TEST DRIVES: My day with Alfa Romeo and Maserati — Part One

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 830x553

A few months back, I tested the Alfa Romeo Stevlio, the brand’s first-ever SUV. I called it the “Leaning Tower of Alfa Romeo”, as it …

A few months back, I tested the Alfa Romeo Stevlio, the brand’s first-ever SUV. I called it the “Leaning Tower of Alfa Romeo”, as it was as flawed as the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa but just as lovely and desirable. Before that, I tested the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and, despite being critical of its many flaws, fell in love with it. So it’s clear that, even though we’re BMW enthusiasts, we have great admiration for the Bavarians’ Italian rivals. Which is why they decided to fly me all the way to Michigan to to test every car the brand currently has to offer. That invitation got even better when they said I would also be testing every car Maserati currently has to offer. So an entire day with Alfa Romeo and Maserati? What could possibly go wrong?

For me, quite a lot. Due to flight complications (which were on my end and I seriously thank Alfa/Maserati’s PR teams for being incredibly helpful and accommodating) and several long layovers, I didn’t end up landing in Michigan until 3:00 AM and didn’t reach my hotel until 3:30 AM. That wouldn’t normally be a problem except that we were leaving the hotel for the FCA’s proving ground at 6:30 AM. And because I simply cannot sleep on planes, I was exhausted but had to be awake in three hours. My alarm woke me at 6:00 AM and after a quick shower, a cup of coffee and a complimentary granola bar of some kind (most of that morning is shrouded in a fog of exhausted mystery), I was ready to go.

Alfa Romeo 4C 830x554

Admittedly, the prospect of driving high-strung Italian cars in anger on a race track woke me up more than the coffee. Having driven both the Giulia and Stelvio on the road, I was anxious to see what they were like on the track. The Giulia Quadrifoglio is one of my absolute favorite cars on sale and I couldn’t wait to unleash all 505 of its rampaging Italian horses on track.

When we arrived at the event, the weather couldn’t have been worse; lashing rain, dark grey skies and temperatures too low for sticky Pirelli P Zero summer tires. However, before we headed out onto the track, we were greeted by a lovely breakfast in a large tent, divided into two sides. Bisected down the middle, the left side was a Maserati side, adorned in dark blue and white accents, and the right was the Alfa Romeo side, colored in its classic red, white and green combo. It didn’t matter which side we sat at but I chose the Alfa side because that’s who invited me along. After a great breakfast and a wonderful cappuccino, which was ironically cocoa dusted with the Maserati logo and not Alfa’s despite my sitting on its side, it was time for a drive.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Stelvio 2 830x554

My first drive of the day was on the road in a Maserati Ghibli, though I can’t talk about that just yet, as Maserati info is still under embargo. Following that brief drive, we were gathered back into the tent for a chat from Tim Kuniskis, global head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati, who spoke about each brand’s heritage and vision for the future. He passionately spoke about how Alfa Romeo is going to be bringing back two iconic names, the GTV and the 8C, both of which we’ve spoken about before. He also announced that we’d be the first members of the press to see a special all-new Maserati vehicle that day and not only see it but drive it as well (that’s still under embargo also but a special review is coming soon). After that excitement, and a couple of cans of ice-cold flavored Pellegrino, I headed back out to test some cars.

It was a pretty free-form event, where we were able to walk to different stations and take part in different activities at our own leisure. So what was the first thing I did? I walked straight to the track and put my name down for the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, of course. After some waiting, I grabbed my head sock and helmet and hit the track in the car I remembered so fondly. Upon entering, one thing immediately stuck out — the interior of the Giulia is as low-rent as I remember. It really is a shame that such a stunning looking car, and one that’s so expensive, feels so cheap on the inside. Seriously, most Hyundais have better interior build quality. A Camry feels like a Range Rover by comparison. Having said that, the steering wheel is near perfect and the giant aluminum paddle shifters beckon to be worked. The seating position is also perfect and the pedals are spaced well. So Alfa nailed the driving ergonomics, it just needs to work on the rest of the cabin. FCA should give Alfa a bigger budget.

