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Compact Luxury Saloons

 

  • Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
  • BMW 330i M Sport
  • Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport

By M. Costello

When it comes to the premium car market, compact luxury sedans (saloon cars) remain a pivotal business element for any serious player looking to succeed. While luxury car-makers seek to diversify their portfolios by making small entry cars and more crossover SUVs, sedans still sit at the heart of what their manufacturers represent.

Brand loyalty aside, the BMW 3 Series is the definitive luxury compact sports sedan. Sales aren’t what they once were, but it remains a point of reference. The Audi A4 has better cabin technology and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is more glamorous, but the BMW reigns supreme.

On that note, it’s important to note that there are two other rivals aimed at BMW’s customers and they’re definitely bringing a lot to the table. These are the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce from Italy and the Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport from Britain. Both are rear-wheel drive (RWD) like the BMW, turbocharged, and about US $50,000 before options and taxes.

However, keen industry followers will be well aware that both the Jaguar and BMW are due for a series of updates soon – the former with a brand new JLR engine and the latter with iDrive 6 infotainment. As such, this wouldn’t usually be the best time to do such a comparison, but we decided it would be best to do it now considering 2017 is coming to a close.

PRICING & SPECIFICATIONS

The Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport currently kicks off at US $48,200 before options and taxes, while the BMW 330i costs US $49,600. Finally, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce tops the pile at a retail price of US $50,300.

Common equipment to all three cars includes AEB, cruise control with braking, lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, proximity key, navigation, ambient night-time cabin lighting and rain-sensing wipers.

Both the Alfa and BMW have 8.8-inch screens controlled via a rotary dial, 19-inch wheels, and some form of adaptive/adjustable dampers (Adaptive Dynamics is a US $1300 option on the Jaguar), while the Jag has a 8.0-inch touchscreen and 18-inch wheels as standard.

Furthermore, both the Alfa and BMW come with leather seats, compared to the Jaguar’s ‘Luxtec and Technical Mesh’ seats – a material that Jaguar say is superior to the regular real leather on lower XE grades; which is a load of lies if you ask me… leather any day.

The Alfa alone has standard active cruise control and the biggest stereo here (400W, compared to 380W for the Jaguar and 100W for the BMW) as well as a limited-slip differential. The BMW alone adds a head-up display giving you a digital speedometre, a 20GB hard drive, LED headlights and ‘Dakota’ leather seats. The XE is the only car here with an electric steering column adjuster.

The BMW that you see here had about US $7,000 worth of options such as the pricey Innovations package (Apple CarPlay, Parking Assistant and Active Cruise Control), and the equally pricey M Sport Package (19-inch BMW M light alloy wheels, BMW Individual roofliner Anthracite, Driving Experience Control with Sport + mode, a M leather steering wheel and more).

More expensive options include its polarising Variable Sport Steering system, a sunroof (that costs about US $2,000), seat heating for the driver and front passenger and a headlight washer system.

Jaguar has developed something of an addiction to options, and the XE that you see here is no exception – as it had almost US $13,000 worth of them; which in my eyes is bordering on ludicrous.

Examples include the InControl Touch Pro Pack with an uprated 10.2-inch capacitive touchscreen and 825W audio system (US $2,600), Perforated Taurus leather sport seats (US $1,500) and Adaptive Dynamics (US $1,300) to mention a few price tags. More options include 19-inch Venom black wheels, panoramic sunroof, head-up display, electric boot, gloss black accents, set heating, electric rear sunblind and DAB+ radio. Things that are meant to come standard on such premium vehicles seem to be a way for car manufacturers to make more money.

The Alfa’s options list is comparatively meagre. You can have an uprated 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system to rival the Jag’s Meridien unit (US $600), yellow calipers (US $450) in place of the default red ones, dual-pane sunroof (US $1500) and Tri-Coat paint (which is a whopping $2500).

Clearly the BMW and Alfa take the early ascendancy, and we hope the MY18 Jaguar XE update gets some more standard features.

INTERIOR DESIGN

We start with the Jag, who’s cabin has some absolutely wonderful elements, and a few shockers. Case in point, the chunky leather steering wheel is gorgeous in the hand and has electric adjustment on the column, but audio buttons and shift paddles that feel like they belong on a Toyota Vitz and fairly dated driver’s gauges.

The whole array is geared towards dynamic driving, because you sit low with your feet straight out, wrapped-up by the snug cockpit, ensconced in well-bolstered buckets. It feels like driving a coupe, lean and low, with ample seat/wheel adjustments and generally good ergonomics.

There is a wide array of small touches that go a long way, from the small Jaguar logos on the air vents, felt-lined cubbies and that leather dash that wraps around you. On the down side, the plastics on the centre fascia aren’t great, the neon green backlighting isn’t premium and the head-up display feels a generation old.

The regular 8.0-inch screen is below-par for the class, but the optional 10.2-inch screen with HDMI input fitted to our tester is delightful. Sure, the home screen graphics still look like dated, but the loading times are rapid and the interface is positive.

The uprated audio system is good, too, but the voice control system is a bit dodgy.

In my humble opinion, the Jag has the worst rear-seat space between the three; with modest rear headroom and legroom thanks to the coupe-like vibe in the cabin. With that said, most buyers of the XE are surely usually driving two at most, or if there kid then they’re younger and wouldn’t be the wiser about legroom or headroom. The standard Isofix anchors definitely come into play here.

