Alfa Romeo Cloverleaf Group Test Five modern classic QVs go head to head
Alfa’s famous green Cloverleaf badge has adorned many great cars over the decades. Here are five modern Cloverleaf classics – which one would we take home? Words by Guy Baker. Photography by Michael Ward.
Quadrifoglio Verde: two words guaranteed to stir the soul of even the most cynical enthusiast. Reserved for the very fastest and most luxuriously appointed road-going Alfa Romeos, the green Cloverleaf badge – longtime symbol of the Alfa Romeo works racing teams – has adorned the bodywork of all sorts of Alfa road cars over the years. The Cloverleaf has a rich heritage indeed, stretching right back to the 1923 Targa Florio when Alfa Romeo works driver Ugo Sivocci found a four-leafed clover by the roadside and presented it to one of his team mates for good luck. Sivocci went on to win the race in his Alfa Romeo RL, scoring the marque’s first major international race victory. From that day forward, the Cloverleaf symbol always appeared on Alfa Romeo works racing cars.
Alfa Romeo’s glittering tally of race success includes 11 Mille Miglia race wins, ten Targa Florios, four Le Mans 24 Hour races, two Grand Prix World Championships (at the hands of Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio), three Sports Car World Championships and numerous national and European Touring Car Championships. Nearly all were won by Cloverleaf cars.
What better way to celebrate that glittering Cloverleaf racing legacy than by assessing five of the most attainable cars that wore the famous green badge? Each one of these modern classics provides a tantalisingly different take on the captivating Cloverleaf theme.
First up is the 145 Cloverleaf – a classic 1990s Walter de Silva design based on the humble Fiat Tipo platform, yet boasting quick, responsive steering and enthusiastic front-drive handling. The understated lines of this simply-presented three-door hot hatch conceal a true driver’s gem, with Alfa’s lively 1970cc Twin Spark engine delivering not only a spirited 155hp at the top reaches of the rev band, but also a very generous 138lb ft of torque at just 3500rpm. Although the five-speed manual gearbox possesses a longish throw, gear changes can still be executed quickly and precisely. Better still, the 145’s quick rack-and-pinion steering system (with just two turns lock to lock) provides keen responses and driver feedback, combining perfectly with the Cloverleaf’s alert suspension to provide a highly-rewarding high-speed drive.
With the 145’s ‘wheel in each corner’ layout and proper hot hatch suspension (MacPherson front struts and a trailing-arm rear), the 1240kg Alfa is nicely balanced both on road and track. Overall pace feels on a par with the MiTo Cloverleaf. The light and airy cabin affords excellent all-round visibility but on the down side, the seating position is a tad awkward and the dark and angular cabin design feels pretty dated.
Style-wise the 145 may appear a relatively plain Jane compared to the latest MiTo and Giulietta, but special touches like the delightful six-hole alloys, pop-out rear side windows and, of course, that little green Cloverleaf on the sills do more than enough to enable this diminutive Alfa to hold its own in this elevated company. Sad, therefore, that it’s such a rare sight these days.
The 164 feels very, very different to the other Cloverleafs here, as a result of it being the oldest and heaviest car of our quintet. What it lacks in handling finesse compared to the lighter hatchbacks it more than makes up for in straight-line performance, courtesy of a lusty 230hp 3.0-litre V6. Torque is substantial from low revs, with a peak of 206lb ft at 5000rpm, and performance is strong in all five gears – making overtaking a pleasure.
Penned by Pininfarina, the straight-edged 164 is a true 1980s design – the last Alfa model developed before the Fiat take-over, in fact. Not everyone likes the bodykit that adorns this version and the original 10-hole 16-inch alloys look lost compared to more modern cars but overall it’s still a very well-resolved design. The neo-classic interior is a sea of black leather, hard plastics, half-moon dials and a veritable explosion of square-shaped switchgear. You could spend a couple of hours just getting to grips with the heating and ventilation controls!
Intended to rival Germanic executive saloons, the four-door 164’s front-drive layout upset some Alfa purists, but the car’s comfort and performance cannot be denied. And aside from a touch of torque steer and slightly weak braking by modern standards, the plush 164 Cloverleaf does a very creditable job around our test track. The steering is less direct than the smaller 145’s and the handling is understandably affected by the car’s 1510kg bodyweight, but a wad of torque and the growl from that throaty Busso V6 puts a smile of on your face every time you press the loud pedal.
That small Cloverleaf badge astride the boot lid tells you all you need to know about this car’s true character. Well over 30 years after the first examples passed through the factory gates, the 164 Cloverleaf still feels like something very special.
Possibly the least familiar Cloverleaf model is the GT, which was a special edition made between 2008 and 2010, charcaterised by lowered suspension, a bodykit, 18-inch alloys and a choice of black, red or blue paint. Alfa’s GT is every inch a 21st century Gran Turismo machine: gorgeous looks, strong performance and… er, an economical diesel engine. Yes, that’s right – while the Cloverleaf edition was also offered in 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol versions, we reckon the pick of the lot is the 170hp 1.9-litre JTDm diesel, since it not only develops 243lb ft of torque at just 2000rpm, but also returns an easy 45mpg. Everything happens smoothly, leaving you unruffled and relaxed at the end of your drive. There are no histrionics, as the power is delivered with minimum fuss through the Cloverleaf’s grown-up six-speed manual transmission. And although the engine is a tad noisy at higher revs, you rarely – if ever – reach this point, such is the abundance of torque at lower revs.