Stuff all that, though, it was time to drive. The 2.9 liter, 505 hp, twin-turbocharged V6 was burbling with anticipation as I awaited our lead/follow instructor’s orders to head out onto the track. Once on the move, all of those interior complaints I had were left at the start line and I was instantly reminded of why I loved the car so much. Its Ferrari-derived V6 is a masterpiece. I don’t wanna hear any guff from BMW that the next M3 needs water-injection or electrification to make adequate power. The Giulia Quadrifolgio’s 2.9 liter twin-turbo V6 makes so much explosive power and it’s so buttery smooth that you’d think it was a twin-turbo V8. Oh, and it makes a sensational noise at full chat. All without any of that absurd or overly complicated tech we’re hearing rumors about for the next M3.

It’s not just all engine and no moves, though. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is the best driving car in its class, full stop. Its steering is absolutely lovely, with delicate weighting but razor-sharp precision and super fast reactions. And its chassis balance is so sweet and playful, yet incredibly confidence-inspiring, that I was able to push it as hard as my courage would allow me in the lashing rain and have some genuine fun. I would never try that in an M3, despite it being a great car, because I wouldn’t trust it as much. The Alfa talks to you, it communicates what its doing with such nuanced feedback that you always know exactly what it’s doing and how it will respond. It’s lovely. We weren’t allowed to put the Alfas in ‘Race’ mode, as that would disable traction control, but I had it in its ‘Dynamic’ mode and that allowed me to slide a bit on corner exit and not kill myself. I was having a blast and didn’t want it to end.

Unfortunately, that’s where this part does end. While I wanted to drive the Stelvio Quadrifoglio on track and the 4C on an autocross course, I had to forgo those opportunities to drive the aforementioned all-new Maserati, as not many journalists had the chance and I wasn’t going to pass up that exclusive. So I had to wait my turn for awhile and that meant not driving any other Alfas for the rest of the day. However, part two of this trip will have some exciting and interesting drives. Stay tuned.

35 responses to “TEST DRIVES: My day with Alfa Romeo and Maserati — Part One”

  1. Marcel Lukačić-Marca says:

    Is Chris Harris only car journalist who prefers M3 over the Giulia? He said M3 is more exciting and objectively better car… I’m not defending M3 on purpose, it’s just weird how every car magazine prefers Giulia over an M3, but Chris doesn’t… Maybe he is secret BMW fanboy… XD

    • Chris is right, the M3 is objectively the better car. It’s just about as fast, cheaper to own, far better equipped, has wayyyyyy better technology and build quality and handles just about as well. The Giulia is subjectively the car I’d rather own. It’s better looking, has a sweeter engine and better steering/chassi balance. It’s nicer to drive. To own, the M3 is probably the better overall experience, though. I’m just smitten by the Alfa :)

      • MagnumOpus says:

        The perennial Alfa problem – when it’s not your money, it’s THE ONE. Put your own money down though and the Alfa becomes a distant memory.

      • Marcel Lukačić-Marca says:

        Yes, you’re kinda right. But, I’m not so sure about “better steering/chassis balance.” Chris also said Giulia feels bigger and bulkier than an M3, is that because of chassis balance or something else I don’t know. However, I think you’re right about the engine. It’s a Ferrari engine, so it must be sweet. M3’s engine is a masterpiece, but Giulia’s is on another level. Looks is totally subjective, I think both ar equally beautiful. Noise though, they sound pretty similar. Giulia sounds like an M3, but more subtle and V6-y(is that even a word). I prefer the M3, but that’s totally subjective, both are amazing sports saloons.

      • Veloce says:

        i think its time to separate perception versus reality. Everyone talks about italian Car quality like its 1978. Bottom line is everyone makes quality vehicles these days and if you really want to push the point. Check out the largest reliability survey of cars sold in the UK in 2017 for new cars through the first three years of ownership. i see Alfa Romeo in the top 5 most reliable brands even ahead of Honda. Oh yeah, in fact ahead of every German brand. Ouch BMW came in17th.


        • disqus_NdrthOMZ62 says:

          As with the surveys here, frequently lesser-volume brands (Genesis, Porsche) score higher than 2+ million units annually BMW, though BMW still rank ahead of volume brands. And as Consumer Reports always remind, tech-intensive & innovative brands frequently take hits in reliability, as Alfa did with the ecus in their early test vehicles. FCA don’t rank well here, given Alfa is their premium badge they should do better.

  2. Dailybimmer says:

    When it comes to comparsion between products from Bmw and Alfa Romeo, Bmw should win every test for following reasons. You don’t win a test only because the car is a few seconds faster on the Ring. Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio might be faster than the outgoing M3 and I have to admit Stelvio is a better looking SUV as X3,X4, but it will never reach Bmw’s comfort, nor their production qualties. Also Alfa Romeo’s dealerships are limited compared to Bmw’s. Overall a very good looking girl, this Giulia. Maybe Bmw should poach some designer’s from Alfa Romeo in near future. Bmw for life.

