Alfa Romeo is a company that prides itself on its heritage – 118 years of building sporting cars for enthusiasts and genuine racers. Some of the prettiest cars ever created have worn the Alfa badge, as have some of history’s most iconic racing cars. In the modern era, the marque has soldiered on through a spells of idiosyncratic design and engineering and chaotic ownership, sustained largely by the emotive buoyancy of past glories.

For three decades Alfa revivals have come and gone, each heralded as a new dawn for the brand. The product is usually better than what’s come before, but despite media enthusiasm what tends to follow is yet more wind-swept silence and nostalgia-tinged laments. The current revival is being underpinned by something every car brand needs to survive: an SUV. Alfa have the Stelvio, a handsome big machine that is perfectly serviceable, keeps its head up amongst rivals and, most importantly of all, should bring in the requisite revenue to let Alfa just be itself.

Interior view of the all new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Interior view of the all new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

That means cars like this, the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Alfa has always built beautiful saloons, infusing the everyday equation of four doors, a bonnet and a boot with a poetic mix of aesthetics and dynamics. But nobody really buys saloon cars anymore, unless they’re forced to for work, so the market is defined almost entirely by brand image. For better or for worse, the quality that shapes the modern saloon car more than anything else is performance. The Quadrifoglio (the name references the four-leaf clover that has been a symbol of racing Alfas since the 1920s) goes head to head with cars from BMW’s M-division, Mercedes-AMG and Audi Sport.

It’s a true contender. The blend of power to handling is supremely well balanced, giving the car a poised, flighty character that rewards gifted drivers, flatters confident ones but could easily imperil over-ambitious boy racers. The paddle-shifters bang up and down through the gears in milliseconds, and there are authentic sounding growls and bangs from the sports exhaust. The steering provides a psychic connection to the road and there’s none of the gruff chunkiness of its German rivals – this car can deliver both finesse and delicacy as well as the (largely irrelevant) raw performance figures that still count in the endless bragging war between sports car buyers.

One of the biggest battles the modern car industry faces is the inevitable descent into all-encompassing generic blandness, thanks to the rigid demands of regulation and the fear of doing something different and alienating the people who buy cars (themselves corralled into increasingly tricky spots by taxation and legislation). In this face of this homogenisation, the Quadrifoglio is an instant classic, an appropriate response from this most classically-minded of marques. It’s ironic that Alfa’s power-driven revival should arrive just as the age of the performance car begins its slow evolution into something as yet unknown.