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Subaru WRX


Alfa Romeo Giulia

Summary

Subaru WRX

It's funny how some brands break through into the collective consciousness. Subaru Technica International could be absolutely anything, really, but thanks to the efforts of a few chaps flinging WRXs down muddy forest roads and the PlayStation juggernaut that is Gran Turismo, just about everyone has at least heard of STi, and knows it means something fast and furious.

As part of this year's facelifted range of six WRXs, Subaru has presented us with the WRX STi Spec.R. Before you get too excited and start looking for phrases like "power is up..." or "weight is down...", the Spec.R is an STi with Recaro seats and a big wing. That doesn't mean it's not worth reading on, however, because an STi badge is never anything less than interesting. And invigorating.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency9.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

Alfa Romeo Giulia

You know how in the movie Rocky III Rocky Balboa has become all rich and successful, but unfit and he can’t really box to save himself.

Then the young maniac boxer James 'Clubber' Lang (awesomely played by Mr T) challenges him to a fight and his trainer tells him he’ll lose, but he fights him anyway, and gets knocked out.

But then he asks for a rematch, and Rocky trains hard and makes a comeback to beat Lang. Well that never happens. If it was the real world Rocky would have been beaten again.

Alfa Romeo is a bit like Rocky. The Italian carmaker used to be unbeatable in speed and looks – it won the first ever Formula One Grand Prix in 1950.

Alfas were drop dead gorgeous too, but then - like Rocky - things started to go downhill. It got successful, unfit and old. Yes, occasionally there were flashes of the genius we once knew, but if a car maker takes enough hits there’s every chance it will never get up again. Alfa Romeo had become a joke. It hurts to write that.

But there’s a big difference between Rocky and Alfa because a car maker can start afresh, build a fighter with a new body, more powerful fuel-pumping heart, stronger bones and given the right trainer it could become formidable.

Well that’s what Alfa hopes. The fighter’s name is Giulia. The trainer is Roberto Fedeli. The story goes that the head of Fiat Chrysler Sergio Marchionne could see Alfa was circling the plughole and called in the only person he felt that might just have a chance of being able to reach in and save it before it went down.

That was Ferrari’s chief engineer Fedeli. Told to fix it or look for a new job, Fedeli reckoned it was possible, but he needed some money…five billion Euros in fact. Oh, and he’d need a team… of 800 designers and engineers. He wasn’t mucking around.

When the Giulia made its world entrance in 2016 the star of the range – the hardcore Giulia Quadrifoglio (or QV for short) stepped into the ring dripping in carbon fibre with an engine that had Ferrari’s finger prints all over it and mouthing off about having just set the new lap record at the Nurburgring.

It’s mission is to lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback… and slay BMW’s M3 on the way there.

Now, we recently had the chance to drive the new Giulia Quadrifoglio on a track and it made us so happy you could tell we were grinning even though our helmet. But what is it like to drive on the road? We found out at its Australian launch. How did it handle the real world? Does it have what it takes to beat the M3 and Mercedes-Benz’s C63 S? More importantly is it enough to save Alfa Romeo?

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Subaru WRX7.3/10

Is the Spec.R worth the extra few grand over the Premium? Not really, but it's not like you're buying an STi with your accountant's blessing. The Recaros are good but they aren't amazing and the whopping rear wing is a little embarassing if you want to keep a low profile. But if you must have the top of the range, the STi is certainly far better than the WRX on which it's based and worth the extra dollars and thirst for 98 RON fuel. It's easier to live with and more fun to drive, something I'm still questioning as I type it. I expected the latter but not the former.

You can get the "basic" STi for almost $10,000 less and still get pretty much the same effect, but you'll have to move the seat yourself, live without a few luxuries and go without Battlestar Galactica glued to the bootlid.

Is the STi on your list or does the the all-wheel drive Euro set have its fingers on your money?


Alfa Romeo Giulia8.6/10

Absolutely stunning – both to drive and in looks. This is a monster, but one you can live with safely and practically. Proper rear seats, a proper boot and proper performance. A quality feeling package that feels more than a bit Ferrari but entirely Alfa Romeo. It does everything the M3 can. This looks very much to be a prize fighter that will lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback.

