by Frank A. Aukofer

Pontiac, Mich. — Call it a candy store for car nuts. Every summer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles invites a jumble of journalists to its proving grounds in Chelsea, Mich., to drive all the new Ram truck, Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models. It’s an intense one-day event.

But this year, the company added a day to focus on two of its lesser-known but very expensive brands: Maserati and Alfa Romeo of Italy. That event was conducted at the M1 Concourse, a private facility in downtown Pontiac that includes a 1.5-mile road racing track.

It was a day of alternating heavy thunderstorms, cloudy weather and bright sunshine. Undaunted, the attendees drove Maserati and Alfa Romeo models on street drives, the racetrack and an autocross course. Exclusive on the autocross was Alfa’s 4C, a mid-engine two-seat sports roadster without power steering that has a starting price of $67,495.

Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that can be shifted manually. With a curb weight of just 2,467 lbs, it’s quick.

But the 4C is a twitchy beast, so loud an occupant cannot hear the expensive audio system. Some critics, including this one, consider it to be a terribly awkward conveyance. But it also has a devoted band of followers who love it for — who knows?

Way more civilized was the Maserati Gran Turismo, a high-performance ultra-luxury four-seat convertible powered by a 454-hp, 4.7-liter V8 engine with 384 lb-ft of torque. With rear-wheel drive, it has a six-speed automatic transmission with five selectable driving modes.

There are two versions in either coupe or convertible form: Convertible MC (for Maserati Corse), which starts at $166,575, including the destination charge. The Sport starts  at $154,075. Each price includes a $1,700 federal gas guzzler tax. Zero to 60 mph times are less than five seconds.

Also available for track driving was the Maserati Quattroporte sedan, which offers six models ranging in price from $109,675 to $140,975. They are powered by either of two engines: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine with 424 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque, or a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 with 523 hp and 524 lb-ft of torque. All versions use an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Other Maserati lines were the smaller Ghibli sedan and the Levante crossover sport utility vehicle. Each comes in six different versions. The Ghibli’s prices range from $76,475 to $89,275, including destination charges. The Levante starts at $77,475 and runs up to the top-line Trofeo model at $171,475.

Ghibli models have a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine. Lower trim levels get 345 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque. More expensive models have 369 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic that can be shifted manually.

Levante all-wheel-drive crossovers offer a 3.0-liter turbo V6 with either 345 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque or 414 horsepower and 438 pound-feet of torque. The bad boy on the block, however, is the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 with 550 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. All versions use an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode.

More familiar to aficionados, mainly because of more publicity, were the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and the Stelvio crossover sport utility vehicle. Depending on the version, both are offered with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

The Giulia, which competes with the 3-Series BMW, Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, comes in 11 different trim levels, five with rear-drive and seven with all-wheel drive. Prices range from $39,440 for the base rear-drive Giulia up to $75,245 for the superb all-wheel drive Quadrifoglio (Italian for four-leaf clover).

Lower trim levels are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. The Quadrifoglio is equipped with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 engine with 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque.

Think of the Stelvio hatchback as a taller version of the Giulia. It uses the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as the Giulia, and the Quadrifoglio model has the 2.9-liter V6. Prices range from $41,440 for the base rear-drive version up to $81,590 for the all-wheel drive Quadrifoglio. Transmissions are eight-speed automatics with manual-shift modes.

With the resulting publicity from the event in Pontiac, Mich., no doubt at least some buyers with deep pockets or high credit ratings will become aware of the plush and high-performing Maserati Levante crossover and the company’s other offerings. The same should be true for the better-known Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio.

Neither vehicle line has had a huge impact in the U.S. marketplace so far. In 2017, Alfa Romeo stores sold a total of 12,031 vehicles, including 407 4Cs, 8,903 Giulias and 2,271 Stelvios. Maserati’s total was 13,697, including 8,249 cars and 5,448 Levante crossovers.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) FCA North America.