The curve is approaching fast. A tight right-hander. I extend my fingers from the steering wheel and pull the long aluminum paddle on the left. The engine blips as the transmission downshifts. I pull it again and am rewarded with the sweet sound of the Alfa Romeo V6 downshifting again. The weight of the car transfers forward onto the front axle, giving the tires more bite as I dive into the low side of the curve, then plant the throttle on the floor.
The engine races for redline, pushes me back into the leather and microfiber seat. Ride out the rev range. Another curve, left hander. Raise my foot from the floor, hear and feel the engine fall off. Downshift. Engine note falls. Dive into the high side of the curve. Throttle down. A shove into the seat as the engine explodes, launching us up the road. Such SWEET noise. Into the woods now.
Trees and mailboxes flashing past as we hit triple-digit speeds. Wind it out, my soul melting a little as the sound permeates my very core, ticking all the right boxes and winning me over once again. Brake. Downshift. Through the next curve; an easy left-hander. Hard throttle. Blurring scenery. The SOUND! Good Lord, the SOUND of that engine! The Italians know how to build engines, that’s for sure.
Traffic. No. Car. Single car. Downshift. Brake. Braaaake. No oncoming traffic. Left turn signal. Step out. Slight throttle. Flash past. Pull back into the lane. Throttle. Upshift. Throttle. Upshift. Ease off the throttle. Gentle right. Empty road. Downshift. Hard throttle. Upshift. Upshift. Wind it out to redline. My god, that noise! Just – !!!!! This thing is amazing. It’s like a drug – addictive, rewarding, gotta have more. Can’t stop. When the detox finally begins, it’s going to hurt. Bad.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the sports car market and if you have any kind of pulse, you’re probably very familiar with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (QF). It looks absolutely stunning and has the credentials to back up those looks. It has won dozens of automotive awards and comparisons. It set a new lap record at the Nurburgring for four-door sport sedans at an astounding 7 minutes and 32 seconds. SEVEN MINUTES AND THIRTY-TWO SECONDS! A four-door, four-passenger sedan. On one of, if not THE, most demanding circuits in the world. Perhaps most importantly, it upholds the reputation that results from a very long, very successful line of Giulias. Like it’s predecessors, it has the reputation of being something of a monster.
Our adventure started with a simple request to Alfa Romeo for something to wring out at the track. As popular and in demand as the Giulia QF’s have been with the motoring press, I tried angling for a Stelvio Quadrifoglio to see just how capable it was. Unfortunately, they were all reserved for an event but Alfa Romeo found and offered us a Giulia Quadrifoglio instead – a lovely consolation prize. One doesn’t turn down the chance to drive a Giulia in anger.
The Giulia QF that was delivered was in an amazing color called Misano Blue. A light metallic blue, it really showed off the Giulia’s beautifully aggressive lines. The aluminum V in the front grille contrasted with it beautifully. The roof and rear spoiler were exposed carbon fiber.
The hood had two visible heat vents. Dark anthracite gray wheels filled the wheel wells, their thin twisty spokes creating large gaps through which the large drilled brake disks and bright red Brembo calipers could be seen. Pirelli P-Zero’s promised plenty of grip. And on each flank the Quadrifoglio (four-leaf) badge was prominently displayed. These are the badges that define the Quadrifoglio from the more pedestrian versions of the Giulia. If the other performance design features don’t catch your eye, these badges should tell you everything you need to know.
The interior of the QF is very similar to the standard Giulia but the QF adds a few special touches. Black leather with red stitching covers nearly everything. Grippy microfiber fabric lies on the seat cushion and seat back to hold you in place better. Carbon fiber is utilized throughout the interior as a design element, setting off the center console, the steering wheel, the door release bezels and the dash.
Finally, some of the more important componentry is cast in bright aluminum, like the beautiful cool-to-the-touch shifter paddles lurking behind the steering wheel. Most of the switches and selectors are the same but the QF’s D.N.A. drive mode selector goes to eleven. If you’re not familiar with the D.N.A. selector, it’s a round dial that offers the options of All-weather, Normal, and Dynamic drive modes. In the Quadrifoglio though, out beyond Dynamic mode, lies Race mode. Race mode is meant for the track.
