There’s been an Alfa Romeo Giulia-shaped hole waiting to be filled in the American car market for what feels like forever. A couple years ago, Alfa rejoined the US car party with the flawed but hugely entertaining 4C, reigniting passions after a decades-long absence but leading to little in the way of sales volume. That single offering acted only as a tease for those wanting a properly practical, five-person sports sedan. After a true-to-Italy leisurely wait, the Giulia has arrived.

The 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia puts some practical meat on the bone for American drivers bored of the usual Audi A4/Mercedes C-Class/BMW 3 Series suspects. Even better, the new Italian-made sedan comes packed with some heavy artillery, the top Quadrifoglio model offering 505 horsepower and returning a 3.8-second 0–60 mph run as well as a shockingly quick Nürburgring Nordschleife time of 7:32 – which, for the record, makes it the fastest four-passenger production car around the 12.9-mile circuit. For context, that’s six seconds quicker than a Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, and a full 20 seconds faster than a BMW M4.

Our first taste of the highly anticipated Giulia brought us to Sonoma Raceway and some local roads nearby in California’s wine country. As we approach the pack of cars warming in pit lane, there is further evidence that the Giulia Quadrifoglio is serious: its Ferrari-derived 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 sounds snarly and sweet, and cars passing on track report raspy exhaust coughs between shifts.

When you go to get in, there’s a slight chance of bumping your head on the low-slung roof – wouldn’t be an Italian car without an ergonomic quirk, right? The test car appears to be equipped with a full gamut of options: leather across the dash, carbon-fiber trim breaking up the bovine bits, an Alcantara- and leather-covered steering wheel, and the standard eight-speed automatic (the only transmission option for US-market Giulias). This is a distinctly Italian execution, with unique details like green and white top-stitching.

But there are also splashes of conventional design throughout, including the analog tach and speedo with a multifunction screen positioned between them, and a steering wheel flanked by tall aluminum shift paddles that are attached to the column and remain stationary. A center console-mounted dial selects the drive modes (D for Dynamic, N for Natural, A for Advanced Efficiency, and Race), and a button in its center lets you choose suspension stiffness. Only a few details disappoint, like the hard plastic on the inside of the center console, plasticky bits on the shifter, and a somewhat loosey-goosey feel to the control wheel used to navigate the multimedia menus.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia has been eagerly awaited because it is such a dramatically different sports sedan proposition compared to the hot-rodded offerings from Audi Quattro, BMW M, and Mercedes-AMG. Sure, it has usable rear seats and a trunk just like its competitors, but the full-blown Quadrifoglio version departs from the formula with its ultra-quick steering, focus on handling, and brappy engine. And yes, arriving late to the party has also enabled the feisty Italians to tune their mill so it’s the gruntiest of the litter, barely edging out the AMG C63S’s by a mere two horsepower. It may not be the most evolved, refined, or polished entry in this field, but the Alfa Romeo Giulia is perhaps the most entertaining and driver-centric of the bunch, making it well worth the wait for those who hope to stand apart from the crowd.