WAR OF THE WORLDS

Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia Quadri­foglio • Jaguar I-pace EV400 Tesla Model 3 Per­for­mance

Motor Trend - - Contents - Words Kim Reynolds

“Randy’s just gone off Turn 2,” the walkie-talkie barks. I look up from my lap­top. What hap­pened? Our Jaguar I-pace is most def­i­nitely in the wrong place and has come to a stop amid drift­ing dust.

Today is just get­ting weirder and weirder—randy Franklin Pobst never goes off a race­track. For all the tire marks that spaghetti away from the Streets of Wil­low’s rac­ing line and loop­ily dis­ap­pear at its bro­ken edges, they’re never the graf­fiti of our res­i­dent cham­pi­onship rac­ing driver. Randy is a model of con­sis­tency.

A walkie-talkie hisses for a mo­ment, and then … “The Jag sud­denly put on its emer­gency brakes and sent me off the track.” Wait, what? The Mo­tor Trend test­ing staffers eye­ball each other. For the past two hours, Randy had been chas­ing soft­ware curve­balls. Even through the metal­lic fidelity of our Mo­toro­las, the terse­ness in his voice says he’s get­ting a lit­tle weary of it.

“At least it wasn’t just us,” mut­ters a Tesla-hat­ted voice be­hind me. Ear­lier, the Tesla Model 3 Per­for­mance with Track mode didn’t ex­actly stop as planned ap­proach­ing Turn 10, go­ing straight off at 90 mph, then bounc­ing through the bumpy desert ter­rain and sage­brush be­fore re-en­ter­ing the front straight and rolling into the pits, with a blown left rear tire cour­tesy of its off-road ex­cur­sion.

We ex­pected some sur­prises today. Bring­ing to­gether two

track­able bat­tery-elec­tric ve­hi­cles to chal­lenge the best clas­si­cal in­ter­nal com­bus­tion sport sedan in the world right now—the Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia Quadri­foglio—would be the be­gin­ning of a bat­tle for the ages. Who knew it would also wind up a bat­tle in the sages?

Let’s rewind the clouds of dust to ear­lier this morn­ing.

It’s 8 a.m. in the Cal­i­for­nia high desert, and al­ready the sun has our as­phalt stage brightly lit. To our left is “Big Wil­low” with its white-knuckle turns and vil­lage of back­stage garages and pad­docks needed for Wil­low Springs In­ter­na­tional Race­way’s block­buster, high-speed pro­duc­tions. This, though, is “Streets,” its more in­ti­mate sec­ond stage. A more tech­ni­cal set­ting for our trio of per­form­ers.

Amid the hiss of tire pres­sures be­ing ad­justed by co-eval­u­a­tors Alan Lau and Derek Pow­ell—and the rat­tle-gr­rrrrrrrr of photo czar Brian Vance’s in­ces­sant cof­fee bean grind­ing—i’m star­ing at the cars and un­able to piece to­gether a good ar­gu­ment for why the Alfa beats the Tesla around the track or the other way around.

It’s easy to pen­cil out why the Jag is go­ing to lag be­hind: Com­pared to the Alfa, its mo­tors’ com­bined 394 horse­power falls 22 per­cent shy of the Gi­u­lia’s out­put, while its 4,946-pound mass ren­ders it 31 per­cent porkier. Those Sema-ready 255/40R22 Pirelli P Zeros the Jag is wear­ing won’t erase the high­heeled physics of its cross­over height. The Jag seems a pre­or­dained but not dis­hon­or­able third place around Streets. But the tea leaves from our real-world test­ing of the Gi­u­lia and Model 3 point in con­tra­dic­tory di­rec­tions.

Leaf One tilts to­ward Tesla: The 505-hp Alfa’s 0–60 time is 3.8 sec­onds; the 450-hp Model 3 clocks at 3.3—its dual­mo­tor AWD launches it like a rail gun. Leaf Two, to Alfa: The Gi­u­lia clings to cor­ners like sweaty un­der­wear, pulling a 0.98 g skid­pad com­pared to the Model 3’s 0.95. Leaf Three, pick ’em: The Tesla stops shorter—but frac­tion­ally so. Leaf Four, mox nix: Their fig­ure-eight lap times are iden­ti­cal at 24.2 sec­onds. Time to ditch the tea and grab some of Vance’s cof­fee.

