Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA review: a 532bhp road-going Touring car

By topgear, 12 May 2021

OVERVIEW – What is it?

Alfa’s love letter to the fast saloon, the Giulia GTA (Gran Turismo Alleggerita – Italian for ‘grand tourer, lightened’) comes in two guises: straight Giulia GTA and Giulia GTAm, the latter being the more hardcore iteration. Both get significant lightweighting over the 503bhp QV, both get a mild increase in power to 532bhp, mainly thanks to a titanium Akrapovic exhaust that peeps out from the middle of the new (bigger) rear diffuser, as well as small engineering tweaks like a larger turbo compressor wheel for extra boost rpm, shinier pistons, reinforced connecting roads, bespoke valve springs and tricked-out oil cooling. Pretty standard stuff.

The diet comes in the form of carbon for the driveshaft, bonnet, roof, front bumper, front wheel arches and rear wheel arch inserts, and the shells for the Sabelt sports seats. All are weave. The GTAm gets a thinner windscreen, polycarbonate rear window and no back seats, while adding in a half ‘cage and plumbed-in fire extinguisher, as well as the higher-plane rear wing. There are even fabric door pulls for the front doors - handy when wearing the full race harnesses. Oh, and there are back doors, but no interior door cards. A bit showy-off, but it all looks adjustably fantastic.

The tracks are 50mm wider and kept covered by subtly blistered arches. The wheels are Alfa ‘telephone dial’, but pleasingly centrelock. The brakes are - lighter - ceramic. And that aero package - adjustable front splitter, rear wing and deep rear venturi - arrives via Alfa’s partnership with Sauber Engineering. Dynamic sign off was through actual Formula One drivers. Safe to say, this doesn’t seem like a just bodykit and re-map. Although it has both.

The engine is the familiar 2.9-litre V6 sporting a pair of turbos, the figures an appropriate increase over a QV. But even though the performance statistics are reliably impressive, this is a car that’s all about the set-up. It makes sense aesthetically - it looks stunning on the road - but its not until you drive one in anger that it makes sense intellectually. There are definite allegories to be drawn between this and something like a Jaguar Project 8 and BMW M4 GTS, even something like a Porsche 911 GT3, although the GTA will be limited; only 500 are to be made, of both models. Interestingly, the sales split is currently running at roughly 50:50 between GTA and GTAm.

alfa giulia gta
alfa giulia gta

DRIVING – What is it like on the road?

Top Gear has only sampled the GTAm double-espresso variant, and it came with a few surprises. One, how utterly delightful it feels on the road - taut, supple and really quite useable - and how brutal it can be on track. But this is a car that’s been built to deliver, rather than showboat. From the moment you turn the wheel even a quarter of a turn, you realise that this is a car that reacts with your eyes, rather than your wrists. It’s not exceptionally featherweight, but the reactions of the steering and the way the car is set-up makes it feel more like a tonne of metal than half as much again.

Get the tyres and brakes up to temperature, and you’ll be able to start pooling blood in one side of your body on longer corners, snap yourself into the harnesses in braking zones. Apexes become hard to miss, understeer something you have to bait the car into. The engine is wonderful, but not startling - which in itself is a bit of a surprise - but the GTAm actually does all of its impressing throughout a corner. The way it can be hauled down from inappropriate speed time and time again without the brakes catching fire and falling off, the way it turns in, the way it maintains a line, the body control. It is not, it has to be said, a hooligan. Force it to drift and it becomes unsettled, allow it to power oversteer on the way out of the corner, and it becomes balletic. It won’t do a burnout, and if you try and donut the car like an idiot, the ‘box will knock itself into neutral. Both of those things are not conducive to a fast laptime, so the GTAm is unimpressed. But drive it as hard as you dare, and it comes with you every single time.

The interesting thing here is that the car isn’t actually as light as it feels but the geometry of the suspension manages some industrial light and magic to make it seem truly featherweight. There are new (lighter again) springs, different shock absorbers and bespoke bushings, and the impression is always that you have grip to spare. Yes, if you boot it mid-corner it’ll steer from the rear, but it’s not as sketchy as it sounds - there’s no mechanical diff, so it’s been set up this way. The best way to describe this car is that it’s benign, but utterly joyous - and the better you are, the more you’ll get out of it. It’s not the easy muscle car feel of the QV, but something more subtle and unique. Alfa Touring Car for the road, anyone?

ON THE INSIDE – Layout, finish and space

Anyone familiar with the Giulia interior will realise that there’s been a fair bit of raciness added to the GTA, more so with the GTAm. There are still the usual touchscreens and drive selector, but the Sabelt carbon buckets are more adjustable than they initially appear, and there’s a three-point belt for convenience alongside the race harnesses. In the rear of the GTAm is a rectangle of colour-coded rollcage, a fire extinguisher bottle in the middle, flanked by a couple of recesses in which to store your helmets. Interestingly, there are exterior doorhandles for the rear doors, but blank alcantara door cards on the inside. It makes sense - just looks a little odd.

Still, the seating position is good and low, the wheel adjustable to get your relationship with the rim and the column-mounted paddles just so. It’s a surprisingly comfortable place to hang out for a few miles, even if you’re on a real road rather than a racetrack. Although you will notice that the GTAm is less concerned with NVH compliance than a standard QV - blame the thinner windscreen glass, Lexan rear window and lack of sound-deadening for that. Mind you, that Akrapovic exhaust isn’t exactly a bad soundtrack to hum along to.

As far as equipment goes, it’s not really the point, but you do get electric front windows, a decent stereo and air-con, as well as the usual driver assistance systems, sat-nav and CarPlay/Android Auto. It feels pared back rather than stripped out, and means that even as the GTAm, you could happily use it day-to-day. As long as you don’t intend to carry more than one friend at a time.

OWNING – Running costs and reliability

You get a set of Alfa race overalls and a helmet to go with the car, so basically that means the GTA and GTAm are totally worth the £153,000 (RM890k) and £158,000 (RM920k) they cost, respectively. And yes, you did read that right. Over £150k (circa RM900k) for an Alfa Romeo Giulia. But there’s the inverse proportionality of the lightweight, limited-run special: you pay more for less. There will only be 500 in total (as mentioned, the current sales split standing at 50:50 GTA/GTAm), so these wonderful, pricey Italians are likely to be appreciating assets after a few years. Let’s hope that doesn’t stop people getting out and actually driving them, though - because that’s where these cars make the most sense. Mind you, if you can afford one, then you’re probably also capable of affording the trackday insurance, which will be cheap in the same way a Hollywood divorce is ‘cheap’.

VERDICT – Final thoughts and pick of the range

"Alfa's love letter to the fast saloon doesn't make rational sense, but it doesn't matter: it's very, very special"

If you just wanted to be the fastest car at a trackday, you’d go and buy a Radical and have done with it. But that’s not what Alfa Romeo has done here. In pretty much all metrics, these Giulias do not make much sense. But they’re built by engineers as a very expensive, fun-having exercise. If you’re being brutal, the straight GTA will be the more coherent one to have, the more useful, the more responsible. But when you’re talking about an Alfa Guilia that costs the same as a nice semi-detached house in some parts of the UK, who wants sensible? Top Gear would likely order a GTAm and just take the hit on the Christmas cards…

The GTA is … proper. A fun, exciting, invigorating, special piece of engineering. It’s not particularly rational, but the best things in life tend not to be.


Overall verdict: 9/10