Performance

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio test drive

Alfa Romeo’s return to the United States has been slow-going. Its latest sports car, however, is anything but.

The Giulia Quadrifoglio is not only the most powerful car the automaker has ever sold, but it’s also the fastest. The BMW M3-fighter has a 505 hp twin-turbocharged V6 that was engineered for Alfa Romeo by its cousins at Ferrari. It’ll hit a top speed of 191 mph. Not bad for a compact sedan.

But while those big numbers tell part of the story, it’s a small one that sums up what this car is all about. At the hands of an Alfa test driver, the GQ (that’ll work) lapped the benchmark 12.9-mile-long Nurburgring Nordschleife track in Germany in a mere 7 minutes and 32 seconds. That’s faster than any four-door car ever and exactly how you make an entrance into a very competitive segment.

The $73,595 GQ is the halo model of the Giulia lineup, which starts at $38,990 with a not-shabby 280 hp four-cylinder turbo. While its prowess isn’t all about the power, the GQ’s motor is a feisty little 2.9-liter showpiece that’s tucked in tightly under the hood along with myriad breathing and cooling apparatus. It’s worth taking a peek, because it looks special in there.

An eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel-drive come standard, and you have no say in the matter. Along with the drivetrain updates, the curvy, muscular GQ gets an adaptive suspension system; a carbon fiber hood and roof to lighten the load; a wide set of sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires; scythe-like rocker panel extensions that look like they could amputate your foot at the ankle as you’re getting in the car; and a front splitter that juts out farther at high speeds to increase downforce and improve the car’s always excellent handling.

The roomy interior has an Italian flair about it. It’s generally well-dressed, but there is a little more plastic in the nooks and crannies than you’ll find in some European competitors. Optional carbon fiber-backed Sparco bucket seats are a rare treat in this segment, however, and both supportive and long-haul comfortable at $2,750.

The steering wheel is equally impressive. It has a chunky rim, carbon fiber inserts and big, aluminum column-mounted paddle shifters behind it that stay in their positions so you don’t lose track of which is which as you go around turns.

A starter button under the left spoke is a nice touch. Press it, and the engine comes to life with a growl then settles into a raspy burble that sounds like it’s coming from a much larger engine. Switch the car into Race mode to sharpen all of its reflexes, and the exhaust opens up and gets even louder. This may be the best-sounding V6 today, the $450,000 Ford GT’s included.

Even in the more street-sensible Dynamic setting, the GQ is always raring to go. Unlike every other vehicle on the planet today, you have to press firmly on the brake pedal to keep it from creeping forward. A valet refused to pull it out of a space for me because he thought it was “too fast” when he parked it. Throttle calibration can make any car act like this, but when you put your foot on the gas, the GQ delivers on the promise.

The valet was right. It is fast. The torque doesn’t hit you all at once — it’s a surge that builds with engine speed — but there’s enough of it from a dead stop that I felt the need to apologize to a passenger for slamming her head into the seat when I merged onto a highway.

ALFA ROMEO 4C TEST DRIVE

There and around town the GQ exhibits the same kind of smooth, controlled ride as a Jaguar, and that’s the highest praise I can give a car. It’s a magic carpet that defies its stiff steamroller tires on all surfaces, but isn’t numbing. The GQ is engaging at all speeds — even the posted ones.

After I had enough of those, I took it for a few laps at Lime Rock Park, which seemed appropriate, since the track is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and its very first race was won by an Alfa Romeo.

ALFA ROMEO 4C SPIDER TEST DRIVE

Selecting Race mode, I thundered out of the pits, entered the first turn and knew I wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon. Besides being quick, the GQ is alive. It’s as if Alfa Romeo boss Reid Bigland (real name) told the development team, “You know that stereotype about Italian cars having a soul? Being passionate and all that stuff? Yeah, do that.”

The GQ has a near perfect weight balance and dances on a tightrope with the skill of a Wallenda as you throw it into a curve. The steering wheel has a teeny dead spot in the middle for safe triple-digit runs down Autobahns, but it’s quick as a whip as soon as you start turning it. There’s more than enough power to steer with the rear tires, too. My test car was fitted with brakes that included a set of pricey $5,500 carbon ceramic discs that prevent fade under extreme use and bite like a squirrel with rabies.

Dynamically and viscerally, I wouldn’t change a thing about the GQ. It’s the complete package, and thoroughly entertaining. The only thing that I disliked was the infotainment system. It doesn’t have a touchscreen or any buttons and is controlled by a single knob that is a nightmare to use. It’s the worst of its kind today, really, but I didn’t care.

Old Alfa Romeo had nasty reputation for poor reliability, of course, but everything worked fine in the week I had the GQ, and there haven’t been any reports of major owner backlash — though there aren’t too many of these on the road yet to whine about.

I’d be willing take a chance on it, at least on a lease with a full warranty. If you want to hold off for a year to see how things shake out, go ahead, but it’ll be a slow year.

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2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Base price: $73,595

As tested: $87,445

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door rear-wheel-drive sedan

Engine: 2.9-liter turbocharged V6

Power: 505 hp, 443 lb-ft

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

MPG: 17 city/24 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.