And really good roads. It switches off the raft of driver’s aids like ESC, ETC, and collision warning alerts and gives the steering, suspension, throttle, transmission, and exhaust all razor-sharp reflexes, essentially changing the Giulia from a fast sport sedan to an unchained animal bent on the destruction of it’s competitors. Yes, the difference is really that profound. More on that later.
Under the carbon fiber hood lies Alfa Romeo’s stunning twin-turbo 2.9L direct-injected V6. It makes 505 hp and 443 lb-ft or torque. That power is transferred through a carbon fiber driveshaft to the rear wheels. It moves the heavier Stelvio SUV much quicker than you’d ever expect, so you can imagine what it is like under the hood of the much lighter Giulia. The engine, much as in the base Giulia, has a rough idle to it. Upon first start, you’re likely to think something is wrong with it. Get the car moving however and you’re treated to glass-smooth acceleration and an eagerness to rev that few cars possess. We’re not sure if the firing order is unbalanced at idle or if the timing is so primed that it doesn’t like to idle, but it gives the car a highly-tuned race car feel that we loved.
We had two days to get comfortable with the QF before our track day so we immediately tried to get a good feel for the car, the grip limitations of the P-Zero tires, the firmness of the suspension, the quickness of the steering wheel and the shifters – anything to do with it’s performance. Of course, the second day we had it, it rained all day. Not feeling comfortable enough with it to try Race mode, we hoped to try it at the track in it’s intended environment.
That is, until storms rolled through the area that night and dumped nearly an inch of rain on us. The morning dawned bright and clear but still very wet. And a bit chilly. Puddles settled everywhere. At the track, everything was wet too. I didn’t get the sense that the cold October sun was going to dry the track out very quickly. We went through tech and the driver’s meeting hoping and praying it would though. Our first session was cold and slow, as expected.
Parts of the track were heavily shaded by tall trees. Others were open and sunny. As I didn’t want to send Alfa’s finest spinning across the wet grass into the trees, I left it in Dynamic mode and carefully felt my way around the track. Dynamic mode left all the electronic safety systems on but allowed me to push the car a little, which was probably smart as I could feel the systems engaging to keep the car under control through some of the shaded wet curves.
Annoyingly, the collision avoidance system kept beeping at me and braking the car as I came up behind braking cars at the end of the straight. If I had engaged Race mode, that would have taken care of it but with the track as slippery as it was and with 505 hp lurking under my right foot, great restraint (and some electronic restraint as well) was necessary.
As the morning progressed parts of the track began to dry and I was able to push a bit harder, getting faster and faster. Just around noon, as about 90% of the track had dried and I was considering switching the D.N.A. selector to Race, the skies darkened and it began to pour. With my wipers flailing across the windshield and lightening crashing around me, I exited the track and pulled into the pit area hoping it would blow over. I had to have hope. Fifteen minutes later hail was falling from the sky. The afternoon didn’t improve. It would rain for a while, then stop. Rain for a while, then stop. I never quite dared to try Race mode while I was there. Overall it was a fun but very frustrating day. The Giulia got a lot of attention from the other drivers who were eager to see it in action.
Next day the sun was out and the roads were dry. Figures, right? I had been driving sedately (or as sedately as I can) running errands. i was sitting at a red light when the temptation to explore Race mode presented itself. I rotated the D.N.A. knob past Dynamic to Race. An image of the Giulia appeared on the infotainment screen with it’s drivetrain lit up bright green. Several acronyms appeared next to it, followed by the word “OFF”. The dual-mode exhaust opened wide, the roughly idling engine began droning loudly behind me.
