Review: BMW 3 Series vs Alfa Romeo Giulia vs Jaguar XE triple test

Review: BMW 3 Series vs Alfa Romeo Giulia vs Jaguar XE triple test
Review: BMW 3 Series vs Alfa Romeo Giulia vs Jaguar XE triple test

We’ve waited a long time for a great rear-wheel drive Alfa Romeo, so how does it stack up against two other fine saloons?

It was a sad day back in 1977 when Alfa Romeo finally dropped the original Giulia. It was a terrific little saloon with a mighty Twin Cam engine giving the rear wheels some grief. So here we are, 40 years later, about to try another one of the same name.

BMW has spent that time making great cars, including the 3 Series 320d that you see here in its latest incarnation. They’ve refined and refined, including all their experience and knowledge to make what is a standard bearer for the small exec saloon class.

Jaguar XE 2.0D 180 R Sport AWD

Price: £35,575
Engin: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Power: 178bhp
Torque: 317lb/ft
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1615kg
Top speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 7.9sec
Fuel economy: 60.6mpg (combined)
CO2/BIK tax band: 123g/km, 24%

The Jaguar also has an extensive heritage to call on, but this is a newly invigorated brand and car, gunning for the sales and the plaudits with a confidence that hasn’t always been there – or warranted. Although it’s a great rear-wheel drive saloon, we’ve gone for a four-wheel drive version, just as the xDrive on the BMW denotes all-wheel drive.

So the Alfa has to take on two all-wheel drive modern saloons, on a wintery road, with just rear-wheel drive. Don’t say it – we know it’s not fair.

The roads aren’t in great shape, nor is the weather. And the cabins of the British and German cars fail to lift the spirits. They’re both sombre affairs, devoid of frivolity. However, they’re both extremely well made, the BMW more so. They’re sorted, as they should be, and of course BMW has the iDrive, the standard for in-car infotainment.

Sadly, Alfa obviously thought so, because it’s tried its own copy of it. It feels less well made, the definition is worse and it’s just not as good. If you’re going to copy something, do it at least as well as the original. However, the rest of the Alfa’s cabin in a place to let the spirits soar. You get a sense that elements were designed just so they looked good, with functionality second. There are times when that really does hit the spot.

BMW 320d xDrive M Sport

Price £35,960:
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Power: 188bhp
Torque: 295lb/ft
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1610kg
Top speed: 142mph
0-62mph: 7.3sec
Fuel economy: 65.7mpg (combined)
CO2/BIK tax band: 123g/km, 24%

On a motorway bash the Alfa really impressed from the get-go. There’s obviously real strength in the chassis and agility in the suspension. It’s firm, but you’d expect nothing less, and it’s far from uncomfortable. Both the Jaguar and BMW beat it in terms of actual executive comfort, with both keeping away noise and other vague bothers, leaving the driver feeling cossetted and serene. The Alfa driver will feel far from tired, and possibly fairly excited.

The 2.2-litre diesel engine is a cracker, pouring out the torque as well as the power here in a way the other two can’t quite match. That’s partly down to the slinky weight advantage the Alfa has, of about 165kg which, allied to the 178bhp on offer, makes it the sparkiest of the three.

Feed in some twisty roads and the Giulia is really remarkable. It handles with such lightness and confidence that you can throw it around on even damp roads with considerable elan. The BMW can just about match that, but then it’s got another driven axle to help. With just rear-wheel drive the Alfa turns in and corners with equal aplomb. And the Jaguar, that seems like it’s a bit off the pace, because it all seems so easy and you seem to have so much time. Then you notice the others aren’t getting away an inch.

Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.2 Diesel 180 Super

Price: £31,950
Engine: 2.1-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Power: 178bhp
Torque: 332lb/ft
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1445kg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.1sec
Fuel economy: 67.3mpg (combined)
CO2/BIK tax band: 109g/km, 21%

The XE is so relaxing to drive quickly as the handling, steering, driver input, is so perfectly calibrated. It’s not as much fun as the Alfa, but neither is the BMW.

However, life isn’t all about fun as I’m sure your parents repeatedly remarked. The Alfa would have won this competition if the company could have just joined up a few more dots. The cabin is luscious but the switchgear and infotainment aren’t great. It drives wonderfully on the motorway or elsewhere but then there’s too much noise coming in. It’s those small things, but they add up, particularly when you’re driving the car every day.

Both the BMW 3 Series and the Jaguar XE are better than the Alfa in those objective terms. They show how far premium brands have progressed over the last decades. But, credit where it’s due, Alfa Romeo has come back after a gap of 40 years with a rear-wheel drive executive saloon and it’s put itself right up there among the best. We can’t wait to see what a revised version will be like.

Living with the BMW M135i

How will a used rear-wheel hot hatch measure up?The plan was to take a used hot hatch and see what we could do with it. Could we improve a

Review: Mercedes E220d Cabriolet

New E-Class range is completed by the Cabriolet – does it work best as a 2.0-litre diesel?The fourth and final piece in the new E-Class

Review: SsangYong Turismo

A great deal of space for not a great deal of money. Is that a good deal?In our vehicles, particularly if we’re thinking of family transport,

Living with: Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio

Can Alfa Romeo really make a BMW M3-beater?There’s nothing like living with a car to find out what it’s really like. The road testers