Payne: Alfa’s Giulia put to test on Detroit streets

Posted by hpayne on March 13, 2017

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One of my favorite local restaurants is Bacco. This is no Olive Garden. From the fresh mozzarella and to the house-made pasta, the eatery on Northwestern Highway is an immersion in Italian flavor.

The compact luxury sedan market just got its own shot of authentic Italian goodness.

While our market has been rich in international choices — Japanese (Lexus, Infiniti, Acura), German (BMW, Mercedes, Audi), British (Jaguar), Korean (Genesis), American (Cadillac and Lincoln) — it has been lacking an Italian dish until 2017’s eagerly anticipated Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Like Bacco, its unique personality will satisfy its owner’s appetite. Alfa, of course, is Fiat Chrysler’s luxury brand — but you won’t find any American ingredients in this Italian. You can’t help but root for the latest member of a Chrysler family that’s been an underdog through years of adversity.

I don’t normally review a car twice in a year, but Giulia’s improbable odyssey in the boiling waters of America’s luxury market has begun remarkably well. Eyes rolled when mad genius CEO Sergio debuted not a base sedan like other automakers would, but the top-dog, 505-horse Quadrifoglio to take on King BMW M3.

Then the Giulia went out and set the Nurburgring lap record for sedans. Both Car and Driver and Motor Trend knighted it the best performance sedan on the market. Period. Better than the Cadillac ATS-V, Mercedes AMG and BMW M3. When the Giulia flashed across our screens in the Super Bowl ads, no one was snickering anymore. This rookie is an all-star.

Now it’s the customers’ turn and Giulia is on the menu at dealers. The spicy Quad debuted in December and the 2.0-liter models in recent weeks. A Quadrifoglio from the Detroit test fleet landed in my driveway in late February in a very different environment from where I tested it last fall in balmy Sonoma Valley, California. There, my fellow auto scribes and I tossed the Italian dish exuberantly over ribbons of sun-kissed California roads. Then we whipped it some more around the billiard-smooth Sonoma Raceway Park. Boot to the floor. Edge of the envelope. Throttle wide open.

We salivated over our Italian meal. But what is the saucy dish like (if you don’t mind my stretching the metaphor) to eat day after day?

Detroit in February is cold with rough roads and racetracks closed until summer. Would the Giulia wear me down? Would its bark cause heartburn? Its rigid suspension toothaches? Its rotary infotainment dial dementia?

With its raked stance, huge lower air vents and engorged wheel wells, the Quadrifoglio waited crouched to the ground. My wife’s friends were entranced by its sexy masculinity. Four tailpipes straddle a huge diffuser out back, telegraphing the car’s raw power. Angled headlights are spears poised behind a knight’s shield, Alfa’s signature “Trilobo” grille.

The steering wheel feels like a medieval weapon, too, with Alfa’s serpent and cross logo emblazoned across it, and a blood-red starter button on the left spoke ready for battle.

Push the button and the Alfa barks to life with that most Italian ingredient of all: a Ferrari engine.

It’s a variation on the V-8 howler from Ferrari’s California. With two cylinders sawed off, it’s a twin-turbo V-6. The resulting wail reminds one not of the prancing horse, but of that snarling little Alfa 4C sports car. I turn the driving mode dial to “dynamic,” nail the throttle and never want to lift my foot again. Initially muzzled by the turbos, the snarl builds, growling and spitting with each upshift until peaking at a deranged, 6,500-rpm yawp.

That redline comes fast.

Waves of twin-turbo torque rolled in over 3,000 rpm —as the landscape suddenly rushed by. Want to activate launch control at a Woodward stoplight? Simple. Left foot brake, right leg full throttle, let revs even out 2 grand, drop the brake. Pow. Zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds.

Though the sinewy steel chassis won’t be confused with the 4C’s race car-like carbon fiber skeleton, the Giulia felt small in my hands. Its easy maneuverability was enhanced by a steering wheel with just 2.3 turns lock-to-lock. Beat up after miles of Motown roads, I just punched the thoughtful, suspension-softening button on the MODE dial to ease the ride punishment without softening the V-6’s fury.

Blowing through Metro Detroit lake country, rapid closing speeds would occasionally set off the collision warning system. The accented chime — toot, toot, toot — is unmistakably Italian. Fortunately, my tester was dressed in stealthy “Vulcan Black.” Had it been painted the very Italian “Competizione Red” I drove at Sonoma, I would have attracted every patrolman in town.

Like a Yankee in Old Europe, I have my quibbles. The rear seats are built for small Romans. The stop-start system annoys. There is no manual transmission option. Italian authenticity is crucial to the brand, but I pine for Chrysler’s superb Uconnect infotainment system over the Italian’s lesser, rotary dial-controlled unit.

For all of its unique flavors, however, Quadrifoglio is no quirky daily driver. Quite the opposite. The tomb-quiet interior is luxurious. Dial the mode selector to ECO and you can rock a baby to sleep in the back seat. Red-stitched interior materials flow easily across horizontal dash lines.

My full-course meal Quadrifoglio topped out $83,000, complete with extravagant carbon touches like $5,500 carbon-ceramic brakes. But the volume-selling Giulia Ti can be had for almost half that and still salve your Italian palette. It has the same sexy design. Same hot wheels.

The Ti’s turbo-4 may not have 443 pound-feet of torque that the V-6 has (though most will find its 310-pound feet plenty, thank you), but it does come paired with something the Quad can’t offer: all wheel-drive for when the Michigan snows come.

Bravissimo!

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, REAR- AND ALL-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER

SPORTS SEDAN

Power plant 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder; 2.9-liter,

twin-turbo V-6

Transmission 8-speed automatic
Weight 3,500 pounds (base Giulia); 3,822 pounds (Quadrifoglio)
Price $41,185 base ($83,000 Quadrifoglio as tested)
Power 280 horsepower, 310 pound-feet torque (turbo-4);

505 horsepower, 443 pound-feet of torque (V-6)

Performance 0-60 mph, 5.0 seconds (turbo-4, Car and Driver est.);

3.8 seconds (V-6, mfr.)

Fuel economy EPA 24 city / 33 highway /27 combined (turbo-4);

17 city /24 highway/ 20 combined (V-6)

Report card

HIGHS UNIQUE LOOKS; SOFT-SUSPENSION MODE FOR HARSH

DETROIT STREETS

Lows Small rear seats; manual option, please?

Overall:★★★★

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