The cars are prepped, and Randy is good to go. The Model 3’s cool­ing sys­tem is scream­ing as it pre-chills the bat­tery and dual mo­tors. Belted in, at­tired in his black hel­met, black rac­ing suit, and ever­bright mood, Randy asks the Tesla en­gi­neer lean­ing into the cock­pit, “What do I do to set the han­dling?” The guy taps the do-every­thing cen­ter screen’s icon with the words “Track Mode.” That’s it. Randy raises his eye­brows. The guy climbs out; I lean in to check that our Vboxes are pow­ered up and SD cards clicked in, then give the pas­sen­ger door a good slam.

The Model 3 whirs away. A minute later it reap­pears, slalom­ing past the apexes of the last four cor­ners of Streets. Its tail is drift­ing dra­mat­i­cally, left, right, left, then it pitchy-hops mid­way around the last “skid­pad” cor­ner and tail-wags onto the straight. Ev­ery­body is watch­ing—no­body has ever seen a Tesla han­dle like this.

Five min­utes later, Randy climbs out, I grab the data cards, and An­gus Macken­zie starts ready­ing to try it him­self.

The fastest EV ever at Streets was the Randy-driven Mit­subishi MIEV at a 1:10.90 … no, not the goofy Google-car you’re pic­tur­ing but a sleek slicks-and­wings, Pikes Peak rac­ing car we tested in 2014. The Model 3’s time ap­pears on my screen—1:23.90. A pro­duc­tion-car EV record. A blink quicker (0.07 sec­ond) than the Mus­tang GT Per­for­mance Pack 2. Process that. The Mus­tang GT PP2.

How­ever, Randy needs to chime in: “It’s very easy to get un­der­steer, the car’s han­dling is some­times in­con­sis­tent, and there’s some­thing weird hap­pen­ing when I lift off the brake.”

What Randy is feel­ing is a lin­ger­ing de­cel­er­a­tion af­ter he re­leases the brake (be­fore he’s moved his foot to the ac­cel­er­a­tor)—it’s the un­de­pressed ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal’s heavy re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing set­ting that’s con­fus­ing him dur­ing the tran­si­tion. Com­pared to the car’s nor­mal “heavy” rate of 0.2 g (match­ing that of the Jag), Track mode ap­plies a more no­tice­able 0.3 g’s.

An­gus rolls in from his hot laps: “It turns in quickly, es­pe­cially with throt­tle lift, but there’s not a ton of feel from the front end. Get to the power too early, and the han­dling just de­volves into mas­sive

un­der­steer. The good news is a big lift off the ac­cel­er­a­tor will get the car to ro­tate. Roll on the power, and the Model 3 nicely drifts out of the cor­ner. There’s never any sense it’s go­ing to spin. Drive it like a rally car, and it’s fun. But for a tra­di­tional race driver, where smooth is fast, I can imag­ine it all feels a lit­tle dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing.”

The tall Jaguar goes out next and re­turns seven min­utes’ worth of laps later. I pop out the SD cards from the Vboxes and open the file—a 1:27.00. No MIEV, but not bad for a 5,000-pound, five-pas­sen­ger cross­over that’s quicker than the Golf R and WRX STI. Geez.

“There’s a lot of un­der­steer, and the brakes could be in­con­sis­tent,” Randy notes. Those two words—in­con­sis­tent and un­pre­dictable—keep com­ing up dur­ing his Jaguar down­load.

Fi­nally, it’s the big-dog Alfa’s mo­ment to break the EV si­lence. We hear the Gi­u­lia’s bark and bari­tone as Randy warms the tires. Judg­ment time. Which will win? Twenty-one thousand ga­so­line com­bus­tions per lap, or soft­ware code swarm­ing through sil­i­con chips? The Alfa moves dart­like through the same cor­ners the Tesla just drifted through.

