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A brilliant return to form for Alfa Romeo and the GTA name
12 May 2021

What is it?

The Giulia GTA is the most powerful road car Alfa Romeo has produced and, at a projected £152,000 for the standard model and an even steeper £156,000 for the stripped-out track-focused GTAm driven here, its most expensive, too. 

Production is limited to just 500 of both - all bearing a numbered GTA (Grand Turismo Alleggerita) build plaque attached to the dashboard, so don’t expect to see many here in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter.

Which is a shame, because the new lightweight saloon is arguably Alfa Romeo’s finest road car to date: an exclusive and very special performance car that proves the Italian car maker can still turn out world-beating models when its accounting department permits, despite dwindling sales in most markets and, next to the higher-volume competition, a rather threadbare model line-up.

The starting point for the brilliant new Alfa Romeo flagship is the Giulia Quadrifoglio but, as its price suggests, the modifications run deep. The extent of the changes, and there are many, is glaringly obvious from the very the moment you clap eyes on it.

For a start, the Giulia GTA gets a comprehensively reworked aerodynamic package with lots of new carbonfibre parts. Combined, they give it a highly functional race-car-for-the-road appearance that screams performance in a way that its rivals from Audi Sport, BMW M and Mercedes-AMG visually fail to convey. 

There’s an intricate and rather expensive-looking front splitter that adjusts by 40mm, a heavily reworked front bumper, altered grille, larger air ducts behind the front wheel arches, beefed-up sills under the doors, new rear wheel-arch flares, a sizeable boot deck spoiler and a revised diffuser. 

That’s not the extent of it, though. A series of aerodynamic tests in the wind tunnel of Alfa Romeo Formula 1 partner Sauber Engineering during development has also led to the Giulia GTA receiving a series underbody trick fins to help accelerate air underneath the car towards the rear. The result? An additional 300kg of downforce compared with the Giulia Quadrifoglio, according to the engineer responsible for its development, Daniel Tiago Guzzafame.

It’s not all about pure downforce, though. Alfa Romeo says many of the new Giulia GTA's exterior parts are aimed at providing more air to an upgraded cooling system, which is claimed to have a 10% increase in capacity compared with the standard system.

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A new GTA model wouldn’t be true to its name without some exotic weight-saving measures, and they’re present in abundance. Along with most of the additional body parts, the bonnet, front wings and roof are all made of carbonfibre. 

At 100kg, the overall weight saving isn’t quite as significant as you might expect. Still, the 1580kg Giulia GTA is lighter than the Audi RS5 (by 147kg), the BMW M3 Competition (by 170kg) and the Mercedes-AMG C63 S 4Matic+ (also by 170kg). 

The more hardcore Giulia GTAm takes the savings a step further with lightweight plastic rear door panels, polycarbonate rear windows, Sabelt carbonfibre-shell front seats, nylon door pulls in place of the standard handles and the removal of the rear seating. Even with the addition of a rear roll cage, Alfa Romeo says these measures trim a further 40kg from the kerb weight, taking it down to 1540kg.   

Under the lightweight bonnet, the Giulia GTA uses the same Ferrari-designed and -developed turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine as the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Power is up by 30bhp to 533hp through the adoption of new conrods, additional oil injectors, a revised oil cooler, tweaks to the software controlling the turbocharger and, most obvious of all, an Akrapovic titanium exhaust system featuring twin centrally mounted tailpipes. Torque, however, remains the same at 443lb ft.

Drive is sent to the rear wheels via a ZF-produced eight-speed gearbox and electronically controlled differential, both of which receive unique mapping specific to the new headlining Giulia model.

Further changes are focused on the Giulia GTA’s chassis. It receives tracks that are 25mm wider at the front and 50mm wider at the rear, together with new mapping for the electromechanical steering and a lowered double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension with firmer springs and dampers as well as beefed-up anti-roll bars, among other detailed changes. Bespoke 20in forged alloy wheels with a centre-locking nut wear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, 265/30 ZR20 up front and 285/30 ZR20 at the rear.

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What's it like?

The Giulia GTA is brilliantly involving. It delivers a vastly different on-road experience from the Giulia Quadrifoglio, engaging the driver in a way that few cars at any price manage. But while it majors on performance, it doesn’t demand compromises in the way that some high-powered competitors do. Rather, it is a car that could confidently be used every day.

It certainly feels right from the heavily contoured driver’s seat. The interior is shared with the Giulia Quadrifoglio but with a liberal layer of Alcantara across the dashboard, headliner and other parts of the cabin, among other detailed changes. The start button is integrated within the steering wheel. Press it and you discover arguably the best performance saloon on sale right now.     

