On paper, the attractive Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and the new, funky-looking 2021 BMW M3 Competition are spun from the same bolt of carbon-weave cloth. Both cars are rear-wheel-drive, front-engine members of the compact executive sedan segment. Each boasts a twin-turbo six-cylinder engine displacing about 3.0 liters. The Alfa and BWM share the same ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission and nearly identical power output just a tick beyond the 500-horsepower mark.
Pricing—both starting and as tested—parallel each other, as well. BMW requires $73,795 for the basest of the base M3 Comp, while Alfa demands $76,095 to get things started with its arrabbiata Quad. Our test-car examples sit at a hefty $93,945 for the Italian and $97,645 for the bright yellow German, so ignite your checkbook if you want to re-create our pairing.
If you limit your afternoon reading exclusively to our spec charts that follow in this piece, then this comparison test is a meeting of technical equals with only a few minor exceptions. In practice and on the charge, however, the M3 Competition and Giulia Quadrifoglio couldn’t be more dramatically different in terms of their ethos.
A portion of this perceived imbalance is objective. Before we even have a chance to weigh the sensory and tactile differences between the M3 and the Quadrifoglio, the BMW gaps the Alfa on our test track with tires ablaze and ass akimbo. In Competition form, the M3’s 502-hp engine is just short of the 505-hp Alfa. But it spreads an extra 36 lb-ft of torque on its rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires like cold butter on toast.
The two supersedans were dead even off the line, right up to the 50-mph mark where the BMW pulled ahead by 0.1 second, and then by 0.2 second at 60 mph. The Alfa took 3.7 seconds to cross that magic 60-mph mark, while the M3 took just 3.5. The Giulia continued to wilt under the M3’s torquetastic hammer, with the BMW claiming a 0–100-mph scramble in just 7.5 seconds, bettering the Alfa’s quick-but-not-quick-enough 8.3-second run. The M3 Comp needs 11.6 seconds to conquer the quarter-mile at 125.6 mph, a 0.3-second and 5.5-mph advantage over the Alfa.
Big power and big performance, meet big rock country: Tired of our usual vehicular stomping grounds, we put the full extent of these sedans’ trans-county capabilities to good use escaping the gravitational tug of the greater Los Angeles metroplex. For two days, the slash of jagged land bordering Death Valley and the Inyo National Forest was our playpen. The locales offered secluded mountain passes that wiggled past campgrounds, and grit-washed desert highways that speared unbroken into the horizon.
Between L.A. and this delicious wasteland is a stretch of semi-populated California highway that’s best endured rather than enjoyed, no matter how quick the car or daring the driver. It’s a perfect opportunity to futz and fiddle with the interior accoutrement and assess baseline road manners. This was an important part of the test, considering these are supposed to be the do-it-all multitools of the performance car pie.
Just a few miles from our office in El Segundo, the M3 Competition already proved itself a bit of a bummer, at least for some of us. Test co-driver and features editor Scott Evans quickly found the new 2021 M3’s hyperaggressive seats sadistic, its user interface frustrating, and its infotainment system Kafkaesque.
“These might be the least comfortable seats I’ve ever experienced in a production car, and I include every racing seat and carbon-fiber bucket I’ve ever sat in,” he snipped. “If you plan to do a lot of racetrack time with this car, maybe go ahead and get these seats, but only if you plan to make it a permanent track car or you are willing to buy a second set of normal seats for all the other times you might want to drive it.”
Your derrière won’t be the only thing stunned numb. When viewed directly from the front—an inadvisable activity for which we recommend wearing solar-eclipse glasses—the new M3 Comp is an astoundingly ugly car. To our eyes it looks like someone styled a normal BMW 3 from 10,000 feet down in the ocean, then shot it to the surface where it rapidly decompressed like some sort of automotive blobfish. In our 14.7-psi sea-level world, that type of weird just doesn’t work, and no, it hasn’t improved since we first saw it. The pretty-ish Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is a veritable master class in design when lined up against the German.
“I briefly considered running the M3 into the Alfa in hopes that some of the Giulia’s beauty would rub off on it, only to dismiss the idea under the rightful fear of achieving the exact opposite,” Evans said after his highway stint in the BMW.
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