    • It’s not really about it being faster. If the Giulia were slower, I’d still love it more. It’s just incredible to drive, while the M3 is only really good. Compared to almost anything else, the M3 is too dog. But in terms of steering, feedback, chassis balance and engine excitement, the Alfa remains the more desirable care.

      As far as Stelvio vs X3, though, I’ve driven both and would take the X3 all day long. It’s better to drive than the 3 Series, no joke.

      • Dailybimmer says:

        No doubt the Ferrari engine in Guilua is a real monster, a car for real purists. Alfa buyers doesn’t seem to care much about expensive matetials and stuff like that. If I had the money I would take both. Next gen M3 will definetly set new benchmark in it’s class. Alfa is also preparing hybrid version in Giulia GTV (Awd?) against M8, why should Bmw not bring a hybrid version and AWD in M3. It only would make sense. But I agree with you when you say regular M3 should not come up with additional batteries because of the weight. The only thing you could do, is to make the car faster on the straight line and slower in the corners.

      • disqus_NdrthOMZ62 says:

        Since the X3 is new while new 3er is imminent, no comparison.

    • Dru Ultrason says:

      Enjoy your whit goods.
      Alfa wins hands down

    • Morgan Lee says:

      Audi has been the reigning champ for a long while now. BMW hasn’t put out a “BMW” since the early 2000’s. Alfa is just taking the “BMW” badge from Audi. You have to drive some of these machines. BMW changed its vision when its demographic aged. While they are still a great car, they are in NO way what they once were.

      • DSK says:

        ”audi has been the reigning champ”
        Audi has never been relevant. While Audi has built some good cars and true M3/M5 competitors (RS4 B7, RS5 B8, RS6/RS7) they have never been considered as ”the best” by anyone except die hard audi fanboys

        • Morgan Lee says:

          Audi has had the best sedans for “feel” and driver experience. At least that’s what the reviews say. BMW went a little soft.

          • disqus_NdrthOMZ62 says:

            That you think BMW sedans have one identifiable unified “feel” is laughable.

          • Morgan Lee says:

            Well, obviously the 6, 7, or old 8 series don’t feel like the 4s, 3s, 2s, or 1s…and an m5 may be faster than the 2 3 or 4, but definitely not as nimble. The last 135 with m package was nice for me. M3s are great if you like your Porsche in a business suit. And sometimes I do. I’m interested in the m2, but I would still lean towards the 4 for the power. I have trouble leaving power on the table when the car is still nimble.

          • disqus_NdrthOMZ62 says:

            I avoid buying vehicles whose manufacturers are in prison.

          • Morgan Lee says:

            Who DOESN’T go to prison these days? Honestly, that’s what gives a car company “street cred”.

          • DSK says:

            I want to see which reviewer said that Audis have more feel than BMWs lol. I think you got something mixed up

      • Dailybimmer says:

        What about M2? M2 is at home where M3 was in the early nineties. A real Bmw for purists.

      • disqus_NdrthOMZ62 says:

        While Audi are what they have always been, rebadged VAG. Unless you pay even more to get your VAG rebadged as Porsche or Bentley. How many BMW executives are in prison? Before VAG bought them, Audi were owned by Mercedes & exclusively fwd., so “they are in NO way what they once were”, either. And by “reigning champ”, sales volume is ignored? Audi are barely a contender.

        • Morgan Lee says:

          Porsche is Porsche. Porsche is what the old m3s were, plus 33.2% more. I am a fan of any meaty bimmer, from the 135 and the straight 6 m3, to the v8 m and even the old 750 and 850s. Great cars. Porsche I am a big fan of. I just happen to buy used vettes for much less and make them what I want. What I’ve never liked about Porsche and BMW are that they’re geared optimally. You could actually lose performance with aftermarket add-ons. They’re well tuned to do what they do .A Vette is a disgusting diamond in the rough waiting for you to take its well designed chassis and suspension and an engine itching and prepared for forced induction and mold them into a supercar competitor. But I’ve never been a real fan of audi…I’m just regurgitating what I’ve read in a dozen Alfa reviews. I really do like that one. It’s a great car even with the 2.0

  3. Nigol T. says:

    Alfas are Sexy as Hell!!!!!

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