List price £61,000
Target Price £59,953
Can Alfa Romeo finally back up good looks with great performance and handling?
BMW M3 Competition Pack DCT
List price £63,000
Target Price £58,232
BMW’s iconic sporty 3 Series spin-off is facelifted for 2017 and back to defend its crown
Great performance cars are about more than just aggressive design and burbling exhausts. The fast saloon icon that is the BMW M3 has built up a sterling reputation for class-leading performance and handling, and in more powerful, stiffer, Competition Pack form it’s one formidable opponent.
However, Alfa Romeo is attempting to take on the mighty M3 with its new Giulia Quadrifoglio. The Italian brand’s recent sports cars have been forgettable, but the Quadrifoglio could be different, because it’s based on the underpinnings of the sharp-driving Giulia executive saloon.
Add a twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine with even more power than the M3 can muster and the Alfa Romeo’s chances of success suddenly don’t seem quite so slim.
What are they like to drive?
This is an important question, given that sports cars live or die by the way they accelerate and handle, but happily both do a fantastic job on both counts.
The Giulia’s engine is colossal in its power delivery, with no noticeable lag between you putting your foot down and the car responding, followed by a linear surge of acceleration that doesn’t stop until the V6 is at a screaming 6500rpm. In our tests, 0-60mph took just 3.9sec, and there’s no complicated launch control sequence; it’s a case of press the brake and accelerator together, release your left foot and be fired towards the horizon.
BMW’s launch control system is far more complex and requires a lengthy cool-down period between uses. Still, the M3’s twin-turbocharged straight six engine is mightily impressive in the way it shoves the car forwards, even though it leaves the M3 marginally behind the lighter Giulia in a straight drag race.
Both the BMW’s seven-speed and the Alfa Romeo’s eight-speed automatic gearboxes are superbly in tune with their engines in Auto mode and similarly razor-sharp when you’re selecting gears manually using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. The M3’s gearbox is a fraction smoother-shifting in town, though.
The way these cars handle is equally engaging, despite the fact that they go about matters in slightly different ways. The Giulia’s lighter, quicker steering makes it feel more eager to turn in to corners, but it also has a more playful rear axle, so there’s plenty of opportunity to confidently adjust your line around corners with the accelerator pedal.
BMW’s approach is more assured. The M3’s stickier tyres mean you need to be pushing extremely hard for the rears to reach their grip limit (in the dry, at least), and while its steering is slower than the Giulia’s, it’s meatier and pleasingly accurate. Ultimately, the Giulia’s stronger performance couldn’t outweigh the M3’s higher handling limits on timed laps around our test track.
But of course, these cars will spend far more time on the road, and it’s here that the Giulia’s comfier ride and quieter interior appeal. Switch its standard adaptive suspension back to its comfiest setting and it soaks up ripples and potholes better than the firmer M3, which forgoes some compliance in the name of going faster around corners. The M3 also generates more suspension, road and wind noise on the move.
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