We tested the BMW M3 biggest threat to the Throne
To win one Slam in Tennis is a great result but to consistently occupy the top position throughout your career is another story. Everyone when playing against you will give their best to take you off the throne or to just being able to say “I beat number 1… once”. You need to be at your best at every game, every event. Everyone expects you to win every match and to deliver the clutch points. In the meantime the opponents study you, they put you under a microscope trying to find the edge to end your domination.
To me, this is the BMW M3 in the sports sedan world. It was year 1986 and that was the start of a story that is nothing short to legendary. Mercedes tried to fight it over and over again with alternate results. The Mercedes C63 AMG, for example, is yet a serious contender in the class but doesn’t have that “ignorant” fun factor you’d expect from a former DTM competitor. Audi came up with their amazing four-wheel drive technology applied on their 80 and A4 series but they happened to be so perfect that at times they lost a bit of essential fun and the Japanese did their best offering attractive alternatives and philosophies, but no one didn’t quite make it. The M3 was and still is the small/medium size sport sedan benchmark.
In the meanwhile, a brand that nearly disappeared for decades has come back and, my Lord, it made some noise. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is the top of the range of the Giulia family, and it has a Ferrari heart. It is a smaller version of the V8 used on the California.
The marketing guys have used the sport and the F1 legacy of the Alfa Romeo to push this product in the heart of the people but let’s be honest, they had to prove themselves from scratch again. Not everyone buys the story of Alfa Romeo being a former F1 Cars manufacturers. The “Biscione” (the italian word for snake that you find in the badge) aims at fighting the M3, face off, gloves off, in the same category. Good luck.
Let’s start with the interiors?
Well, if you sit in the optional carbon fiber seats, then you feel in a race car. They’re very firm, exceptionally well finished, lower than the standard ones and the side pads keep you in position when you are pulling 1.2 Gs on the race track corners. And they look stunning. If otherwise, you choose the good enough standard ones, then you sit a couple of cm higher (too high for me), they are a touch softer, less sporty on the side, in other words, better for fast touring. My opinion? The carbon fiber ones, even if it’s the only option you can buy.
The cabin is honest. I don’t say it’s great because there are some inexplicable flaws in a truly beautiful ambient. The dashboard cover is made in top quality leather, the stitches are a gem, the instruments are simple, well readable, visibility is perfect, pedals are well aligned. What’s wrong then? Like for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio that we immensely loved, the gear lever, (we drove the automatic box version) for example, feels like a used Play Station gear. Poor plastic, cheap feel, and it feels like it will fall apart soon. Felt the same in a BMW? Some other small details, like plastic covers or small panels, make me think that the quality supervisor was on holiday that day and that his junior replacement only thought of saving a few Euros here and there. It’s a pity. Touch and feel are essential. But it’s an Alfa… she is a female, she is forgiven.
Then you walk around it, you notice the gigantic brake rotors with Brembo racing calipers, you see the fat wheel arches, the mean front, the small carbon fiber wing at the back and you think, this girl needs to run. She is so well balanced, looks Italian, arrogant, and feels like she wants to remind the Germans of the Football Worldcup Semifinal in 2006. “BMW M3, I am here, show me what you can do”.
As a matter of fact, after we extensively drove the Stelvio Q and we found it superb in dynamics, you can’t help smiling when you first drive the Giulia. I drove it on the racetrack first, since I happened to be a freelance Instructor the day Alfa Romeo put three of them on the track for some dozens of hot laps. Contrary to what several manufacturers think, Alfa made this car quite simple in terms of technology and driving aides, or at least, you don’t feel them. She feels simple, true, direct, honest and predictable even when you are using every single of the 503 bhp, from the 2,9 Liter, Twin Turbo 6 cylinder Ferrari engine. She is rear wheel drive, so she is pure. All the electronics are switched on and off with one click. Flick the driving mode into “race” and your right foot is the only responsible for the health of your experience. You can oversteer the Giulia in 4th gear on a fast corner and still feel exactly what is happening between the rubber and the tarmac in that precise moment. This is truly priceless. She feels lighter than she is (1,524 Kg curb) and she changes directions very quickly, without having the tail to exaggerate the action. She is controlled but ready to give you goosebumps. Is she an M3 contender on track? Probably this is the best place for the Giulia to fight the queen and yes, she is more fun to drive probably because she is less complicated, she sounds fantastic, her brakes are powerful and start fade only when you lap tens of hard laps. The engine is a gem. I generally don’t like modern turbo engines because of the characteristic flat power and torque distribution curve and a lack of high revs push, but this unit seems to combine the best of both worlds: low and medium end turbo push and a juicy run up to the red zone. Probably the fantastic BMW twin turbo unit is more abundant in torque at low and medium revs, but I prefer the Alfa character.
On the road, it all goes well, as expected. Select D mode and the standard suspension softness and the Giulia behaves like any other car of its class. The intoxicating exhaust noise of the race mode becomes more civilized for the peace of the passengers. However, Alfa Romeo recently announced that this particularly engaging engine grunt will be available also in D mode from now on, at the press of a button. I guarantee you that it’s worth it. Comfort is excellent overall, and I see myself sitting in here for hours without fatigue. Her dynamics are too good to be exploited on open roads; hence comfort and safety remain the qualities you need from a car of this genre. The Quadrifoglio doesn’t let you down with this.
Is it good enough to take the Queen M3 off its throne? Difficult choice but it’s close, very close. The BMW is far more mature, better refined, offers more technology, probably keeps its value for longer but if you are ready to spend a hefty 100,000 USD to buy the Quadrifoglio, then the Giulia will never make you stop smiling like a child when you drive it, either on the race track and on the road. Welcome back