With its clever Q2 Torsen front differential, the front tyres never scrabble for grip. But if you do wish to unsettle this accomplished cruiser, there is always the Sport button to sharpen up the driving experience. But that’s not really what the GT Cloverleaf is all about. Far better to savour the delightfully cultured interior, resplendent with plump leather and lashings of aluminium, as you waft rapidly and economically to your destination.
Special touches include double-five-spoke 18-inch alloys, red brake callipers, twin exhaust pipes and Cloverleaf badges on the front wings. And although the GT is a sports coupe, it’s actually extremely practical, too, with five respectably-sized seats, a huge boot and a handy hatchback. With the Alfa GT you really can have your Cloverleaf cake and eat it.
MITO QUADRIFOGLIO VERDE
Despite its cute looks, the baby of this bunch is actually the most rewarding on our test track. The MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde – Alfa had stopped anglicising the name by now – combines a punchy 170hp turbocharged MultiAir engine, low 1145kg bodyweight, Q2 front diff and active suspension to imbue the car with great pace and excellent handling. Push the DNA switch to the Dynamic position and you can have a real hoot around corners on track, although sometimes on the road the throttle response, steering and damping in Dynamic mode feel a tad frenetic.
The throaty exhaust howl, short-throw six-speed manual gearbox and strong brakes (305mm ventilated discs and 40mm pistons) complement the MiTo QV perfectly and make it a truly rewarding hot hatch to drive. Visibility is excellent, too, thanks to the lack of B-pillars. In many ways the MiTo feels like the spiritual successor to the 145 Cloverleaf, although it falls slightly short in terms of its electrically-assisted steering, which is too inert and not quite direct enough.
In QV form, the MiTo has bold triangular wing badges, lovely 17-inch five-hole alloys, rear spoiler, twin chrome sports exhaust pipes, aluminium sports dials and pedals, sports seats and leather-covered steering wheel, handbrake and gearshift. That DNA button with active suspension is also standard. The need for everyday practicality is met with rear seats which split and fold to provide just enough boot space for everyday needs.
GIULIETTA QUADRIFOGLIO VERDE
The most accomplished all-round Cloverleaf-badged car of our quintet is the Giulietta QV. It’s certainly the most powerful, with 235hp and 251lb ft, making this a true 150mph car. The direct-injection 1.75-litre turbo unit uses MultiAir variable-valve technology to deliver both impressive low-speed torque and minimal turbo lag. You need to press fairly hard on the pedal and switch to Dynamic mode to unleash the Cloverleaf’s full potential, though.
The steering is more direct than the MiTo’s, courtesy of a motor fitted to the rack rather than the column, which makes for more precise cornering. Grip is impressive and the six-speed gearbox feels a tad more definite than the MiTo’s, too, although the brakes have to cope with a car that’s almost 200kg heavier.
The Giulietta still looks great today, with its unique rear light clusters, hidden rear door handles, tinted windows, red brake callipers, 18-inch multi-spoke alloys and front wing badges. The cabin boasts a curvaceous brushed aluminium dash replete with toggle switches, deep-set aluminium dials, partleather trim and cruise control.
There’s plenty of cabin space plus better ride quality than the MiTo QV. Stirring when you want to go fast, yet luxurious and practical when you don’t, the Giulietta QV represents a superb high point in the evolution of Cloverleaf Alfas. It’s only really surpassed by the current Giulia Quadrifoglio.
ALFA 145 CLOVERLEAF
Engine: 1970cc 4-cyl in-line
Power: 155hp at 6400rpm
Torque: 138lb ft at 3500rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Top Speed: 131mph
ALFA 164 CLOVERLEAF
Engine: 2959cc V6
Power: 230hp at 6300rpm
Torque: 206lb ft at 5000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Top Speed: 152mph
ALFA GT CLOVERLEAF
Engine: 1910cc 4-cyl in-line
Power: 170hp at 3750rpm
Torque: 243lb ft at 2000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top Speed: 130mph
ALFA MITO QUADRIFOGLIO VERDE
Engine: 1368cc 4-cyl in-line
Power: 170hp at 5500rpm
Torque: 184lb ft at 2500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top Speed: 136mph
ALFA GIULIETTA QUADRIFOGLIO VERDE
Engine: 1742cc 4-cyl in-line
Power: 235hp at 5500rpm
Torque: 251lb ft at 1900rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top Speed: 150mph
1995 Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf 3.0 V6 24v Est Value: £10,000
Based on 52 year old male, Architect, full NCB, living in NR6 postcode, SD&P (exc. commuting), garaged, 5000 miles pa, car club member, 2nd car for everyday use. Premium: £95.28 inc IPT Excess: £50 (exc. fee + legal cover
“The most accomplished car of our quintet is the Giulietta QV. It’s certainly the most powerful ”
The baby of our gathering may have ‘only’ 1.4 litres but it’s a very entertaining hot hatch to drive
Heart says the Busso-powered 164 is the finest car here but a few flaws are readily apparent