Comment call to action: Do you reckon the Giulia Quadrifoglio will make Alfa the next big thing? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Design

Subaru WRX7/10

Well, yes. That rear wing really dominates the STi, hanging off the back like it's searching for aliens, so they can land their spaceships on it. It's a hefty-looking unit but is actually so big that it does little to ruin rearward vision. You certainly make an entrance in a Spec.R.

The rest of the car is fairly conventional WRX - pumped and vented front guards, big but not stupid-big wheels and blacked out front and rear splitters.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

With its long, nostrilled bonnet, high roofline, short tail and almost no overhangs to mention there’s more than a sniff of BMW 3 Series going on. That’s no bad thing – its intentions are clear.

It’s actually smaller than the M3. The dimensions reveal that at 4639mm the Giulia Quadrifoglio is 32mm shorter end to end than the Beemer, but only 4mm narrower at 1873mm in width and just 2mm taller at 1426mm.

The Giulia is light at 1585kg thanks to the driveshaft, roof, bonnet, front splitter, plus the rear spoiler and side skirts being made of carbon fibre. Meanwhile the engine, suspension, brakes doors and wheel arches are all aluminium.

Inside, the cabin swallows you up in stitched leather, there’s a dash that that swoops and curves in front you and holds the impressive display screen. Many Alfa cabin traits are there such as the driver-orientated controls which tend to make the front passenger feel like, well just a front passenger.

Under all of this is an entirely new platform called Giorgio – it’s scalable like Volkswagen’s MQB. This means the Giulia is just one of the cars to be based on it – the Stelvio SUV also uses it and Alfa says there are more to come.

Practicality

Subaru WRX7/10

It's classic Impreza in here, so it's not a bad place for you and your things. Front and rear headroom are good and, for this segment, rear accommodation isn't bad at all, even if it lacks its own set of air-con vents.

The boot will take 460 litres, with the rear seats folding in the usual 60/40 fashion. Front and rear passengers each have two cupholders and two bottle holders, bringing the totals to four apiece.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

I don’t normally fit Alfa Romeos because I have Viking ancestry and don’t come from a land where the people have short legs and long arms. So as much as I’ve liked driving Alfas, when I do my legs are cramped and yet I feel too far from the wheel.

Not so in the Giulia, everything feels the right distance away. And the pedals, which in other Alfas are far too close and cause me to constantly hit the brake and accelerator at the same time just because my feet aren’t like a ballerina’s are a proper distance apart. Not once did I embarrass myself with my ‘brakcellator’ trick.

Room in the back is excellent – it’s a four seater and even at 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position with a good three fingers space between my knees and the seatback.

Boot space is also excellent and matches the M3’s 480 litres.

Storage inside is good in some places – such as wide the centre console storage bin, but not so great in others – the door pockets are only enough for small bottle and there only two cupholders – they’re in the front.

Price and features

Subaru WRX7/10

The STI range kicks off at $51,190, climing to $55,490 for the Premium and then on to $57,690 for the Spec.R. I had the all-singing and dancing Spec.R for a week.

Based on the Premium's specifcation, the R arrives with 19-inch alloys wrapped in Yokohama Advan tyres, bright yellow six-pot Brembo calipers gripping drilled discs, an eight-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, dual-zone climate control, front, side and rear vision cameras, keyless entry and start, auto wipers, active auto LED headlights, cruise control, sat nav, partial leather trim, power everything, sunroof and a space-saver spare.

The R in Spec.R stands for Recaro, the famous bottom-holding company supplying the heated front seats in part leather, part alcantara. Irritatingly, the seats don't fix the too-high positioning of the WRX's front pews, but you can't have everything. The R could also stand for ruddy great rear wing, which comes as standard and is as impressive/obnoxious as ever (delete where appropriate). 

The eight-speaker stereo is a vast improvement on the six-speaker unit in the WRX (which is tinny) but the Starlink screen (all 5.9-inches of it) still doesn't feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The sat nav is welcome, though, and means the lack of proper smartphone integration isn't as annoying.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

The Quadrifoglio is the king of the Giulia range and lists at a right royal $143,900. Sounds like a fair bit of coin, but it undercuts the M3 Competition’s $144,615 and C63 S’s $155,510.