The car suddenly felt as if it were straining against the brakes like a racehorse pushing impatiently against the starting gate. I bumped the shifter to the left, selected the manual paddle shifter mode – it felt appropriate – and waited for the light to turn green. When it did, I cautiously pushed the throttle and was rewarded with incredibly brisk – nay, frantic – acceleration. The tach needle rocketed around around the tach. I quickly pulled the right paddle towards me to shift but I wasn’t fast enough – the engine hit the rev limiter and choked before quickly shifting and winding out once more. Holeeee….
I quickly got familiar with the tach needle speed and started to make full use of the shifters. In Race mode, all the Giulia’s reflexes are intensified. The difference was like night and day and this newfound personality of the Giulia was absolutely bonkers. The suspension was firmer – much firmer that it was at the track. The brakes, which had seemed a little grabby around town, now made more sense as I was traveling much, much faster and would need something more serious to slow me down. The steering felt sharper. The shifts were much more abrupt.
I couldn’t help but lean on it a bit to see how much more aggressive it really was. MUCH more, it turns out. And the soundtrack through that now-permanently open dual-mode exhaust was intoxicating. I found myself downshifting just to hear the engine blip and then I’d lean on the throttle in order to listen to that stirring, frenetic engine note as it wound out. Occasionally, I’d back out of it a bit and just listen to that engine note hanging in the air for a few seconds before mashing the throttle until it screamed before shifting. Absolutely exhilarating.
Through dry corners, it was amazing. the P-Zero’s stuck to the road like glue and handled the majority of the workload through corners for the suspension, although the suspension did a fantastic job of keeping the body of the car in check while absorbing the worst of the bumps I encountered.
Fantastically, in curves and corners, you can feel the torque vectoring rear differential adjust the torque at the rear wheels and the car almost feels like it has rear-wheel steering. It’s amazing to experience because it feels like you’re getting through the corner faster, more efficiently, and with more stability. More than once, I mentally acknowledged that Alfa Romeo had done it’s homework with this car. Where the base Giulia was a good car, the Giulia Quadrifoglio was a brilliantly fantastic one. It could play daily commuter with the best cars out there but it could also play race car with some of the best cars out there. What was the price on this thing again? $73,900 base price? SO worth it. A bargain.
Another night came and went and I found myself working to beat a few deadlines. Outside it was beautiful. One of those rare warm, sunny Autumn October day. A great day to get some photography done, in fact. But deadlines. And the more I thought about bailing to do some photography, the more I found myself wanting to get back in the Giulia and drive. Just drive. Anywhere. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, WHERE I could drive it, HOW I could drive it. Finally, at 2:30 PM I gave in, fled the office, and headed out to search for good photography spots.
By 2:45 PM I had selected Race on the D.N.A. dial and had completely dropped the photography idea. I was on the freeway racing north towards some of my favorite northern Michigan backroads, committed to driving this car until I had gotten my fix. I knew exactly where I wanted to drive it: M-22, which runs from Manistee up along the hilly Lake Michigan shoreline to Northport, some 100 miles north. It’s one of my favorite roads and, in October on a Monday evening, it promised to be relatively quiet and free of traffic.
Most of the tourists and seasonal vacation dwellers had long since moved back to Chicago and anyone remaining was just busy trying to get home to make dinner. I’ve had some memorable runs on this road in some memorable cars, one being an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, and the similarities were evident – the manic engine, the phenomenal brakes, the thoroughly competent and reassuring chassis and suspension. The Giulia QF was much more plush and comfortable but no less inspiring or fun.
Up US-31 I drove, until I hit Ludington, where the freeway ended. From there I took two-lane roads up to Manistee and on the north side of Manistee, where the Indian casino’s neon lights beckoned, I turned onto M-22 and planted the throttle. The Giulia ripped up the road, it’s engine winding out. Right paddle, shift. The engine note dropped but not our pace. It rose to a crescendo again , the engine note falls and starts climbing again.
I have to consciously make myself slow down so as to avoid getting arrested by any police lurking ahead. There are few cars on the road but I watch for them closely. Safety is paramount. I run through the series of downhill left-right curves and almost immediately I’m in Onekama. I motor through as patiently as I can, trying to pass slower cars to get a clean shot at the road on the way out of town but they all turn onto side streets lined with homes and the road ahead is left empty for me.
