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How Alfa sets itself apart from Dodge and Maserati

by David Zatz on

One of the problems any automaker with numerous brands faces is, “How can we differentiate these brands, while still having economies of scale?” That brings us to a pair of Italian sports-car brands which overlap in price: Alfa Romeo and Maserati.

alfa romeos in the rain

Brand leader Tim Kuniskis said, at a recent event, that Alfa is the “purest” sports car brand in the industry, while Maserati is the ultimate grand touring car.

A Dodge Hellcat may straight-line with brutal force and incidentally handle curves well, the epitomy of modern muscle; and a Maserati may fly down the highway, but also handle the track and city well; but the Alfa Romeo will be the car that demands your attention, seeks ever-tighter curves, and asks to be taken to the autocross with every drive. Each brand has a car in the $70,000 range, but the three are completely different in tuning and attitude.

giulias-in-pontiac

The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a “driver’s car,” with tight-verging-on-twitchy steering that responded instantly to any inputs; the Stelvio crossover was less intense, in my opinion, but still tight and responsive. The driver’s seats were a little tight, but comfortable and supportive; I had no problem getting into or out of the Giulia and Stelvio. The paddle shifters were considerably larger than those in Dodges and Chryslers, for greater accessibility when swerving around a track.

alfa romeo giulia interior

Both Giulia (standard version, not Quadrifoglio) were fun on the short slalom, in both “D” (dynamic) and “N” (natural or normal) modes. They were also very controllable. Driving through Pontiac was easy, but they asked for a little more attention than ordinary cars, and made a subtle urge to take the turns faster.

My only gripe in my short time driving these cars are the “monostable” controls popularized by the Germans; you move a control and it springs back to the original position instead of staying where you put it, afflicting the shifter, rheostat, and turn signal. Perhaps the idea is to make them less distracting during high speed maneuvers, though it’s probably just staying in line with Audi and BMW; either way, I’d rather go old school.

giulia-behind-giulia

Regardless, when I got out of the Alfa Romeo, I realized why people make a fuss over these things: it’s all about the driving. Alfas feel at home on the track, street, and autocross alike. Driving a Giulia and Stelvio through Pontiac was easy and pleasant; but once I got off the city streets, my respect for the Alfa Romeo chassis soared.

giulia steering wheel

The Giulia Quadrifoglio, a serious high-performance sedan topping the Alfa Romeo line, is a surprisingly high performer. To me, it seemed harder to handle for an amateur (which I am, on the track), but undoubtedly much faster; I had a few moments on the wet track when I started to slide, and letting off the gas pedal brought instant stability.

alfa romeo stelvio at the track

Part of my impression may have been colored by driving the Quadriflogio much faster than the Stelvio; it does 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, pushed by a responsive 530 twin-turbo engine. In addition, the Stelvio has all wheel drive, helpful on a wet track. Mainly, I suspect, the Quadrifoglio is an all-out performance car.

Across the three cars — Giulia, Giulia Quadrifoglio, and Stelvio — there was a common feel and competency. They were all designed around a common core for thrilling and enthusiastic driving; they set themselves apart from Dodge’s muscle and Maserati’s grand touring quite easily, taking the lead from the manual-steering, lightweight 4C roadster.

Tim Kuniskis said that the strategy for Maserati and Alfa Romeo was laid down years ago, before the cars started their design phase. That seemed clear. What’s more, if you’re expecting the Giulia or Stelvio to be the shape of Dodges or Chryslers to come — they aren’t. They are the first new Alfa Romeos, and Dodge’s cars, even if they share key dimensions or architectures, won’t feel the same. That’s a good thing; having three overlapping brands with similar tuning doesn’t help anyone.

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