choice now, I’d have the Giulia QV. Yes, a part of me would (let’s hope groundlessly) be concerned about mechanical reliability and electrical functionality – there is a hint of frailty to it – but I’d totally take a punt on this Alfa Romeo. Fundamentally this is a better sports saloon than the BMW M4. More hedonistic, more exciting, more rewarding, faster, better balanced, brighter. Fully deserving of all the praise heaped on it, in other words.
“Although the Alfa is sharp, it’s also more friendly at the limit than the BMW”
01 Simple, fuss-free layout for heating controls is reflected in other places: Giulia is easy to get on with 02 The steering wheel might be made of several different materials, but it’s a delight to hold... 03 ...and those paddles are super-tactile
04 Compartment lid doesn’t fit very well 05 Sparco carbon seats are £2,950. They’re lovely, but there’s not much wrong with the standard chairs Black and gold versus red. It’s like Seventies F1 racing all over again
The alloys. Just look at them. No better way to spend £350...