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Twin test: petrol Alfa Romeo Giulia vs Jaguar XE

Don’t fancy a diesel? Do want a small, good-to-drive four-door? We test Britain and Italy's newcomers

Alfa Giulia vs Jaguar XE twin test
  • Here we have two small premium saloon cars that aren’t German. Neither of them is burning diesel fuel either. They’re both petrol. Talk about rare breeds. This is unicorn versus Loch Ness Monster. Microsoft Zune against Google Glass. Surely they’ll disappear without trace?

    We think they’re worth a look, chiefly because these are both brand new models. Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport, meet Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0 Turbo Super. The XE 25t is part of the baby Jag’s 2018 model year refresh, and the Giulia is fresh off the boat, full stop.

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  • Against a backdrop where mooted higher diesel taxes, scrappage schemes and bans from the likes of Paris and central London are making folks jittery about sinking money into a diesel car, the time is nigh to see if a petrol engine can get along with a premium-badged family saloon. Either that, or see if they depreciate themselves inside-out by the end of the photoshoot.

  • We’ll quickly identify the Jag first. The XE 25t uses one of the new Ingenium family of aluminium engines that’ll find homes all over the Jaguar Land Rover family. Here, it displaces 1,998cc, develops 247bhp and 269lb ft, and drives all four wheels as standard. It sets you back £35,645.

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  • Now strictly, this particular Alfa Romeo is one rung below the Jaguar in power output, with its 1,995cc four-cyl turbo motor good for 197bhp and 243lb ft. Consequently, it costs £31,250. However, its engine only drives the rear wheels, and Alfa’s use of the ubiquitous eight-speed ZF gearbox is sharper, more intuitive, and just better calibrated. It feels like it’s been rounded off properly to work with the engine, instead of simply hoiked straight out of the shipping crate and into the car. 

  • So, though the Jaguar is the faster car on paper, (0-62mph in 6.2sec versus 6.6sec for the Alfa, and a meaningless 11mph quicker flat out), there’s little between them out on the road. The Alfa responds more keenly to a request to bloody well get on with it, simple as that. And it’s also less strained to rev out, less resonant. The Jaguar just starts to lose its cool as you pile a few more revs on.

  • Mind you, if you’re expecting a firecracker of an Italian engine, prepare to be disappointed at the Alfa’s, er, refinement. Not only does the engine rev more cleanly than the more powerful Jaguar’s, when you’re not extending it, it melta away into the background alarmingly well for an Alfa., This is an odd sensation. An Alfa doing a sensible thing – hiding the drone of its engine – better than a rival. It’s just not the sort of strength you expect an Alfa to hold over a Jag.

    Add in the absence of XE wind flutter and tyre noise – surely a result of the aluminium structure which also robs valuable rear seat space, visibility and barely makes a dent in the kerbweight; why did you bother with the stuff, Jaguar? – and it appears the Giulia, against all odds and prejudices, is the car you’ll want to walk out to on the driveway when you’ve got a telephone number mileage to cover.

  • Except, the Jaguar can come back at the Alfa with its sheer Jaguarishness. What Jaguar really gets, probably because its chassis engineers have to spend their lives being pulverised along naff British roads, is how a car can soothe you not by just having a very soft ride, but by balancing absorbing the bumps and the ruts, with a really precise control of all its movements and inertia. Jaguar just nails its better than anyone when it comes to regular saloons – the XJ is the tidiest handling limo, the XF the most engaging big exec, and the XE flows down a road freakishly well. This is an R-Sport with 18-inch wheels, but the way it works with a surface to inform its driver what’s going on but filter out the harshness is a revelation. And the Alfa’s more energetic, hyperactive behaviour just feels a tad frenetic and brittle afterwards. 

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  • This is the pay-off for the Alfa’s handling. The lightning fast reflexes – it’s almost like it has rear-wheel steering – from the nanosecond you think of turning the achingly perfect slim-line steering wheel. It wants to turn, to apex, yum yum more corners please. The Giulia is such a driver’s car, you’re left surprised it doesn’t have a six-point harness and Nomex glovex pre-sown into the wheel. It’s even more agile than the Jaguar, but this fizz, this keenness means it’s more prone to being bump-steered or to follow a camber on the motorway, and the ride is less settled. Even with a whispering 197bhp, it’s always egging you on. One more handling point to note – deleting a heavyweight diesel engine from the Jag’s nose is noticeable the first time you wind it through a corner. The Alfa feels identical (in a good way), to its oil-fired sister. 

  • Right, enough mucking abut marveling at how two humdrum family sedans (happy now, Americans?) can maintain your attention. We’re doing a sensible petrol-on-petrol test, remember. To the calculators…

    Tax first. This is slightly skewed by the Jag being more powerful and all-wheel drive, but Jaguar’s merely reacted to massive demand for xDrive BMWs, 4Matic Mercedes and Quattro Audis by AWD-ing its line-up. Folks want that security, and will pay for the privilege. The XE 25t’s 154g/km falls into the £200 tax band, £40 dearer than the 138g/km Giulia, but in fairness, there will be a less-powered XE to match its Alfa, just as the Italians are plotting a 276bhp Giulia Veloce.

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  • Jaguar’s claimed economy of 42.2mpg translates to an indicated 29mpg if you’re getting it flowing along some A and B-roads, but could manage thirty odd if, well, if a journalist isn’t driving. The Alfa managed 31.5mpg, but that included a three-hour motorway schlep to meet the Jaguar. Fortunately, both have decent fuel tanks: the Giulia’s holds 58 litres, the Jag’s 63. So a real-world 400-mile range is no sweat.

    Fact is, if you’re familiar with the 45mpg-if-you’re-caning-it/55mpg-if-you’re-not economy of a diesel, these petrols will seem eye-wateringly profligate. And even if the Haus of Diesel does crumble, the most severe penalties won’t hit new Euro6 complaint engines.

  • So, perhaps these will remain the footnotes, the forgotten almost-sports saloons, especially in Europe. But it’s pleasing how petrol power highlights the Jaguar XE’s beautifully resolved chassis. This is a much more likeable XE than the diesel, for what it’s worth.

  • How have the Italians built a saloon this competitive from a standing start? It’s mind-blowingly well-sorted as a machine, and as an object, setting aside the slightly half-arsed infotainment. Totting up which does what best, the Alfa deserves a points victory here, as it brings a genuinely unnerving amount of refinement to a really strong Alfa Romeo.

  • Would you take either over the diesel? Well, if you’re not doing intergalactic mileage that needs a mega range, these cars don’t deserve ignoring. If you’re buying either of the sportiest small saloons, surely you’d like a less agricultural sound, less vibration troubling the ambience, and a slightly more engaging engine to work with? Just a thought…

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