Our motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan test drives what he considers three of the best Alfa Romeo vehicles on the road in 2019.
The fact that Ssangyong sold 47 new cars up to the beginning of October in Ireland when Alfa Romeo only mustered 38 is depressing indeed. It gets worse. DS Automobiles, the PSA premium sub-brand, that has only established in Ireland, found 38 delighted new owners.
Even if you know very little about cars you’ll probably have heard of Alfa Romeo. They are the storied premium Italian sports car manufacturer with a wobbly reputation for patchy cars with dire reliability.
Nowadays though, Alfa Romeo has some excellent models for sale provided you bypass the Giulietta. Three of them, that could fill the next three years of your life with unforgettable journeys.
There’s the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio that was voted the Irish 2018 Performance/Sports Car of the Year. Indeed this month the UK’s What Car? Magazine voted the same Giulia Quadrifoglio as its Used Performance Car for 2020.
But hold on. Some realism is needed if buying a new Alfa Romeo as it is less of a default decision and more of a calling. There is still a risk in buying a new one and the dealer network is tiny. But get hooked by an Alfa and the exuberant Italian will scratch some of the deepest emotional parts that a BMW – the sportiest German premium car on sale – will miss. Here’s three feisty Alfa Romeos to whet your appetite.
2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0-litre Turbo Veloce €54,495
Go on, admit it. Deep down you’d like to own a Giulia Quadrifoglio V6 with a searing 510hp engine and an exterior design that even Maserati might throw a casual wolf-whistle at (it’s an Italian thing). The Giulia Quadrifoglio may be a delightful looking car but it’s one that harbours a serious flaw. It costs a whacking €105,135 in Ireland and that is simply too much when a new Maserati Ghibli is around the same price.
Take heart, ThinkBusiness.ie has a solution that gives you most of the emotional bonding served up by a hot Giulia while saving you over €50,000. Step forward the Giulia 2.0-litre Turbo Veloce.
With that €50,000 saving you also fill your garage with a new and highly recommended Mazda MX-5 1.5 GT at €30,295 along with the best small hatchback on sale in Ireland – a Volkswagen Polo 1.0-litre at €19,025.
Having tested both the Quadrifoglio and the Giulia Veloce, the loss of two cylinders and just 280hp instead of the Quadrifoglio’s 510hp is clear but the core brilliance of the Giulia’s chassis is intact along with its lightning-fast steering. Incorrectly accused of being over-sensitive and twitchy the Giulia darts from corner to corner like no premium executive saloons on sale and shrinks the car’s size when driving fast.
Central to the Veloce’s appeal is its four-cylinder engine that loves to rev right up into the 5,250rpm red line and never stutters or pauses for breadth. This is Alfa Romeo at its very best – serving up a screamer of an engine that perfectly matches your mood. It can be a cruiser or a mountain road bruiser and thrill. As it’s an auto ‘box only set-up with a manual mode you’re treated to solid aluminium gear selectors behind the steering wheel. They look like they’ve been pinched lock, stock and barrel from a Ferrari parts shelf.
The Giulia claims 6.1 l/100km (46.3 mpg) which makes more sense than the QF which gulps unleaded at a rate of 8.2 l/100km (34.4 mph – but 25mpg is nearer the truth). If you’ve ever owned an Alfa Romeo in the past and were simply terrified to come back the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce is a safe way to rekindle the sparkle. Just make sure while you’re in the showroom that you bypass the rough Giulia diesels. Get that right and you’re one step away from motoring heaven.
You’ll like: Gorgeous looks. One of the greatest four-cylinder engines on sale. Brilliant steering. Precise gearbox. A delightful to own.
You’ll grumble: Cabin lags behind rivals. Infotainment reeks of creaky Windows 95 feedback. Check residuals after three years and haggle hard.
2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.9-litre V8 Bi-Turbo AWD €118,795
The BMW X5 is the best large SUV you can buy. But fancy something with more petrol performance? Then Porsche’s Macan Turbo or Audi’s SQ5 will perform like SUV superstars. Poised and preened they make a great choice. But scintillating with open-mouthed thrills? Em, not as such.
So maybe it’s time to take a bigger risk than the Giulia and go the whole hog with an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The Stelvio in QF guise is an intoxicating drug on four wheels with 510hp 3.0-litre V6 with a 0-100km in 3.8 seconds that absolutely shrieks and bangs its exhaust when provoked.