Standard features are excellent – there’s the 8.8-inch display, 14-speaker Harman Kardon 900w sound system, the carbon fibre bonnet, roof, side skirts and rear spoiler and carbon fibre interior trim, leather and Alcantara upholstery, the steering wheel with starter button, quad exhaust tips, aero curtain on the front bumper, active aero splitter, rear diffuser, B-Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-high beam, aluminium pedals and advanced safety equipment which we’ll tell you about, too.

Engine & trans

Subaru WRX8/10

The STi continues with the larger 2.5-litre turbo boxer four, producing an unchanged 221kW (at 6000rpm) and 407Nm. Power hits the road via all four wheels in a fairly attacking fashion, with the centre differential switched out from the viscous coupled one in automatic to a driver-configurable version called "DCCD".

The 0 to 100km/h sprint for the 1572kg STi is dispatched in 5.2 seconds, lopping 0.8 seconds off the standard car's time, which is significant.


Alfa Romeo Giulia10/10

When it comes to six cylinder engines it’s hard to beat an inline six – the balance is near perfect, they scream and BMW’s delivers its power beautifully.

The Giulia has a V6. It’s a 2.9-litre twin turbo that makes more power than the M3’s 331kW at 375kW and also more torque at 600Nm.

It is a potent power plant and Alfa won’t say it too loudly, but with the same bore and stroke as the V8 in Ferrari California T it’s pretty much the same thing only with two cylinders chopped off.

Sending all that grunt to the rear wheels is an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission – I have pictures of this transmission on my fridge – it’s in a lot of cars and I am yet to find another road car transmission I like more.

A claimed 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds beats the M3 by 0.2 seconds.

Fuel consumption

Subaru WRX7/10

Subaru claims a combined figure of 11.2L/100km and I managed...well, here's the thing, 11.3L/100km. Truth in fuel consumption? Well, I never.

While the WRX drinks 95, the STi demands 98.


Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10

Alfa Romeo says the Giulia Quadrifoglio should drink Premium Unleaded at a combined rate of 8.2L/100km. It should, but it won’t if you drive it like we did. Let’s just say after 400km and starting with a full tank the fuel light came on.

Driving

Subaru WRX8/10

There are a number of significant differences between the basic WRX and the STi. For a start, the steering in the STi is old-school hydraulic, and it shows. While it might follow ruts a little more assiduously than I'd like, it's much better than the electric rack in the WRX. 

The engine is half a litre bigger, with 221kW and 407Nm, the centre diff is driver controllable, the gear ratios are different and there is a shorter final drive for extra punch. The all-wheel-drive grip is further augmented with a set of delightfully sticky Yokohama tyres wrapped around 19-inch alloys.

If you want, you can also have a ludicrously large rear wing. Well, on the Spec.R, you've got it as standard. If you're a bit of a wallflower, you might want to delete that. There are also a set of bright yellow six-pot Brembo brakes, properly high-vis yellow, gripping drilled discs. 

The standard WRX was a hard-rider, with a difficult clutch and gearshift. Surely the harder, more focused STi will be a less appealing day-to-day machine?

Nope. I know, it makes no sense, but it's true.

The real revelation is the ride. The WRX's disjointed suspension setup makes for an unholy experience on poor suburban roads while (mercifully) delivering in the twisty stuff. Both the city and getting-up-to-mischief rides in the STi are excellent. It's not soft, but the concretey feel of the WRX has been replaced with a more compliant, less busy ride. And that's despite bigger wheels and lower-profile tyres and a bit more weight.

On top of that, the hydraulic steering is way better, with more feel, more communication and more precision, apart from a slight wooliness a couple of degrees either side of dead-ahead. While the WRX is better in the faster stuff than the slow, the STi is more comfortable and usable everywhere. The extra power and torque is easy to feel and use and the clutch and gearbox are much more interested in not making you look like a goose.

The torque curve does seem a bit different to the 2.0-litre machine - you can't bumble along in a high gear, you will have to keep the left arm and leg working to maintain stately forward progression. Get lazy and you'll be bumping and shunting a bit, but again, the shift and clutch are far less obstreperous. And this is a car for people who want to drive, and be involved, anyway.

