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Top Gear (UK) - - DRIVES - OL­LIE MAR­RIAGE

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...

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