Thank you, God. I throttle down again, listening to the engine roar, amazed at how fast it winds out, how smoothly, and – shift – we start over again as I make the right hander at an obscene speed and start the uphill series of left-right curves that lead out of the village. I crest the top of the hill faster than I expect (this thing would be a riot at a hill climb event) and romp through some curves that I effortlessly take at a faster pace than I ever have before. Up over hills, down into valleys, into the orchards that thrive so close to the lakeshore.
The engine effortlessly propels us quickly through them, through the orchard S-curve and past the Arcadia golf course laid out among the enormous sand dunes and old orchards. Shortly, I’m downshifting, listening to that engine note ring in the cool air as I approach the sharp downhill right hander. Downshift again. Roll into the curve, throttle down, launch myself down the hill and into the left-hander, hold it down, glide through it onto the downhill straight, upshift, let off the throttle and coast as I approach the village of Arcadia.
I somehow muster the self-control to maintain the speed limit of 35 mph through the village. On the far side, I’m again looking for cars to get around before the next stretch, but there’s no one. The road is quiet and I’m alone on it. I slowly let the speed build as I leave Arcadia and by the time I reach the steep climb up past the scenic overlook, I’m flying. The growling engine is feeding my soul. Then, around a curve, through the woods, and we head back down to lake level, but not without a quick glimpse of the impressive Sleeping Bear Dunes lying further up the lakeshore, rising 350 feet above the lake.
A few curves present themselves before the road climbs again, up and around and back down a large forested dune. Coming down off the hill, we approach the forgotten town of Elberta, motor through, then cross the river into Frankfort. Frankfort has a nice downtown but I ignore it and keep heading north. I have to keep speeds down through this area for a few miles but then, past Crystal Lake and the endless line of summer cottages, I hit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This farmed and forested tract of land contains some of the most exhilarating driving roads in the state.
Evening is falling. Deer are moving. But the empty roads are rewarding the Giulia today and she’s a great partner for this kind of driving. I downshift a gear, lean on the throttle, and we decide we’re committed. The engine winds out, upshift, repeat. Downshift, downshift, sharp right hander, back on the throttle, wind it out, back off the throttle, the engine heavily decelerates, nose into the sharp left hander and go. Wind it out, upshift. Wind it out, upshift.
The noise is that of a racing soundtrack. Flying through the forest, attentively watching for movement along the road, any sign of motion. Slower car ahead. Approaching fast. Downshift-downshift-throttle. Steer around it as the engine screams. Upshift. Upshift. Brake for curve, throttle out of it. Just amazing. My hands are sweating. My heart is racing. My mind is so focused. My reflexes are primed and immediate. My eyes watch the horizon – as far up the road as possible.
Scream past harvested fields and dark barns. Down the hill. Pass another car before the end of the passing zone. Curve ahead. Downshift, brake, downshift. Dive into the uphill right hander. Wind it out. Upshift. Wind it out, back off. Left hander. Finish winding out the gear. Upshift. Over the hill. Through the darkening woods. Back down the hill, to the left. Wind it out. Brake. Right hander into the town of Empire. Come to a complete stop at the intersection.
It’s quiet. The ice cream parlor is closed for the season. Two old men talk outside the gas station. One looks over at the Giulia, then ignores me. Decision time. To the north, the road continues. To my right is the road to Traverse City. From there I can grab a road that’ll put me on a freeway and take me home but I can’t do it. Not yet. The responsible part of my brain tells me I should call it a day and head home, but my heart – my heart belongs to the Giulia and I cannot bring myself to cut this trip short. I won’t. I can’t.
I continue straight and responsibly drive the two blocks through Empire, watching the pickup truck ahead of me, trying to figure out where I can pass him safely. He turns off the road onto a side road, leaving the road ahead of me empty and clear again. I nail the throttle heading out of Empire and rocket up the long straight hill, then right, then left down the hill, then left towards Glen Lake. I thread my way around the lake, over the bridge and through the now-empty summer town of Glen Arbor, and on to empty and curvy stretches of M-22.