Randy pulls in wear­ing a smile we haven’t seen yet today. Mr. Con­sis­tency just laid down a 1:22.78. That’s 1.12 sec­onds quicker than the Tesla. “It just does ex­actly what you ex­pect,” he says. “No sur­prises. Al­ways pre­dictable. Rear-wheel drive just gives me the con­trol that I want.”

Then some­body no­tices the Alfa’s Pirelli P Zero Corsa AR Asim­met­rico front tires. They’re asim­met­rico, all right: Half of each tread block’s rub­ber is gone af­ter two sets of three hard laps. The Tesla en­gi­neer points to his car’s Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 4Ss that are at worst scuffed. “We could do that time if we were will­ing to de­stroy our tires,” he says. The Tesla’s rub­ber con­tains com­plex com­pound­ing across its tread for min­i­mal rolling re­sis­tance but stick­i­ness for cor­ners (with foam glued into its in­te­rior to re­duce noise). The tech­ni­cal in­vest­ment in this tire—which can gen­er­ate 0.95 g’s of cor­ner­ing grip from a 4,078-pound car with­out sig­nif­i­cantly dam­ag­ing the rub­ber and still de­liver 310 miles on a charge—is re­mark­able.

Nev­er­the­less, the con­ver­sa­tion drifts to­ward imag­in­ing slid­ers on the Tesla

Park the Gi­u­lia next to the Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci be­side Robert Op­pen­heimer. The ul­ti­mate artist– en­gi­neer meets the cal­cu­lat­ing dis­rupter of worlds.

touch­screen to fine-tune Track mode or tap­ping the names of tires you bring along to have their per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics loaded. One idea I like: “Randy mode.” Lu­di­crous for the road rac­ing set.

Track Mode

Four years ago, I drove our long-term Tesla Model S P85+ to La­guna Seca for a sim­i­lar lap­ping day. When I ar­rived, I un­loaded 17 bags of ice from a 7-Eleven along Route 68, plus a dusty roll of bub­ble wrap I found at Home De­pot. We shoved the ice bags un­der the car un­til they were stacked up against the bat­tery, then I en­cir­cled the car with bub­ble wrap like a floor-length in­su­lat­ing skirt, taped it to the body­work, and waited for the car to charge. We had tried to lap the Tesla a few months be­fore, but it couldn’t get to the hilly track’s Turn 11 be­fore it self-lim­ited its power out­put, due to heat buildup. This time it would start re­frig­er­ated.

Ther­mo­dy­namic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion be damned, the Tesla power-lim­ited at just about the same spot any­way. And our photo of the wrapped car touched a nerve with Tesla. The “Tes­las can’t lap” rap has re­mained a thorny is­sue with Elon’s crew, so a month ago Tesla in­vited me up to Ma­rina Air­port af­ter Mon­terey Car Week to fi­nally sam­ple its so­lu­tion.

Rather than a vender-sourced patch­work of sta­bil­ity- and trac­tion­con­trol sys­tems, Track mode is a holis­tic so­lu­tion to en­thu­si­ast EV driv­ing. It be­gins with a uni­fied piece of clean­screen, Tesla-writ­ten soft­ware. Rather than look up ta­bles of ap­prox­i­mated data to pick a pre­re­corded re­sponse to steer­ing and chas­sis an­gle, the sys­tem sim­u­lates each tire’s avail­able grip in real time (it es­ti­mates the force on each con­tact patch from the car’s ac­cel­er­a­tion, brak­ing, or cor­ner­ing rate). The re­sult is a higher-res­o­lu­tion pic­ture of those patches, ex­ploitable by each axle’s pre­cisely con­trolled, fast-re­act­ing elec­tric mo­tors; lat­er­ally, it’s vec­tored by in­di­vid­ual brake dabs (the dif­fer­en­tials are open). Track mode’s agility is like a cat with espresso in its wa­ter bowl—but it’s also alert to ner­vous-look­ing in­puts and de­creases the chas­sis’ cor­ner­ing an­gles un­til they cease.

