Leonardo Dicaprio told us a few years ago that an idea is like a resilient virus. Once the seed of an idea is planted, it’ll burrow into your head and will be impossible to uproot.
After driving Alfa Romeo’s Giulia saloon in Veloce form, I’m starting to get what Leo was on about before all the weird dream within a dream within a dream stuff and thumping Hans Zimmer soundtrack kicked off.
As my week-long test of the car was drawing to a close, I was smitten. I loved the way it looked, even in a subdued colour like the Monte Carlo Blue of the car you see here. I thought it drove fantastically. I could easily see myself buying one over a Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-series, Audi A4 or the superb new Volvo S60.
But then, an idea popped into my head. What if Alfa had built something like this five or so years ago, and it had a big, old-fashioned V6 engine under the bonnet? That would be an extraordinary car. It doesn’t, of course, with changing times meaning its 276bhp wasn’t ever going to be produced by anything other than a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four.
If you want a Giulia with more cylinders, you’ll need to spend about £20,000 more to get the super-hot Quadrifoglio version. It’ll be more exciting, of course, but you simply won’t be able to enjoy the full force of its 503bhp, Ferrari-ish 2.9-litre twin-turbo engine as much as you can with an engine with less than 300 ponies to its name.
Fortunately, all it takes is a good bit of road and a quick flick of the ‘DNA’ drive selector to the sporty ‘D’ (for dynamic) mode to bring you back to a spinning top-tumbling reality. Yes, the muted four-banger isn’t the most tuneful and it’s a shame that the redline cuts in under 6000rpm, but it’s smooth and fantastically punchy in the mid-range, enhanced by some very aggressive upshifts from the eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s the usual eight-speed ZF unit that seems to be in everything these days, but whatever Alfa has done with the software here has worked wonders.
0-62mph happens in 5.6 seconds, which sounds impressive enough, but the in-gear poke is the party piece here. You can use all of that power confidently, too - the steering is incredibly quick in this thing, and although I’d like a little more weight, it actually gives a decent amount of feedback. It’s a very communicative thing on the whole.
What’s interesting is Alfa hasn’t been tempted to make the car mega stiff and uncompromising. The Veloce has a surprisingly soft suspension setup, giving a smooth and cosseting ride when you’re on a calmer drive.
That’s not to say there are alarming levels of tilt going on during every corner. Yes, it leans, but not too much. Alfa has nailed the damper tuning here, resulting in a very well-rounded sports saloon that isn’t hampered by terrible road surfaces. Grip and traction are very good, so while it’s a shame there’s no way of turning the traction control off (the Veloce range doesn’t even have a semi-off ‘ESP Sport’ mode), you won’t often find yourself irked by this detail.
All of this leaves me wanting to shout at every prospective Stelvio buyer in the world and let them know they’re buying the wrong Alfa. The Stelvio with this engine doesn’t drive anything like as sweetly as its saloon cousin, and as we all know, few SUVists actually need an SUV.
The Giulia Veloce’s superior dynamics mean you’re also happier to overlook what’s not so good about the car. Like the Stelvio, the cabin has a simple yet stylish look to it, but much of it feels cheap and not brilliantly put together. The glorious exception is the pair of giant column-mounted metal gear-shifters - Alfa has even gone to the trouble of milling plus and minus symbols through the tops of them. They’re a proper supercar detail that’ll make your early morning commute that little bit less miserable.
As well as making comparisons with a similarly-configured Stelvio, you also can’t help but ponder how the Veloce stacks up against the Quadrifoglio. The former is still very quick, without being so fast it feels excessive away from a race track. The softer setup makes the car easier to live with and on some roads, less nervous-feeling. It’s cheaper to buy and run, and without all the extra vents and flaps, I’d argue that it’s better looking too.
In many ways, the Veloce seems like the superior car. Now there’s an infectious idea that’s sure to take hold.