I send the Giulia rocketing down quiet two-lane stretches of road, around empty fields, past quiet farms and wooded lakes, dark cemeteries and reeded ponds, and finally past miles of summer lakeshore cottages and homes before arriving in Leland. Leland is closed up for the season too. There’s nothing to see here today. Up out of Leland, along Lake Leelanau, maintaining my frantic, frenetic pace. The stretch of road between Leland and Northport is fairly short, only ten miles or so but it weaves back and forth, left and right, up and down across the harvested, stubbled hills. A few curves are very tight and one or two even tighten as you go through them but the Giulia doesn’t sweat it. It just does what I ask of it and continues to earn my everlasting admiration.
In Northport, it’s decision time again. I can either take a straight-shot road down into Traverse City and head home on the freeway…or I can turn around and run M-22 back down to Manistee. Night is falling. I’ve seen deer along the road already. Scared two as I came into Northport, in fact. I’m tired. This five-hour adrenaline thrill ride has sapped my energy. I logically consider my alternatives despite knowing what I’m going to do already. I’m going back the way I came. I want another hit. I need it.
So I turn the car around and hammer the gas pedal as I shoot south out of Northport again and the thrill comes back. In the third curve I’m going a little too fast and the car slides left in a right hander but I easily catch it and despite a jolt of adrenaline to my system, remain calm. Steady. And back down M-22 I go, recovering all the ground I covered on the way up. Keeping the engine singing loudly to dissuade deer from getting too close to the road. The engine growls and roars like a hungry predator as I work it over these roads. If I see another deer while working the engine like this, I’ll be surprised. As it turns out, I see no more deer but on two occasions I pass cars that have just hit deer and are surveying the damage to their machines. I keep on going, flying as fast as I dare, ever conscious of the consequences.
By the time I pull into my driveway it’s nearly midnight and I’m exhausted but my nerves are buzzing like I’ve just poked a fork into an electrical socket. I suppose in a way I have. I float into the house and pass out on the bed.
GT Spirit has two more days with the car before Alfa Romeo collects it. I guard it ferociously as if it were my own, not letting anyone else drive it. I need as much as I can get before it disappears. Every time I drive it, it has to be in Race. Nothing else will suffice any more. Nothing else satisfies. What an incredible machine.
Does it have any flaws? A couple, though they’re personal. One, the car features the Auto-Stop/Start that shuts the engine down when you stop at a light. I personally hate this feature and feel that’s it’s terribly out of place on such an amazing car. Thankfully, Alfa Romeo allows you to turn it off. Yay! However, if you restart the car, it defaults to “on” again. I wish you could just simply turn it off and have it stay off like some of the other “driver’s assistance” programs.
The second concerns Race mode. You can’t keep it in Race mode. You activate Race mode by rotating the D.N.A. selector past Dynamic to Race. However, when you shut the car off, it defaults back to Dynamic. I want to be able to leave it in Race mode 100% of the time. In all honesty, Race mode and All-weather are the only two settings I’d ever need in this car, and All-weather only if I chose to drive it in winter.
Lastly, as much as I love how well the paddle shifters work, driving the Cadillac ATS-V this summer reminded me how much I love a manual transmission in a high-horsepower car. The whole world gets a six-speed transmission in the Giulia QF except the US. That needs to change. C’mon Alfa. You’re an enthusiast brand. Cater to your audience.
The Giulia QF is simply amazing though. Versatile, practical, capable. Perfect for ferrying kids to soccer practice and going to the store. Also perfect for setting the Nurburgring ablaze while making a new record for four-door sedans. It has the practicality of a family car but the soul of an Alfa Romeo. Driving it brought back so many impressions and memories from driving the very special 4C, which made me happy as I hold the 4C in highest regard. The guys that came to pick it up nearly had to pull me kicking and screaming from the car. There’s just something about the Quadrifoglio Alfas that appeals to your soul as well as your intellect and once you’ve experienced it, few others will do.