As to the heat prob­lem that lim­ited our early Model S lap­ping at La­guna, Tesla has a so­lu­tion. Be­fore the car heads out, set­ting Track mode tem­pers the over­heat­ing is­sue by launch­ing into a (loud) coolant-chill­ing frenzy of both the lowtem­per­a­ture bat­tery sys­tem and the high­tem­per­a­ture mo­tors. Un­like in the Mod­els S and X, both of the Model 3’s cool­ing cir­cuits can be merged, al­low­ing the hot­ter mo­tors to briefly use the gi­ant bat­tery as a heat sink. For how long? Maybe four or five con­tin­u­ous laps. Week­end war­rior Derek Pow­ell makes a face. “Track ses­sions are nor­mally 20 to 25 min­utes,” he says, “and there are four or five ses­sions per day.” I don’t think he’s im­pressed.

We’ve fig­ure-eighted the Model 3 Per­for­mance with and with­out Track mode. I did a 24.3-sec­ond lap sans as­sis­tance but a 24.2 with it. A teensy time dif­fer­ence, but to moi at the helm, the car’s cor­ner­ing at­ti­tude sud­denly be­came open to play­ful in­ter­pre­ta­tion—al­most to dis­trac­tion. As An­gus noted dur­ing our lap­ping at Streets, big, drifty an­gles are more about fun than fast.

Tech­nol­ogy

If there were a book sim­ply ti­tled The His­tory of the Sport Sedan, you’d find a dra­matic pic­ture of this ex­act blue Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia Quadri­foglio on its last page. The story line build­ing up to it would ping­pong be­tween Turin and Mu­nich, and with ev­ery turned page there’d be episodes of en­gi­neers find­ing new ways to pol­ish the sport sedan’s ingredients to a per­fect gloss. Like this car’s twin-turbo V-6 en­gine, eight­speed pad­dle-shift trans­mis­sion, mul­ti­link rear sus­pen­sion, and 505 horse­power laser­beamed to two rear tires.

Tesla nods, closes the book, and places it on the shelf with the rest of au­to­mo­tive his­tory. Park the Gi­u­lia next to the Model 3, and Leonardo da Vinci be­side Robert Op­pen­heimer. The ul­ti­mate artist-en­gi­neer meets the cal­cu­lat­ing dis­rupter of worlds.

The other day, I read Bob Lutz es­pouse that “Tesla has no tech ad­van­tage, no soft­ware ad­van­tage, no bat­tery ad­van­tage. No ad­van­tages what­so­ever.” With all due re­spect, Bob, that’s bull. As I sat in the plugged-in Model 3 at the Supercharger sta­tion in a Va­len­cia, Cal­i­for­nia, park­ing lot, I watched a num­ber grow on the car’s mul­ti­touch screen. That’s so cool. Just by plug­ging the charger in, the Supercharger net­work rec­og­nizes the car, charges your credit card, and dis­plays the cost while you’re sit­ting there. No credit card swipe needed. To­tally seam­less.

Re­cently I drove a Model 3 for 350 miles us­ing its Trip Plan­ner. Set a des­ti­na­tion, and it routes you to Supercharger way­points, cal­cu­lates the op­ti­mum time

to spend at each one to quicken the en­tire trip, and no­ti­fies you via its app when it’s time to re­turn from sip­ping cof­fee nearby. Al­ready have a Model 3 Per­for­mance with the $5,000 Per­for­mance Up­grade? Track mode will be over-the-aired to you. Walk up to the car with your phone in your pocket, and the dash­board’s blade­like air vents au­to­mat­i­cally an­gle down to­ward the seats, blow­ing cool air so you’re more com­fort­able on a hot day. The car is rife with clever mo­ments like this.

Derek coun­ters that the I-pace is the most mod­ern car here. Or rather, its recipe is: an elec­tric, AWD cross­over con­fig­u­ra­tion (with 3 inches of ad­justable ride height, great for snow) that some­how drives won­der­fully, too. Tech treats: Its nav sys­tem will ac­count for to­pog­ra­phy and your driv­ing style to bet­ter es­ti­mate range; its twin mo­tors and re­duc­tion gears are con­cen­tric with the axles for com­pact packaging; its panoramic glass roof in­creases head­room.

