Alfa’s sec­ond com­ing – Have we done this be­fore?

Kapiti Observer - - MOTORING -

Ital­ian brand is re­born . . . again. We hit the road in the Gi­u­lia Ve­loce and Quadri­foglio. David Lin­klater re­ports.

It’s tempt­ing to say that the Gi­u­lia is Alfa’s sec­ond com­ing: the car that fi­nally takes it out of the dol­drums and side­ways down an ex­cit­ing road ahead.

Af­ter all, it’s the first reardrive Alfa sedan for 30 years. It’s also on a plat­form that will pro­vide the base for a bunch of fu­ture mod­els, in­clud­ing next year’s Stelvio SUV.

But it might be more ac­cu­rate to say the Gi­u­lia is Alfa’s umpteenth com­ing. How many times have we been here be­fore? When it launched the GTV coupe and Spider in 1993 for ex­am­ple, they were pro­claimed as the maker’s re­turn to sport­ing form. But they didn’t quite fire.

Same goes for the 156 sedan in 1997 and then the 147 in 2000. And then the 159 in 2005 and the Br­era in 2006.

Then Alfa Romeo went down a very main­stream track with the MiTo (2008) and Gi­uli­etta (2010) hatch­backs. Then things went very, very quiet.

Any­way, point is: it’d be a very brave per­son to claim that Alfa Romeo is back (in­sert ex­cla­ma­tion mark if you like) with the Gi­u­lia.

But it’d also be a very hon­est per­son to say the Gi­u­lia is a fan­tas­tic new car, in a seg­ment that’s ar­guably get­ting a bit samea­gain.

We’ve just spent a day driv­ing both new Gi­u­lia mod­els: the $79,990 Ve­loce and $134,990 Quadri­foglio.

Most only have eyes for the Quadri­foglio, and that’s as it should be. Pri­or­ity was given to the flag­ship model dur­ing de­vel­op­ment, Alfa rightly rea­son­ing that the best way to be cool again was to beat the Ger­man es­tab­lish­ment at its own game.

The Quadri­foglio is Alfa’s an­swer to theBMWM3 and Mercedes-AMG C 63 S. It boasts a 375kW/600Nm 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 en­gine and eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion that pro­pel it to 100kmh in a stag­ger­ing 3.9 sec­onds.

There are light­weight ma­te­ri­als ev­ery­where: alu­minium for the front guards, doors and sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, and car­bon fi­bre for the bon­net, roof, spoil­ers and drive­shaft.

There are also gub­bins ga­lore, in­clud­ing an ac­tive front split­ter and some­thing called Chas­sis Do­main Con­trol that en­sures the sta­bil­ity con­trol, adap­tive sus­pen­sion, brake-by-wire sys­tem and torque vec­tor­ing are all work­ing to­gether.

And . . . who cares? The most im­pres­sive thing about the Quadri­foglio is that none of these tech­nolo­gies re­ally make their pres­ence felt when you’re press­ing on.

Sure, they’re all work­ing hard to keep you out of that hedge, but from be­hind the wheel this Q-car just feels like it’s danc­ing in tune with the rhythm of the road. You get the ben­e­fit of that new-tech, but it feels ex­cit­ingly old-school.

You don’t get the bel­low­ing ex­haust of anAMG(al­though there is a wicked crackle) or the pre­cise cor­ner­ing feel of aBMW M-car, but the Quadri­foglio is faster than ei­ther (not to men­tion at least $24k cheaper) and in terms of a driver’s ma­chine it’s ev­ery bit as re­ward­ing.

The steer­ing has just two turns lock-to-lock, but it doesn’t feel ner­vous. The elec­tron­ics don’t over­whelm the chas­sis’ abil­ity to re­mind you which end is do­ing the driv­ing. It’s so, so much fun.

The qual­i­fi­ca­tion for all this en­thu­si­asm is that it was a typ­i­cally wet Auck­land win­ter day for our drive and we tra­versed some slip­pery coun­try roads. Not the ideal en­vi­ron­ment for a su­per-sedan – and yet it’s a mea­sure of con­fi­dence in the car that you could still ex­plore its con­sid­er­able abil­i­ties in such con­di­tions.

The Quadri­foglio has Alfa’s fa­mil­iar DNA drive-mode se­lec­tor, with a cou­ple of ex­tras. In the A-for-ad­vanced ef­fi­ciency mode, it can shut down three cylin­ders to im­prove econ­omy (Com­bined 8.2 litres per 100km). Didn’t try that.

It also has a Race mode, which we didn’t try ei­ther in such slip­pery con­di­tions. But yes, it’s scream­ing out for a track day. Note the $12k ce­ramic brake and $7k Sparco car­bon-fi­bre rac­ing seat op­tions.

That day will come for us, prom­ises Fiat Chrysler NZ. It’s in writ­ing now (see pre­vi­ous sen­tence), so they have to.

What of the Ve­loce then? It’s a very dif­fer­ent car and much a slower one . . . al­though not slow per se. Its 206kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo still gets it to 100kmh in 5.7 sec­onds (Com­bined econ­omy 6.1 litres). It’s the en­try-level car for NZ but a mid-range one glob­ally, so you still get the four-pot en­gine in its high­est state of tune, a body kit – al­though not the Quadri­foglio kit – and lots of lux­ury ex­tras.

It’s a very ac­com­plished and fluid car on the road, but don’t come ex­pect­ing a miniQuadro­foglio. That’s not the idea of the Ve­loce, which is as much about lux­ury as sport­ing flavour.

That high­lights the main reser­va­tion about Gi­u­lia: the in­te­rior is neat and nicely laid­out, but it’s a lit­tle down­beat in the Ve­loce, which misses out on a lot of of the sporty de­tail­ing of the Quadri­foglio. Al­though some bis­cuit-coloured leather in one ex­am­ple we drove did lift the am­bi­ence.

Both cars have a suite of ac­tive safety sys­tems, in­clud­ing For­ward Col­li­sion Warn­ing, au­ton­o­mous brak­ing (with pedes­trian recog­ni­tion), ac­tive cruise con­trol, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, blind-spot warn­ing and rear cross-traf­fic alert.

So Gi­u­lia is bang up to date, but don’t ex­pect pseu­doau­to­mated tech­nol­ogy like steer­ing as­sis­tance. Alfa Romeo isn’t ready for that yet.

In the red cor­ner... oh, never mind. Cheaper, less fran­tic Ve­loce (left) still looks the part next to su­per-fast Quadri­foglio.

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