ALFA Romeos. Chat to anyone who has owned one and they will regale you with stories of how their beloved Alfa broke down on the side of the road, how it leaked oil or how bits fell off for no reason.
Strangely, though, you will be hard-pressed to find an owner who condemns the car for these flaws.
It’s as though Alfa performs Jedi mind tricks on them the minute they sign the ownership papers.
We had a long-term 159 in our fleet, possibly one of the most beautiful modern sedans of the past couple of decades. Bits fell off. We didn’t care and we didn’t know why.
In recent years Alfa has made some good, not brilliant, cars, but they convey all the passion of the Alfisti. That passion is steeped in history. It was an Alfa that won the first Formula One race. Alfas have dominated the Mille Miglia event and today there are thousands of historic examples taking to tracks around the world every weekend.
I discovered quite a few of them when I arrived at Johann Rupert’s Franschhoek Motor Museum on his L’Ormarins estate. Everything was there, from the iconic Alfa Spider to the quirky SZ (Sprint Zagato).
I was driven to the museum by a member of the Alfa Romeo owners club in an original Giulia. It was a pleasant drive, more pleasant perhaps than it was for a couple of fellow journos who travelled in a model whose brakes caught fire.
It was appropriate that I travelled in a Giulia because I was at the estate to drive the latest member of the Alfa family, the new Giulia.
The car has stirred up huge debate, not least because some people have said they would buy it over a BMW M3. Really? You would buy an Alfa over a German-engineered performance icon?
First, they are talking about the Quadrifoglio Verde, or QV version, not the basic Giulia. The range starts at R555 000 for the base model which, along with the Super and Stilo models, features a 2.0l turbo motor generating 147kW and 330Nm, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
At this point I will be honest with you. There is nothing like getting up at 3.30am to catch a flight to make you feel very tired by mid-afternoon.
This was the point at which I was to drive the regular Giulia. I tried, but in the interests of safety, I handed control over to a fellow scribe.
From the passenger seat things seemed rather nice, but the Giulia is not about the base models that will appeal to true Alfa fans but struggle against those Germans.
Fortunately I was more awake earlier in the day when I found myself at Rupert’s private racetrack on the estate with a full 375kW and 600Nm emanating from the 2.9l biturbo V6 of the QV version.
The power and torque figures are impressive, but what if I tell you we are talking about a 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 307km/h? Sod those gentlemen’s agreements to limit cars to 250km/h – Alfa is all about performance.
It is no surprise that the company is using a tagline of “the mechanics of emotion” – the QV is all about emotion. Put it in race mode and the exhaust burbles in a way that is not overwhelming and the traction control loosens almost all of its grip.
Pulling out onto the track in first gear, the rear flicks as that 600Nm is pushed through the carbon-fibre propshaft (all models have this).
There is a load of clever wizardry in the form of Chassis Domain Control, torque vectoring, an Alfa Link technology suspension, an integrated brake system and the Alfa DNA or DNA Pro drive selector. You can also have optional carbon-fibre brakes, which slow the QV impressively before the tail flicks slightly as you put the power down again.
The QV is bags of fun. It is flair, emotion and passion. It is far from perfect in so many ways, but yet perfect in the way it makes you feel.
There is one big issue though – the QV will cost you R1.4 million.
It’s a great machine, but I’m not convinced it is a R300 000 better machine. Having said that, it’s evident that the QV is a “heart” buy and the M3 a “head” buy.
I’ve never owned an Alfa. I have no stories to tell. But no Alfa has made me want one more than the Giulia QV.