But the Jag’s Epa-es­ti­mated 234-mile range—from a nom­i­nal bat­tery size of 90 kw-hr—brings a sigh com­pared to the Model 3’s 310 miles from 75 kw-hr. Our own in­ter­nal, real-world test by Emis­sions An­a­lyt­ics com­puted 225 for the Jag. What’s up? Un­doubt­edly its large tires and 0.29 Cd aren’t help­ing. There’s a rea­son the Tesla Model X’s roofline slopes like that. An­other cu­rios­ity is that the I-pace’s front mo­tor is per­ma­nent-mag­net, which makes it im­pos­si­ble to be de­pow­ered dur­ing light-load cruis­ing; the Model 3’s front mo­tor is an in­duc­tion type for this very rea­son.

The Road

We pull into the Canyon Cross­winds RC Fly­ing Field on a plateau above Lake Hughes Road, where we’re met by two model air­plane pi­lots get­ting ready to fly.

“Hi, we’re with Mo­tor Trend. Would it be OK to take a few pic­tures here? It’s a beau­ti­ful spot.” It is. They size us up, see the mild des­per­a­tion in our eyes (the sun is ris­ing fast), and say heck, why not.

One of them eyes the Tesla and says, “That elec­tric­ity has to come from some­where, you know. By burn­ing things. Wind is too un­pre­dictable.” I nod, but I don’t add that about 30 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s 2017 re­tail elec­tric­ity was pro­duced by re­new­able sources.

Down be­low is Lake Hughes Road, where we are soon tak­ing turns loop­ing a road filled with blind cor­ners, drop-offs, and no room to exit at 90 mph. As we start, the Alfa pre­dictably picks up where it left off at Streets of Wil­low.

Its grip, torque, brakes, and over­all un­flap­pable co­her­ence make it the hero

of the trio. It’s amaz­ing how swiftly the Gi­u­lia can thread through even the kinki­est sec­tions. To be hon­est, it took me a few min­utes to cal­i­brate to its quick­ish steer­ing, the brake pedal’s dead­ness, and its tires’ con­sid­er­able lim­its. But once you’re synched and mov­ing to the Alfa’s rhythm, it’s bal­anced, po­si­tion­able with throt­tle, moves as a piece, and, as Alan notes, car­ries “an ea­ger­ness to turn in that makes me for­get it’s a sedan.” Dis­likes? The V-6 lacks the Ital­ian ter­ror scream, and nei­ther Derek nor Alan un­der­stands sta­tion­ary shifter pad­dles that are out of reach when turn­ing the wheel on tight cor­ners.

An­gus de­scribes the Jaguar as be­ing “more or­ganic in terms of driver in­puts and ve­hi­cle out­puts than Tes­las and other BEVS, which tend to­ward a dig­i­tal feel. There’s a pleas­ant flu­id­ity to the way the Jaguar goes down the road.” And flu­idly is how it went down Lake Hughes Road for us, too. “It’s as­ton­ish­ing how well it rides on 22-inch wheels,” Derek adds.

But Derek’s warm thoughts cool as he nears the Jaguar’s per­for­mance lim­its: “The ride height and blocky shape make me feel like I’m pi­lot­ing a rogue sub­way car on rub­ber wheels.” About those brakes: “There’s a fair amount of travel be­fore the pads bite. Let­ting up then reap­ply­ing pres­sure yields a dif­fer­ent re­sponse than the ini­tial stab. I found my­self brak­ing ear­lier be­cause I didn’t know how the sys­tem would re­spond.” And then there’s its am­bi­ent sound: “De­press the throt­tle, and a sim­u­lated space­ship­like war­ble em­anates from the speak­ers, am­pli­fied fur­ther in Dy­namic mode. Make it stop!” My dis­plea­sure fix­ated on how ridicu­lously slow the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem re­sponds—you can count one or two Mis­sis­sip­pis be­fore the next screen ap­pears. But let’s pause a mo­ment, Vi­sine our road-weary eyes, and take an­other look at the I-pace.

