This is a special category. It’s a category that remains so competitive and one that has caused divisions in our office and the broader car community for aeons. You know the deal…BMW vs Merc, German vs Italian, AMG vs M vs RS – the debate rages on and on. This year, the category is perhaps as interesting as ever with three sports saloons that couldn’t be more different in their engineering. The Italian Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is rear-wheel driven from a force-fed 2.9-litre V6. The menacing BMW M3 Competition M xDrive is all-wheel driven as is the other BMW here, the i4 M50, which is 100% electric.
BMW i4 M50
Let's begin with the electric Beemer, shall we? On paper, the i4 M50 looks deadly. It’s the most powerful car here with 400 kW of power and 795 Nm of torque. 0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds is mega. To summarise, it's a more powerful, quieter, tree-hugging version of the M3 - or at least in principle.
Being electrified, the i4 M50 puts paid to that saying, ‘first impressions last.’ Every single passenger or driver for that matter was left gobsmacked after a stint in the car. That’s the joy of immediate and always-on torque. On the flip side, the range-anxiety was real, as we considered the challenge of getting it through the road trip and to Slaaihoek with enough range to get it through a few high-speed runs on the hill and back for another charge. Fortunately, a little Team TGSA planning and hour-long charging breaks at the N4 Petroport kept the i4 M50 in the running. What a sweet cruiser this car is. Point it in the direction of travel and be won over by its road manners, its silence and its bursts of acceleration when needed.
The i4 does not like corners as much we anticipated. In performance cars, weight is not your friend and this car is the heaviest car at Speed Week. 2,215 kgs for a performance saloon isn’t good news. It is hamstrung by this in all the important areas. It takes longer to brake, which means longer to lift off the brake too. Mid-corner speed isn’t good as it understeers at the limit. The steering is as sharp as BMW could make it but ultimately, there’s too much weight for the i4 to have made any significant results even with its brutal acceleration. We found that the best way to extract the most out of i4, was to drive it like a race car. Essentially trail brake it into a corner in order to bring the weight of the car to the front axle - as there is no combustion engine here to aid this - and steer that nose through the corner. It helped, but clearly not significantly.
BMW M3 Competition
Unlike its electrified sibling, the BMW M3 Competition xDrive is something we’re a little more accustomed to. We all loved the Isle of Man Green M3 RWD that made an appearance at Speed Week 2021, and like kids in a candy store, we couldn't wait to get behind the wheel of this M xDrive version. This is the 50 Jahre Edition with unique 50-year badges all around. Yes, the grille is still a bone of contention for some at the TGSA office, (Avon specifically) but once you get over it, what lies behind it makes the M3 possibly the most complete sports saloon on sale today. Its impressive 375 kW and 650 Nm of torque are just the beginning of its talent repertoire. The M3 does most things brilliantly and the fact that BMW’s engineers allow for us, as drivers, to tailor our experience of the chassis, braking, powertrain and steering makes the car that much more engaging. What is different now, is the xDrive system that adds 50 kgs of weight over the RWD and adds a touch more confidence to the drive, ably tempering that rear end.
Now imagine this; rain is pouring lightly, and we’re into our final laps on the hill. The M3 is due its turn and after a few tyre warming and sighting laps, the M3 is unleashed. The M3 delivered as expected…and then some. The six-cylinder howl, M twin-turbo punch, traction, front-end bite and positive steering are all memorable. It's a superb communicator on the open road and the hill; it's beautifully damped and pretty much everything we want an M3 to be.
Alfa Romeo Giulia QV
The Alfa Romeo Giulia QV stole our hearts from the onset. Nearly every team member was in awe of the Italian’s flair and magnificent performance. It not only looks and sounds good, but it somehow gets under your skin in an emotional way. All of us wanted to drive this car because building the relationship with it was so layered. It’s not a car you simply hop in and feel right at home with…no, there’s nuance to its character and you discover a little more of it every time you get behind the wheel. Exploiting its performance in the different drive modes serves up a depth of competence that is impeccable. That 2.9-litre V6 bi-turbo engine bristles with loads of power, but it’s not all ‘point and shoot’ with the QV. With identical power figures to the M3, that 375 kW potency requires a deftness to how you apply it as that rear end searches for traction in its own unique way. The front end too requires some getting used to as it uses active aero to keep you in check. Again, it takes finesse, practice and constant learning to fully understand just how sorted this Alfa Romeo is. It is certainly the most engaging car at Speed Week and this, coupled with Italian design cues both inside and out, is why everybody loved the Alfa.
Many expected the Alfa Romeo to shine up the hill. In dry and perfect conditions, it may well have been the fastest car to the top. In the dull rain when the timed runs took place, the Alfa still didn’t disappoint despite its RWD configuration. Where we expected a tail-happy, lairy run, the Alfa delivered a relatively composed and clean run with its only difficulty being able to fully engage its powertrain through the rear tyres.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia QV is passionate street theatre and thoroughly engaging in so many ways. It came so close.