Alfa Romeo back with a bang

Peter Atkinson
The Alfa Romeo has never been more expensive or impressive

Michael Jordan did it. So did Muhammad Ali. And Winston Churchill.

Serena Williams looks as if she might do it as well - less than a year after having a baby.

I'm talking about making a stunning comeback - one that allows an icon to take a lengthy break and then return to even greater heights than before.

And to that list you can add Alfa Romeo.

The sporty, romantically-named Italian carmaker - virtually absent from the Australian motoring scene for the past couple of years, is back in business. With a bang.

A combination of factors - some self-inflicted and some of circumstance - have seen the famous Alfa badge all but disappear from Aussie dealerships in recent times.

But it's screamed back into the public consciousness - literally - in the most appropriate way possible, with one of the most spectacular cars they've ever produced.

It's called the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde - a tongue-twister if ever there was one, but a name that stands tall in the famous Italian brand's history.

The Giulia name dates back to the sixties and, in its latest iteration, has been bestowed on Alfa's new mid-sized sedan - which effectively replaces the old, beloved 159 in the Alfa line-up.

The Quadrifoglio Verde part (QV for short) is the four-leafed clover emblem that denotes the marque's ultimate performance machines. The badge dates back almost a century, to Alfa's earliest motor racing days, and was revived a few years back as a reminder of the brand's glorious past.

While that lustre might have dimmed a bit from time to time, the Alfa Romeo legend, and its shared history with its fellow Fiat-owned corporate cousins Ferrari and Maserati, very much lives on.

This car is absolute proof of that.

The Giulia QV arrived on Australian shores more than a year ago - but such has been the demand (the first 100 models were sold to enthusiastic pre-orders) that it's taken until now for some of us to get behind the wheel.

It's been well worth the wait.

With a pricetag of $143,000 plus onroad costs, this is the most expensive Alfa ever to reach these shores, and also the most impressive.

Alfa has picked a pretty fierce battleground in which to prove its credentials. This car goes head to head with the two hairy gorillas of this high-performance sedan category - BMW's legendary M3 and Benz's equally fearsome C63 AMG. The Alfa has not just rounded up the two Germans but has left them eating dust, claiming the QV has superior power to weight ratios and superior overall performance.

Using a twin turbocharged, 2.9-litre V6 developed in conjunction with Ferrari, Alfa has delivered a car they claim sets new benchmarks for the category.

That includes a gaudy array of performance numbers - 375 kilowatts, 600Nm of torque and a dazzling 0-100km/h sprint time of 3.9 seconds. Top speed is 305km/h. All enough to make the Germans, who have owned this market segment for decades, take some serious notice.

And if the raw numbers aren't enough, one bark from the Giulia's massive twin exhausts should do the trick.

Happily, though, this car isn't just about brute power. The Giulia delivers balance and robustness in every respect.

The Giulia's steering is incredibly sharp and direct, making it one of the "pointiest" cars I can recall driving - so edgy and focused is its handling. It turns in with the slightest nudge of the chunky, leather-wrapped steering wheel - yet without a hint of oversteer - and never unsettled or rushed in changes of direction.

It feels poised, ready to strike at the slightest provocation - which it pretty much is, thanks to razor-sharp throttle response and the willingness of the V6 to deliver from either end of the rev range.

Its acceleration is pulverising - beginning with a throaty, torquey well of power from a standing start to the barking wail as the Giulia reaches peak operating range. It's rare to find such a combination of torque and power, even among its rivals. The Benz's twin-turbo V8 leans toward the former, while the M3's twin turbo six favours the latter. The Alfa delivers both.

The Ferrari and Maserati influence is visible throughout - from the very Ferrari-like red stop/start button on the steering wheel, to the Maserati-style big alloy paddle shifters that sit in permanent position behind it.

Not to mention Ferrari's fingerprints being in evidence all over the engineering and outputs of that glorious V6 powerplant. The eight-speed auto that delivers smooth progress with the rapid shifts you'd expect of a car with this pedigree, is inherited from Maserati.

Outside, the Giulia is absolutely beautiful and ever-so Italian. That means an aggressive yet still remarkably tasteful body kit - stretching from an ankle-height front spoiler and vast, gulping air intakes right through to an F1-style rear diffuser and rather modest little spoiler on the boot lip.

It's all set off by gorgeous 19-inch space grey alloy wheels (with massive cross-drilled Brembo brakes peeking out between the spokes) and fat, sticky Pirelli rubber.

Sexy doesn't really do it justice.

One note about those brakes. In typical racing-car style, they are next to useless until they reach a decent operating temperature - so best not to follow too closely behind cars when you first begin your journey. Even at the best of times, the engine's constant urge makes it hard enough to avoid roaring up behind the traffic ahead.

Alfa has spared no effort in the Giulia's cockpit, either. It's plush and classy with deeply bolstered, immaculately stitched leather sports seats and lashings of carbon fibre trim to underline the car's athletic, weight-saving intent.

In some areas, though, it falls a little short of premium for a car that will set you back north of $150k, once you've paid all the necessary fees. The cockpit management system, for instance, involves a fairly rudimentary, but still quite functional, scroll and click arrangement to run most cockpit functions, run via an underwhelming 8.8-inch colour screen. There's also a premium Harman Kardon 14-speaker sound system, if you can bear to ignore the exhaust sound for a while.

The QV also offers Alfa's "DNA" drive management system - with three distinct settings (Dynamic, Normal, All Weather) allowing the driver to customise throttle response, exhaust settings and chassis setup. There's also a Race setting that further sharpens the Giulia's claws, albeit with the risky side effect of disabling some of the car's dynamic stability control and traction control functions.

And with 375kW on tap, that's something that should not be done lightly.

In normal guise the car is endowed with a long suite of electronic driver aides including forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind-spot and lane departure warning systems and active cruise control.

On the practicality side, there's ample space for two adults in the back and, at a pinch, a set of golf clubs in the reasonably-sized boot.

Alfa claims average fuel economy of 8.2L/100km, thanks to a cylinder deactivation system that shuts down parts of the engine when not under full load. Technically possible, I suppose, but hardly likely to be achieved by most drivers. The temptation to bury that right foot is just too strong, I'm afraid.

Of course, while all of this power and performance is a wonderful thing, there's also a pretty decent car beneath it all - Alfa's all-new Giulia sedan which the company no doubt hopes will start to rekindle its Aussie fortunes.

That endeavour will be helped by the recent arrival of the company's first SUV - the Stelvio - which reportedly will also include a turbocharged, high-performance Quadrifoglio Verde variant as part of its range.

We can hardly wait.

The real Alfa's been absent for far too long.

Welcome back, old friend.

ALFA ROMEO GIULIA QUADRIFOGLIO VERDE

HOW BIG? A mid-sizer comparable in size to its closest rivals - Mercedes-Benz's C63 AMG and BMW's M3. It's roomy enough while still feeling snug and compact inside.

HOW FAST? Prodigiously. Anything that can reach the speed limit in less than four seconds earns supercar status and the Alfa will get there in a glorious 3.9 seconds. Quicker, it must be said, than its German rivals.

HOW THIRSTY? Alfa claims an official thirst of 8.2L/100km - achieved, perhaps, while cruising in eighth gear on the freeway. Drive the car like it was intended, though, and you're likely to use twice as much.

HOW MUCH? AT $143,000 you won't see too many of these outside your favourite Italian coffee shop. But it's competitively priced against its main rivals, and unquestionably delivers what you'd expect for that money.