Digital smarts with an old-school feel
Bravura Analog Response: The Alfa Romeo Giulia gives you that old-time performance by means of digital magic, such as brake-by-wire.Photo: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
We here at IEEE Spectrum cheerfully accept our mandate of extolling the wonders of digital this and electrified that. But sometimes we do long for the quaint pleasures of simpler cars of days gone by. In this regard, the Giulia jogs our memories like a 45-rpm record, even though its bravura analog driving feel is backed by modern advances.
This spicy Italian peaks with the Quadrifoglio version, its 377 kilowatts (505 horsepower) achieved by turbocharging the blazes out of a V-6 with a displacement of a mere 2.9 liters.
This Giuliaslays the 0-to-97-kilometer-per-hour (60-mile-per-hour) run in just 3.8 seconds, and peaks at a class-topping 307 km/h (191 mph). Numbers like those help explain how it briefly claimed the record as history’s fastest production sedan on Germany’s Nürburgring circuit.
But speed and statistics don’t tell the full Giulia story, as I learned while lapping the Alfa at Sonoma Raceway in the California wine country. We’re talking heart-stopping, high-wire handling and steering that’s quicker than that of many sports cars, with an insane 11.8-to-1 steering ratio: Just touch the wheel and the car turns. The rear-drive Quadrifoglio gets an ultrastiff carbon-fiber driveshaft to trim weight, cutting back on the parasitic energy losses en route from the engine to its final wheeled destination. Carbon fiber forms the hood and roof. There’s a twin-clutch, torque-vectoring rear differential to boost cornering. Zoom beyond 120 km/h (75 mph) and an active front splitter adjusts its angle by 10 degrees to boost front-end downforce.
The Alfa is also the first car to adopt the brake-by-wire technology of Frankfurt-based Continental, which severs the physical link between the driver’s pedal and the brakes themselves. Yes, the Integrated Braking System saves up to 4 kilograms (9 pounds) compared with conventional stoppers. But it also lays the groundwork for autonomous brakes that don’t require a pedal at all and react to threats faster than any human could.
The pedal communicates with a digital control module that melds an antilock braking system with stability control while simulating the feedback your foot would get from conventional brakes. Alfa still has work to do to make the brakes feel more natural and progressive. But the company claims they can slow you down from 97 km/h (60 mph) to a full stop in 31 meters (102 feet)—a mighty achievement indeed.
One other traditional driving link is broken: You can’t get a manual transmission. The consolation is an excellent eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Humans are invited to thwack its (literally) cool, rabbit-eared aluminum shift paddles to their heart’s content. Switch Alfa’s console DNA Pro Drive to its zestier performance modes—Alfa claims shifts take less than 100 milliseconds. Considering the Alfa’s warp-speed approach to everything, we’ll take the company’s word on that one.