Alfa Romeo: The 4C & Giulia Quadrifoglio

My interest in Alfas goes back almost 30 years now.  In the early 90’s I had three Alfas in rapid succession.  The first was a 33 1.7 Quadrifoglio Verde, the second a 75 2.0 TS, and the last a Spider S4.  I remember the 33 as being a blast to drive.  A car you could really toss around, and it handled well.  Downside was build quality.  Parts literally started falling off after about 6 months and I think it came pre-rusted in places.  The 75 was better put together but was such an underpowered boring thing to drive after the 33.  I don’t really remember much about the car which probably sums it up.  The last of the three, the S4 Spider, was a wonderful car which I really enjoyed.  Being rear wheel drive with all the weight over the front axle, handling was always interesting.  Probably the most memorable trip in the S4 Spider was from Hamburg, down along the Rhine to Heidelberg, and then back up north via Kassel and Hanover on a frosty December 1992.  We were supposed to take the BMW M535i on this trip, but it developed a major transmission issue the day before we were leaving.  Hence the little Alfa Spider got pressed into service and it did brilliantly.  Net net, I have had a soft spot for Alfas for a very long time.

The first Alfa that caught my attention this century was the 8C Competizione.  While initially quite interested in the 8C, and to this day I still love the design, I lost interest when I found out it was basically a rebodied Maserati Granturismo at a significant premium.  The next Alfa that got my attention was the 4C.  I saw the initial concept at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show and immediately called my local Alfa dealer and put down a deposit.  About a year later I had dinner with one of the senior executives at Ferrari.  I mentioned the deposit on the 4C and he just laughed.  A lot of what he told me about the 4C would later be reflected in the initial launch reviews.  Needless to say, I pulled the deposit the next day.

Roll forward 6 years and I had starting to hear good things about the new Giulia Quadrifoglio.  I called the local Alfa dealer on a rare Saturday where I had a few hours to kill.  The dealership was quite accommodating and offered seat time in both a Giulia Quadrifoglio and a 4C.  On the later, as the 4C had been on the market for multiple years now, I hoped they had improved it to the point it would now be a great car to drive.  I still had a soft spot for that stunning looking car from the Geneva Motor Show all those years ago.  

First up was the 4C.  A soon as I slid into the driver’s seat the dream died.  Directly in front of me was one of the cheapest looking plastic steering wheels I have seen in a long time.  The leather covering on the rim was poorly stitched and it looked like the whole thing would fall apart after a few years usage.  As I reached around the wheel, it just got worse, the paddles were oddly shaped, made of more cheap plastic, and very short.  Looking right, the center consul had a small slab of carbon holding the transmission buttons with more cheap ill-fitting plastic behind it holding the window and side mirror controls.  How Alfa got the 4C’s exterior lines so right, yet made such a mess of the interior, is a real mystery.  

As a car to drive, on paper, it could be great. Carbon fiber tub, big Brembo brakes, under 1000kg, and 237 bhp should make for an engaging car.  Sadly, it isn’t. The suspension is not at all compliant.  It crashes over potholes and seems to hunt out every imperfection in the road.  While quick off the line, it doesn’t feel that fast and the gearbox is pretty average. The 4C also has a touch of old school turbo lag which while charming in a 1980s Porsche, is a bit strange in the latest generation sports car.  There isn’t much to say about the 4-cylinder engine as it tends to drone on agriculturally. On a positive note, the brakes are great and inspire confidence.  All in, the 4C was a car I was happy to get out of and return the keys.  For very similar money today you can buy a Ferrari F355, which despite being 20 years older, is a better car to drive in every aspect.

My impressions of the Giulia Quadrifoglio could not have been more different than the 4C.  The interior of the Giulia Quadrifoglio is beautifully designed.  The steering wheel feels right and is trimmed in a mix of carbon fiber and leather.  The paddles are steel, well placed and a good size.  The dashboard display is a bit retro cool. It reminds me of the early Spider 1750’s with the large tachometer on one side and the speedometer on the other. The rest of the controls are well placed and well made.  Unlike the 4C, there is nothing cheap and FCA “part bin” about the Giulia Quadrifoglio interior.  

On the road, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is a joy to drive. The 2.9-liter 6-cylinder twin turbo engine (which is a very close cousin of the engine in the Ferrari California T, just with 2 cylinders looped off) puts out 503 bhp.   At 1,524kg, this gives the Giulia Quadrifoglio a better power to weight ration than the 4C. The Giulia Quadrifoglio definitely feels quicker on the road and the big carbon ceramic brakes inspire confidence. Gear changes are very quick and smooth. Handling is excellent, and I found the car very easy to place on the road.  Overall slight lines and visibility are quite good for a 4-door sedan. The seats were excellent and did a good job of holding me in place at all times.  The Giulia Quadrifoglio is a car I could easily see myself driving on a daily basis and enjoying the experience.

As disappointed as the 4C left me, the Giulia Quadrifoglio was just superb.  In fact, if I was to buy a 4-door sedan tomorrow, the choice would be very easy. In fact, I believe the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio is about as close as you can get to a four door Ferrari today.  It’s certainly the best Alfa, if not the best sports sedan, I have driven in a long time.  On the 4C, I believe the solution to its ills is already within Alfa’s hands. Dropping the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s 2.9-liter 6-cylinder in the back of the 4C along with transplanting the interior would go a long way to turning promise into greatness.  Alfa proved they can still make great cars with the Giulia Quadrifoglio.  Now all they need to do it apply those learnings to a 4C 2.0.  Who knows, an Alfa just might find its way back into our garage in 2019.

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Decenber 2018

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3 Thoughts on Alfa Romeo: The 4C & Giulia Quadrifoglio
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    Have you tried the C63/M3/RS4?
    I know the RS4 isn’t available in North America but would the Alfa be your choice if you were to get 4-door?

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