Back on track: Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo, the adored Italian car marque, is driving into a new era of success

Motoring 22 Feb 2018

Alfa’s Stelvio explores the Italian mountain road from which it takes its name
Despite being an SUV, the Stelvio corners likea low-slung saloon
The 503bhp Giulia Quadrifoglio is exactly as powerful and exciting as its good looks suggest
Thee inside of an Alfa Romeo Giulia

No car company has been granted as many second chances as Alfa Romeo. A less loved brand would have been written off by now and consigned to the scrapheap. The reason for this has been Alfa’s rich and storied history; that and stunningly beautiful, fast and exciting cars. The 33 Stradale Prototipo of 1968 is eye-wateringly exotic and to my mind simply one of the best-looking cars of all time. At around £12,500, when new, it was the most expensive car available at the time, but arguably a bargain if you consider it would now be worth around £10m if youowned one of the 18 produced.

It takes another Italian to sum it up best. The great Enzo Ferrari, who started his racing and management life with them, once said: ‘I still have, for Alfa, the tenderness of a first love’.

The cars and the glamour kept coming through the years, the 1960s bringing effortless cool across a range of models. Dustin Hoffman driving a Spider through the canyon roads to the sound of Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate, stirring more Alfa Romeo adoration. The 1970s had equally alluring vehicles, headlined by the stunning Montreal, but the brand’s reputation was starting to take a beating. Reliability, availability of parts and the big one – rust – were causing problems. Alfa and rust were synonymous in the 70s. You could smugly drive your Alfasud but secretly admire the Teutonic functionality and reliability of the Golf driving by, probably as you were stranded in the lay-by with a steaming radiator and your car gently oxidising around you.

Yes, you were in your glamorous Italian statement of cool, but you’d have to be brave to attempt anything other than a short drive without a toolkit and AA Gold membership.

There were a few highlights in the 80s and 90s, but the rot had well and truly set in. Then, about 10 years ago the giant began to wake from its slumber. The 8C Competizione of 2007 was astatement of intent and the 4C promised much but came up a little short on sales and critical reception. But the Giulia: that was a different story. And better still was the Quadrifoglio version.

‘It only takes a couple of minutes behind Stelvio Q’s wheel to realise this is a serious challenger for top dog in SUVs

Quadrifoglio (four-leaf clover) is the performance badge of Alfa Romeo. When it announced production of the rear-wheel-drive car with that V6 twin-turbo you crossed your fingers and toes that it would deliver… and it certainly does. The performance is simply epic. With 503bhp and power slides on tap, I defy anyone to drive this car without a massive grin on their face. I love the way it drives. The steering is really light and quick, which would normally make for a twitchy car – but it’s not. It’s composed and very natural, and at low speeds you can just pootle along without a care in the world. But in anger, it feels super responsive and you can place the car exactly where you want to on the road. It’s a great high-performance saloon that really puts Alfa Romeo back on the map. And then came the SUV. The fast SUV market has exploded and the competition is fierce. You would not normally bet on Alfa against cars established in this market,

such as Porsche’s Macan and the Jaguar F-Pace. But it only takes a couple of minutes to realise the Alfa’s Stelvio Q is a serious challenger for top dog in that market, in the same way that the Giulia Q is among the cream of the super-saloons.

Named after the famous mountain road in Italy, the car was launched at the Jebel Jais mountain pass in Dubai, which has been dubbed the Stelvio pass of the Middle East. When someone throws you the keys to a high-sided vehicle and sends you up some closed-off tarmac full of the tightest turns imaginable, you know they are confident of its capability. They should be. You could be forgiven for thinking you are back in its Giulia sibling (interior switchgear is largely the same), except you are sitting higher in the air and further defying physics as you throw it around corners with abandon. The problem has now become, not should I buy a Quadrifoglio, but which one should I choose?

All this sporting swagger from Alfa has been capped with the recent news that it will be returning to F1 in 2018. Alfa is no racing virgin. Remember Alfa was responsible for stirring the loins of the young Enzo before he even thought about launching his eponymous car brand. There is not much chance of it winning anything of note this year, but for many, it will be enough to see the badge grace the track again. Hopefully, this new chapter will give the company some well-earned solidity, as we all need
a little Alfa Romeo in our lives. Avanti!