The changes to the engine are not extensive enough to alter its intrinsic character in any great way. However, they do provide the Giulia GTA with a more energetic feel. It always feels quicker than the Giulia Quadrifoglio when given room to move out on the open road.

Mild mannered and perhaps a little disappointing at low revs in more relaxed driving modes, its torque builds rapidly to provide the new Alfa Romeo saloon with the sort of mid-range punch to ensure it is not left behind by larger-capacity competitors when hooked up in its more sporting settings. It doesn’t shy away from hard work, either. Keep your right foot planted and the longitudinally mounted V6 smoothly extends to the 7200rpm ignition cut-out with great enthusiasm.

The silken and speedy operation of the standard eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox contributes as much to the performance as the engine does, with its crisp upshifts and determined downshifts interspersed with rev-matching blips of the throttle. It’s just a pity the shift paddles, fixed to the steering column rather than the steering wheel, are so clumsy. They’re too big, often inhibiting your operation of the stalks for the indicators and wipers.  

The figures tell the story. At 3.6sec, the Giulia GTA is 0.3sec faster from rest to 62mph than the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Top speed is dependent on the setting of the adjustable rear wing. With the least downforce dialled in, the car has a top speed of 191mph, according to Alfa Romeo.

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More memorable than the straight-line performance is the sound delivered by the Akrapovic exhaust system. Raspy at lower revs, it builds in volume and character, eventually emitting a full-blooded growl at the business end of the dial. You also get some rather entertaining pops and crackles on the overrun in more sporting driving modes.

Flashy, fast and loud it may be, but the root of the Giulia GTA’s driving appeal lays in the response and overall consistency of its handling. There is a lovely fluid feel and true engagement to its dynamic qualities, whether tooling around town or charging along at speed on deserted back roads. It connects with the driver on a level unmatched by any previous Alfa Romeo model and, dare I say, any current four-door rival, building confidence with each mile.

It is not demanding when pushed hard, either. Rather, it rises to the occasion with a stunning combination of sharpness and precision from the steering and the sheer composure of the chassis, which makes it highly predictable as you work up to the limits.

There is a small degree of body roll on turn-in as weight transfers to the outside wheel, but the car telegraphs any movement well with a highly progressive action that is quickly checked by superbly matched damping.

Despite strong front-end grip, the Giulia GTA ultimately understeers when you carry too much speed in to tighter corners, but it is wonderfully adjustable and accommodating on the throttle. A sharp lift instantly tightens the line without any white-knuckle excitement from the rear end. Switching off the stability control system opens up a whole new dimension to the handling, with lurid oversteer on offer for those willing to chase it on a circuit.

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The brakes are no less impressive. The standard-fit carbon-ceramic Brembo system mates 390mm diameter discs with six-pot calipers up front and 360mm diameter discs with four-pot calipers at the rear. There’s some initial slack at the top of the pedal before they really begin to bite, but once they do, the new Alfa Romeo wipes off speed with all the intent of a proper race car.   

As a reflection of the car's abilities, Alfa Romeo says the Giulia GTA has lapped its 3.6-mile Bolocco test track, on the outskirts of Milan, 4.07sec faster than the Giulia Quadrifoglio. You might also be interested to know that both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were brought in to sort the chassis during the final phases of development. F1 breeding, then.

However, the real achievement is Alfa Romeo’s success at matching the heightened handling to a level of ride that offers genuine compliance.

One look at tyres, essentially semi-slicks developed for the track, suggests a far less comfortable driving experience than the Giulia Quadrifoglio is on offer here. But there is evidence that the Giulia GTA actually delivers a more controlled ride than its standard sibling over certain roads. There is some harshness over smaller high-frequency bumps at lower speeds, but it copes exceptionally well with larger potholes at speed. It can’t hide road roar, though, which tends to build quite appreciably on less than smooth surfaces.

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Should I buy one?

It is not often that Alfa Romeo takes on the might of Audi Sport, BMW M and Mercedes-AMG with its own style of performance car. But in this case, we are pleased it has. The Giulia GTA is a car to savour.

It builds handsomely on the Giulia Quadrifoglio with a dramatic appearance, greater performance, a terrific exhaust note and wonderfully engaging handling – all in combination with the sort of ride quality that allows you to use it every day. It is Alfa Romeo's most thrilling road car in years.

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Comments
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Peter Cavellini 14 May 2021

And when was the last time you saw a project 8?

jer 13 May 2021

Yes it would be, but Project 8 is no longer on sale... They are similar except P8 is 4wd a bit heavier a bit more powerful.

ewallace1 13 May 2021

Would the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 not be a closer rival than the more standard performance saloons mentioned?