You’ll get a buzz from the Alfa Romeo Giulia
I'VE been having an email argument with Europe correspondent John Carey, who's also a judge on Wheels magazine's Car of the Year.
Alfa Romeo's Giulia sedan - Italy's first truly legitimate rival to the Audi A4/BMW
3 Series/Mercedes C-Class triumvirate that has dominated this class for a million years - was one of three Wheels COTY finalists but the award went to the Volvo XC60.
I haven't driven the XC60, I certainly respect the Wheels panel's judgement but the Giulia, though far from perfect, is a sensational car to drive and great value.
As an unreconstructed petrolhead, I reckon they should have given it to the Alfa.
Carey argues that Giulia's quality is patchy, indicative of being rushed through development, engineering and production. We agreed to duke it out mano e mano when next we meet.
Then I hop into the Giulia Super to take it for another drive - it's one of those cars for which you don't need an excuse - just to confirm the righteousness of my position.
I push the Go button on the wheel, a lovely Ferrari-style touch, and guess what? No go.
It looks like a dead battery. I can't check its voltage because the battery is in the boot and all of the boot's push button access controls are, of course, powered by … the battery. Time to call Alfa's roadside assist. Meanwhile …
The Super, priced at $64,195, sits one place above the base car ($59,895, with the same 147kW, 2.0-litre turbo/eight-speed automatic/rear-wheel drive set-up) in the five-model Giulia range, where it's pitched and equipped as the luxury variant.
So its interior features the softest, smoothest Italian full grain leather upholstery, plus heated, eight-way power adjustable front seats, heated steering wheel, leather on the upper dash, doors and armrest, walnut or oak veneer trim and stylish interior lighting.
That's a load of luxe for the price and, when you slide into the Super's cow-cocooned cabin, it feels like something worth considerably more than $60K-odd.
BMW and Mercedes give you not so fantastic plastic interiors - including upholstery - for this sort of money.
You sit recumbent, with plenty of adjustability and good vision, holding a typically Italian thin-rimmed, small-diameter, properly contoured, three-spoke steering wheel. It's a beautiful thing.
The infotainment is visually confusing and functionally inept. Alfa hasn't yet programmed navigation to accept Australian address destination entry by voice (which works well for audio and phone functions) and the map graphics are primitive.
The screen is small, dull and the fonts are difficult to read, especially with polarising sunglasses, as is the information display between the retro-look analog instruments.
There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the rear camera display is small and grainy. Alfa claims class leading rear seat space on a firm, supportive bench, with reasonable legroom (more than the Mercedes and BMW) and adequate headroom.
It's a comfortable place to travel. You get in and out via a pretty narrow door opening, though, and the footwell is tight.
Boot space can be extended via the 40-20-40 split fold rear seat backs.
Tuned to suit the Super's luxury brief, the conventional, non-adjustable suspension gives a smooth, surprisingly supple ride, though rough roads induce some front end bounce, plus wind noise at speed around the door seals and (optional) sunroof.
The Super includes most big-ticket driver assist technology, such as autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Tyre pressure monitoring is also useful, not least because the tyres are run-flats.
It's easy to forgive the Alfa's shortcomings, especially when you get the chance to drive it like an Italian. Its numbers aren't spectacular but they're higher than its rivals.
The 2.0-litre turbo has an eager, willing character and loves being revved, though with a class-leading mid-range - 330Nm of torque from 1750rpm-4000rpm - it doesn't need to be thrashed like Alfas of yore.
It's also frugal, capable of high fives on a highway cruise and, in Efficiency mode, 8L-10L/100km in town, assisted by automatic stop-start.
The eight-speed picks the right gear every time in Sport or Normal modes and paddle-shifters are provided. Giulia's rear-drive layout, light weight, exceptional balance and super sharp, precise steering give it a wonderfully athletic, communicative character that actually makes you feel part of the car, a quality long since lost in its German rivals, which feel uninvolving, uninspiring and over-digitised in comparison.
Alfa's brake-by-wire tech has plenty of power but the pedal is difficult to modulate at light pressure.
It's Italian, it's gorgeous and it's a car that will make me feel very happy when I drive it. Does anything else matter?
Nails its German rivals for design, value, performance, equipment and comfort. I know Alfas can be temperamental but I want something unlike the usual suspects.
BMW 320i FROM $63,400
Due for replacement by the end of 2018, the 320i's 135kW/270Nm 2.0-litre turbo lacks torque compared with the Alfa, and it's slower. Dated cabin. Adjustable suspension standard.
MERCEDES C200 FROM $61,900
The class top seller gets a 135kW/300Nm 2.0-litre turbo/nine-speed automatic. Sportyish, lovely design and strong tech. Tight rear seat and a harsh ride.
It was a dead cell in the battery that denied me another drive and the Giulia left my place on the back of a truck. It's still the best car I've driven for ages, though. I'd take it over a German stodgebox any day.
ALFA ROMEO GIULIA SUPER
PRICE $64,195 (good value)
SERVICING $1455 for 3 years/45,000km (pricey)
SAFETY 5 stars, 8 airbags, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert (good)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 147kW/330Nm (above average)
TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto; RWD (tasty)
THIRST 6.0L/100km (frugal)
SPARE None; run-flats (bad)
BOOT 480L (average)