As An­gus points out, “There are few crossovers of any sort ca­pa­ble of lap­ping Streets as co­her­ently as the Jaguar that are also so ca­pa­ble in the dirt.” And the I-pace is great-look­ing. All Tesla driv­ers in the car­pool lane snapped their heads to the right as they passed me last week on the snarled 405 (I didn’t have Hov-ac­cess stick­ers). To me it’s the best­look­ing of all cur­rent Jaguars, in large part be­cause of its hon­est EV pro­por­tions (stubby front mo­tor equals stubby hood). “If the Tesla rep­re­sents the fu­ture of per­for­mance sedans,” Derek opines, “then the Jag demon­strates the ac­tual shape of the fu­ture’s elec­tric car.”

Back on Lake Hughes Road, the Model 3’s tail is eas­ily trig­gered into bound­ing and gy­rat­ing. Driv­ing fast means think­ing ahead, man­ag­ing th­ese mo­tions, pic­tur­ing your trajectory, and care­fully plac­ing the car into the next cor­ner and then apex­ing early to cap­i­tal­ize on its wicked exit. (Elon has sig­naled that a more sport­sori­ented air sus­pen­sion is in the off­ing.)

But at 80 per­cent of its limit, the Tesla is an Ocu­lus Rift head­set in a CXC full mo­tion driv­ing sim­u­la­tor. Even down to the chubby, rub­bery, sim­ple-look­ing steer­ing wheel in your hands. Thread­ing down a twisty road at night—that big screen to one side, dart­ing through cor­ners with laser­like steer­ing, the warp­drive whir-shrieks of its twin mo­tors the sound­track, and noth­ing but the head­light-lit road ahead—you’re Luke Sky­walker at­tack­ing the Death Star.

Some might sug­gest a bat­tery-elec­tric ve­hi­cle can­not be a real driver’s car. I dis­agree. The pow­er­train is dif­fer­ent, with a new set of chal­lenges to mas­ter in terms of torque de­liv­ery and power­band and brak­ing. Not hav­ing to worry about shift­ing doesn’t re­duce the chal­lenge of find­ing the ab­so­lute lim­its of ad­he­sion or the right chas­sis bal­ance. To the con­trary, it de­mands even greater sen­si­tiv­ity in terms of find­ing the very edge of the en­ve­lope. The world’s most gifted F1 driv­ers—senna, Schu­macher, Hamil­ton— all honed their oth­er­worldly car con­trol in sprint karts, which lack a trans­mis­sion. The Model 3’s Track mode may be a work in progress, but it’s a hel­luva base­line.

At this mo­ment, in the first bat­tle in the BEV ver­sus ICE war to come, the ro­man­tic, beau­ti­ful, tur­bocharged V-6-pow­ered Alfa is still a blink or two quicker than its elec­tric ri­vals. But think of the Tesla’s Track mode as ver­sion 1.0.

Fear 2.0. n

Once you’re synched and mov­ing to the Gi­u­lia’s rhythm, it car­ries an ea­ger­ness to turn in that makes you for­get it’s a sedan.

THE BAT­TLE BE­GINS EVS have come a long way, but the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine won’t go down with­out a fight.

GAS N GO The Gi­u­lia Quadri­foglio’s pis­ton power and eight­speed trans­mis­sion are just the be­gin­ning of its dif­fer­ences from the two EVS.

TRACK AT­TACK This but­ton brings to life the first sta­bil­ity con­trol and heat-man­age­ment sys­tem that’s been de­signed for per­for­mance EVS.

I-PAC­ING Randy Pobst en­coun­tered un­der­steer and an un­pre­dictable brake pedal but en­joyed the Jag’s flu­id­ity of mo­tion.

CAT CLAWS Al­though the Jaguar I-pace has the pro­file of a cross­over, its pace is race­track wor­thy.

PASS TIME Tesla’s Track mode at­tempts to put 100 years of tra­di­tion in the rearview mir­ror, but its EV com­peti­tors and those old-school sport sedans won’t go down with­out a fight.

ALFA LAP The Gi­u­lia’s pre­dictabil­ity and grip pro­duced the top lap time at the price of tire wear.

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