Coming to the party with a 283 km/h top speed this is the nearest to a Ferrari SUV until they put one on sale. Even the Maserati Levante doesn’t possess the unhinged detonation of a Stelvio Quadrifoglio under full acceleration. What impresses is the high level of rear-wheel bias that only reverts to permanent all-wheel drive when levels of grip is reduced and detected.
It’s easy to spot the Stelvio QF with the 20” wheels, flared arches and quad exhausts. I recently drove the Stelvio QF at refresher day for upcoming the Continental Irish Car of The Year 2020. Even though that Stevio in question was registered in 2018 and had put over 10,000 kms on the clock by the motoring press it looked fresh as good as new. Proof that Alfa Romeo is making cars to last these days. All the attributes of the Giulia Quadrifoglio are present in this Stelvio. If practicality is paramount then the Stelvio keeps pace with Audi’s SQ5 or anything similar from Mercedes. A proper Three of The Best? Amongst all the cars lined up at the journalists’ Refresher Day in Mondello Park, it was the blood red Stevlio QF that was discussed most. It holds the talent to turn an SUV hater into a convert.
You’ll like: The world’s most exciting performance SUV. Robust build quality. Brilliant steering, handling and rear-drive balance. Rockstar soundtrack.
You’ll grumble: Not as luxurious as rivals. Infotainment still a negative at this price point.
2019 Alfa Romeo Spider €(TBC)
If you’ve been thinking, without prescribed medication, of buying an Ariel Atom or a Caterham 7 for that raw driving experience there are still sensible things to consider. Like how one has a flimsy canvas roof and plastic doors, while the other is like driving around in a scaffolding lash-up found on a building site. Both fluctuate between zero weather protection and the very restricted. They are, strictly, a third car for the weekend. But you’re not listening are you?
You still want a raw car that thrills without mounting up huge running bills. This is where the rare Alfa Romeo 4c Spider is worth a look in used form. Around €50,000 should do for a five year old model. It’s a carbon tubbed two-door coupe that weighs 1,220 kg gross and hits 100km in 4.45 seconds while still managing 6.9 l/100km (55.4 mpg).
A tiny two-seater mid-engined 1,742cc four-cylinder rocketship with 240PS that is thoroughly uncompromising and immersive to drive.
Firstly, there is no power steering. You need to adjust to a contorted driving position. The infotainment system from the dark ages. As for the seats, they actually conspire to cause backache after only a few hours behind the wheel. And there is no front storage. The bonnet is welded shut. There’s very little room in the boot behind the mid-mounted engine and no glove box. Oh, and one other thing: try topping up the washer fluid reservoir. It requires you to unbolt four screws to lift a panel in front of the windscreen wiper arm using a supplied screwdriver.
Next, locate the funnel in the boot – off you go – now insert it into the washer reservoir. After all that you can replenish the fluid level. Got that? All that’s left to do is the same thing but in reverse. With all these challenges engineered into the 4C what on earth is it doing here? Three reasons: It looks glorious, just like a baby supercar Alfa Romeo should do. It is the most exiting modern Alfa Romeo to drive in decades with steering that bucks and writhes in your hands and feels blissfully precise by having no numbing servo assistance.
If you’ve ever driven a go-kart and loved the precise steering feel then the 4C Coupe or Spider will come close. Light and agile the 4C darts from one corner to the next while the small 1750cc engine roars, barks and hisses right behind your head. A Mazda MX-5 will feel like a Mercedes SL by comparison.
Soon cars like the 4C will not exist and it will be seen in years to come as a high watermark for raw motoring while remaining perfectly dry. But lastly the 4C is a car that you really connect with, far more than any Porsche. Compromised, flawed but engaging and desirable – Alfa Romeo’s 4C Coupe and 4C Spider is an exceptional sportscar and a Three of The Best winner.
You’ll like: Baby supercar looks. Immersive driving experience. Light, loud and very raw. Economical – 6.9 l/100km (55mpg).
You’ll grumble: Not officially sold in Ireland/UK anymore. Needs commitment if your only car. Topping up the washer fluid. Wonky infotainment.
Main picture: 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.9-litre V8 Bi-Turbo AWD
Published: 31 October, 2019