Alfa Romeo Giulia Estrema

Quadrifogl­io looks and handling without the running costs? The repackaged Giulia Veloce Ti looks promising…


ON THE FACE OF IT, A GIULIA VELOCE upgraded with the chassis and looks of the Giulia Quadrifogl­io sounds like an excellent idea. Alfa Romeo in the UK certainly needs something appealing to help prop up its dismal sales figures (just 1574 cars last year), and the combinatio­n of the Quadrifogl­io’s wonderful dynamics with a powertrain that’s much cheaper to buy – and then run – could expose the model’s sparkling qualities to a much broader audience.

Step forward the Giulia Estrema, the first ‘global special series’ Alfa Romeo, which at first acquaintan­ce appears to be exactly the above; a halfway house between Veloce and the big Q. How exciting! Alas, it transpires that the reality is rather different…

In fact it takes quite a while to drill down into what exactly the Estrema is, but following some persistent questionin­g the picture starts to become clear. At some point during the pandemic, Alfa Romeo UK stopped offering the 276bhp Giulia Veloce with the option of adaptive damping, and it’s the Estrema that now offers that. In addition, it appears that certain markets hitherto didn’t get the top-spec Veloce models that we were receiving in the UK, hence the Italians’ emphasis on the ‘global’ bit of their press presentati­on.

Yes, the Estrema does have a limited-slip differenti­al, but it’s the same mechanical one that’s been on the Veloce since 2017, not the electronic item from the Quad, and just as with the Veloce, the DNA driver mode configurat­or has no ‘Race’ mode and does not allow you to switch off the ESP system, which, as we’ve said in the past, undoes much of the potential for fun that might otherwise have been possible.

As for the Estrema offering the look of the Quadrifogl­io, well, there’s been a Ti pack for the Veloce in the UK for quite a while, along with the option of a carbon pack that… guess what, makes it look like a Giulia Quadrifogl­io. You can probably see where this is all going now.

Once the above becomes clear, the challenge of writing this first drive with the requisite number of words becomes a quite alarming prospect. Further, it’s not helped by Alfa supplying four-wheel-drive versions for the launch drive, which is located around the Alfa F1 (Sauber) factory in Switzerlan­d: these are models we don’t actually receive in the UK. Some things never change…

Let’s be clear, though; the Estrema looks pretty fabulous in its metallic black and carbon war paint. It’s a curvaceous, handsome car, albeit sadly of the type that the current generation of car-buying public seems almost completely oblivious to. You probably know the drill by now with the Giulia: a looker on the outside, less so on the inside, although the recent update did

improve the infotainme­nt and ambience. It’s far from poor, just without quite the feeling of solidity that – you guessed it – some of the ubiquitous German marques can manage. That’s a cliché that is nothing like as true as it once was, but having run a Quadrifogl­io and then a BMW M3 Competitio­n back-to-back for six months each in the evo Fast Fleet, I can only report that the Alfa did not wear as well during our time with the cars.

But it’s the drive with an Alfa, right? That’s the part it excels at, and that we should be interested in, not shut lines and the quality of the plastics. And the Giulia is still a car that impresses, five years on from its debut, with steering that’s fast and light but pleasingly natural in its responses, and a chassis that doesn’t make the assumption that being overly firm automatica­lly equates to sporting prowess. The Giulia’s softer spring rates do wonders for its ride comfort, but also endow it with a brilliant way of effectivel­y covering challengin­g roads very quickly.

Less impressive is the powertrain. It’s been a while, I confess, since I drove a Veloce, and the model has been through the usual addition of a GPF and ECU calibratio­n changes, plus this one is a little heavier for having a driven front axle, but the 2-litre turbo petrol ‘four’ has the delivery of a turbodiese­l and sounds very strained at higher revs. There’s a useful slug of torque for a brief period in the mid range, but it’s far from being a sporting powerplant, with mushy throttle response and zero personalit­y. The engine was always the weak point in the Veloce offering, but now it’s a potential deal breaker, and the shifts from the eight-speed auto are lazy too, perhaps to protect the emissions rating.

Overall, elements of the Giulia Estrema are very impressive, and in so many ways it’s still a highly desirable car, but it also feels like a metaphor for Alfa’s current malaise. We’ve been advocates of the brilliant Quadrifogl­io models from day one and remain so, but a lack of new product and renaming existing and ageing ones is not going to increase sales any time soon, even while signing cheques for a Swiss F1 team. Maybe the imminent Tonale SUV will bring a much-needed boost. Alfa fans will dearly be hoping so.

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 ?? ?? Above: standard-fit 19in telephone-dial wheels look fab; dashes of carbonfibr­e trim and half-leather, halfalcant­ara seats add to the sporting ambience
Above: standard-fit 19in telephone-dial wheels look fab; dashes of carbonfibr­e trim and half-leather, halfalcant­ara seats add to the sporting ambience
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