By Shari Prymak
Want a fun to drive premium four-door sedan, but bored of the same old German options from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes? Introducing the Jaguar XE and the Alfa Romeo Giulia, the two newest entries to the popular sport sedan segment. They may be the alternative picks to the big three from Germany, but what they lack in popularity is more than make up for in exclusivity, sportiness, and desirability.
We were loaned top-of-the-line examples of each model in their respective range. The Giulia Ti Q4 comes equipped with a 280 horsepower, 306 lb-ft of torque 2.0L turbocharged four, the only available engine, and, with just about every option ticked, an as-tested MSRP of $63,690. The XE offers a number of different models and engines ranging from a 247 horsepower turbo four to a 380 horsepower supercharged V6. Our near fully-optioned XE S tester is the latter, coming in at $71,320. An XE 30t with the 296 horsepower turbo four would have been a more appropriate rival in terms of both performance and price. Alas, one wasn’t available in the Jaguar press fleet.
Although the build configurations might not be perfect, no complaints can be made over the appearances of our two testers. With its clean simple lines and spot-on proportions, the XE is a handsome, though tad conservative looking sedan. The Caesium Blue paint finish of our tester is a gaze-inducing deep rich colour that does much to improve the wow factor. It’s nearly as beautiful as the Rosso Competizione tri-coat of the Giulia, a $2,500 extra that’s well worth the upcharge. Along with the aggressive sport facia, red Brembo brake calipers, and 19 inch graphite rims included as part of the Sport Package, the Giulia is only a cloverleaf badge away from being mistaken for a track-ready Quadrofoglio model. British elegance or Italian beauty. Either way, you have a stunner.
From the inside, neither one is a standout in terms of fit and finish or overall spaciousness. Both cars suffer from somewhat cramped backseats with tricky ingress/egress. In terms of ergonomics and use of technology though, the XE is the clear winner. Jaguar’s InTouch Pro infotainment system is sharp-looking, responsive, and relatively easy to use. Alfa’s dial-based non-touchscreen system, by comparison, looks and feels a generation behind. The XE also offers handy extras such as a head-up display and an electrically heated front windscreen which are not available in the Giulia. The Giulia’s strong points are front seat comfort and a better driving position. The steering wheel is a thing of beauty and feels wonderful to hold. Ditto for the large aluminum paddle shifters.
Neither car has a prize-worthy interior, but when it comes to the driving experience, these two have it nailed. The XE achieves an impressive balance between precise body control and good ride quality. It’s an enjoyable car to toss around and have some fun with on a twisty road. And yet, as smooth and capable as it is, the Giulia is better still. Its steering is telepathically quick, turning the car within a millisecond of the slightest steering wheel nudge. It’s more agile, more energetic, perhaps even borderline frenetic, but that’s part of what makes it more entertaining to drive. Best of all, it manages to be the driver’s car without beating up the driver. The suspension is smooth enough to polish off sharp bumps and imperfections in the road. This is chassis-tuning at some of its finest.
With a 100 horsepower and 26 lb-ft of torque advantage, it’s no surprise that the XE leaves the Giulia for dead in a drag race. The Giulia’s turbo four has plenty of shove, but it’s no match for the XE’s supercharged V6, which is not only more powerful, but sweeter sounding as well. Where the Giulia picks up ground is in the transmission department. Both cars use the same XF 8-speed automatic, but it feels as though Alfa spent a little more time on fine-tuning the programming. The Giulia is always in the right gear at the right time, and those lovely paddle shifters allow for quick gear changes in manual mode. The XE, by comparison, is a little less snappy and slower to respond to demands. The paddle shifters are nowhere near as satisfying to use or look at either.
After two weeks of enjoyable driving, it became clear that, despite a few clear strengths and drawbacks on both ends, both the XE and the Giulia are stylish, capable, and highly desirable sport sedans. Both even share a somewhat questionable history in terms of reliability, but hey, the German offerings don’t have much to brag about in that area either. If the buying decision were based solely on pragmatism, we’d be talking about a Honda Civic instead of European sport sedans. These cars are about emotion, the upscale aura, and the driving experience. Jaguar has carefully studied the formula and scored high with the XE, but the Alfa Romeo Giulia is the real high achiever. If it were my money, no question, it would be the one I’d drive home.