In the fun stuff, the STi is a joy. It really hooks up and you don't need to fiddle with the diff setting, which seems like a silly gimmick. Just leave it in auto and enjoy the taut, responsive chassis, the way it grips and grips and grips, and with a bit of power shuffling, resists understeer like a vegan fails to resist telling you about their veganism.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

Starting in the Giulia with the optional carbon-ceramic brakes ($13,000) and the equally optional carbon fibre sports buckets ($7150) we joined Port Macquarie’s peak-hour traffic. Those anchors felt ‘doughy’ first thing in that cool morning and it wouldn’t be until they had some serious heat in them that they’d start to come to life. That wouldn’t be long because we were heading for the hills where great roads waited. But it gave us a good chance to drive this car in ‘normal’ conditions.

Straight away that ride felt so comfortable, so soft even that I was worried it affect handling later. I’d just got out of testing a BMW M3 which feel rock hard even on a ‘soft’ suspension setting. Steering was one-finger light. The dash is high, the window sills are high, the Recaros felt tight.

As we trundled down the main street that V6 gurgled deeply in third gear – that didn’t sound like any V6 I’d driven lately. Coming out of a roundabout and a gear change back to second and the V6 stirred louded but kept its throaty roar – this was special. Dabbing the accelerator the nose lifted up. This thing wanted to go. It felt light, ‘pointable’. Everything felt light – from the accelerator pedal to the steering and body weight. It was happy to stay on the leash.  Well behaved, patient.

As we left the city behind I clicked the drive mode from ‘Natural’ into Dynamic and with heat now in the brakes decided to see what $5 billion euros and 800 engineers and designers felt like.

With acceleration so hard each shift upwards felt like a punch in the back. Those turbos are wound up with 35psi of boost it’s not until second gear that it rushed it then it’s time to for third and fourth. Using those giant paddles it’s hard to shift fast enough to keep up.

The only thing more impressive than the acceleration are those ceramic brakes – we’re talking 100km/h- 0 in 38.5 metres.

Swapping into a Giulia Quadrifoglio with standard brakes and seats I found stopping power was still impressive – those seats actually more comfortable for me.

As we scrambled through the tightest corners through the bush heading higher and higher it became clear that this was different from the M3. The BMW feels harder, firmer, more planted. But the Quadrifoglio was just as adept but did it in a softer more flowing fashion. It’s was agile, changing direction as easily as you could think it.

Also changing direction in the front splitter – it’s active meaning it moves up or down depending on when you need the extra down force.

It’s more powerful than the M3 and you can feel it – it’s wilder, less serious and slightly crazy, but smoother and softer in its suspension – there were times we scuffed the front splitter in dips.

There’s road noise – lots of it on the course chip. That is probably the only complaint. That and visibility front and side is hampered by the thickness and placement of the A and B pillars. The indicators are confusing and hard to stop indicating… but these are small things.

At full roar the Quadrifoglio bellows likes it has so much more to give, the M3 screams into battle.

Both are so so good, and do the same job, but differently.

Safety

Subaru WRX7/10

The WRX has seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera and brake assist. The STi picks up lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist and high beam assist. There's also a camera that looks forward down the side of the car to help you park  and a front-facing camera.

ANCAP awarded the WRX a five star ANCAP safety rating in March 2014.

EyeSight is not available on manual WRXs and you can't get a CVT STi, so no camera-based cleverness for you. 

The front-facing camera hangs off the left-hand door mirror and for some reason points forward. It's not especially helpful for parking.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

The left-hand drive version of the Giulia Quadrifoglio has scored the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating, which is yet to be recognised by ANCAP. There's so much more than a reversing camera too, with active cruise control, AEB, lane keeping and rear cross traffic warning and auto high beam. 

There’s two top tethers and two ISOFIX points in the back seat.

Ownership

Subaru WRX7/10

Subaru offers a three year/unlimited kilomtre warranty with matching roadside assist.

Servicing is capped for the first three years/75,000km on the WRX (Subaru appears to be in some kind of transition to a different style of service pricing). Intervals weigh in at six months/12,500km with prices ranging from $302 to $604 for a total service bill of $2295.72 or $765.24 per year. Oddly, the STi's service pricing is slightly cheaper than the base WRX.


Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10

A three-year/150,000km warranty covers the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Servicing is recommended at 12 month/15,000km intervals and Alfa Romeo has a pre-paid plan available for owners.