The Alfa has a few things going for it right off the bat. Its leather seats are the best here – tactile, brilliantly bolstered, and proudly wearing logos. It also has the most exceptional paddle shifters (fixed to the column) this side of a supercar and a novel starter button on the steering wheel. Thumbs up all round…

The material mixture is interesting though, because some of the plastic on the transmission tunnel and doors, and the gear-shifter, is particularly dire, taking away points gained from the leather and the cool faux carbon-fibre inserts. The same can be said for the old-looking font on the digital speedo.

You’ll be keen to notice the dark, minimal cabin ambient lighting, which uses a mix of LED and non-LED lights.

The audio system looks the goods on paper but in reality is actually lacking in a bit of quality, the centre touchscreen is basic in its design and layout (but will Alfa purists care?) and the car’s dual-pane sunroof is a great addition.

Meanwhile the room in the back is slightly better than that in the Jaguar and there’s a USB input, too. That, plus the rounded air vents looks great, as does the ribbed leather seat trim that has the right pitch.

There are a lot of conventional touches inside the BMW, headlined by the ‘classic’ orange lighting and the presence of a real handbrake.

I liked the rubberised buttons, great standard head-up display, the ergonomics, the usability of the iDrive 5 system (soon to be upgraded to iDrive 6 on new cars), the understated design and the high-resolution tablet screen fixed atop the dash, with class-leading navigation software and handy configurable shortcut buttons.

Typical traits are here: the modest audio system actually has a sound that is clear, the door trims and everything else is flawlessly put-together, the paddles and gear shifter are basic but reek of quality, the leather is hard-wearing, the plastics tougher than Lego.

The BMW’s rear legroom is really good for the class, with big doors/aperture and ample leg- and headroom, albeit modest foot space under the seats. It’s still narrowly the comfiest in the rear. All agreed.

The BMW 330i cabin wins, then, and it’ll only get better in Model Year 2018 (MY18) guise. The Alfa frankly feels vaguely like a its trying too hard, though it has the best seats and paddles here, while the Jag has a great sporty driving position, but some cheap-feeling bits and average infotainment – unless you’re willing to pay extra.

ENGINE & DRIVETRAINS

All three vehicles on show here use 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engines, kicking off with the Jaguar’s soon-to-be-replaced Ford unit punching out 177kW of power at 5500rpm and 340Nm of torque between 1750 and 4000rpm, enough to propel the Jag from 0-100km/h in 6.8sec.

Next in line is the BMW’s TwinPower unit with fully variable valve control, producing 185kW of power at 5200rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1450 and 4800rpm, sufficient to punch the Bimmer to 100km/h from static in 5.8sec.

Yet the Italian shades it rivals with a newly developed Euro 6 aluminium unit making an impressive 206kW of power at 5250rpm and 400Nm of torque at 2250rpm (more torque than the others, later in the rev band). This up-scaled version of the base car’s engine propels the car to 100km/h in 5.7sec.

The claimed sprint times were relatively indicative of what we found, though the BMW proved easier to launch in a brutal fashion and in that situation actually nosed the Alfa. It also has a more evocative engine sound than either the Giulia or Jag.

In terms of rolling response, the Alfa and BMW do feel a notch above the XE, but the upgrade to Ingenium power in MY18 guise should rectify this.

Indicative of modern automatic parts-sharing, all three cars use an eight-speed automatic transmission with a torque-converter, sourced from German supplier ZF. The Jag has the first-generation (8HP45) unit and the Alfa and BMW have the second-generation unit (dubbed 8HP50).

It’s all down to tuning, though. The BMW’s setup is absolutely seamless, capable of zooming about in comfort mode and holding on ratios longer or rapidly downshifting in sportier setups. It’s never rigid or hesitant, always decisive, and generally obedient in manual (where it revs out higher than the toned-down Alfa).

The Alfa’s drivetrain feels relatively cohesive and is assuredly a good effort, helped by the drama of the wheel-mounted starter button and the glorious paddle shifters.

The Jag’s gearbox never really feels particularly suited to the engine, with notable moment of hesitancy and fussiness, and slurred shifts where the BMW’s are crisp. The dial that rises from the transmission tunnel and the cheap paddles also detract from the joy.

The BMW wins this race again.

DYNAMICS

A few great dynamic tests were conducted, including noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) monitoring, standing sprints, 80km/h to zero braking comparisons, ride quality control.

The key point to take away from this comparison test is that all three cars here are designed as being overtly ‘sporty’ propositions. BMW makes self-proclaimed ‘ultimate driving machines’ and the other two are pitched as worthy alternatives.

By-and-large, all three do deliver on this promise. No car here lacks chassis balance, taut body control against lateral inputs and a sense of edginess, without twitchiness.

The Giulia did a lot of things well. It’s very good at urban comfort, with class-leading noise suppression according to our Db meter, and a relatively compliant, even supple ride in the right mode and setting. Its super-quick steering, with only 2.2 turns lock-to-lock, is also breezy in daily urban driving.

Additionally, its P Zero tyres are high-end indeed, its brakes are notably effective, and its traction control/ESC proved adept and subtle. Full lock under heavy throttle elicited neither overt oversteer or understeer.

On the down side, the damper tune is compromised on a broken road surface, where we found the car’s ride quality fell away the most here. Not only did the wheels fall into big potholes, but they tugged the body around too, throwing out the handling and stability.

Additionally, the quality of the electric-assisted steering-wheel falls away under more aggressive driving. It doesn’t load-up effectively at speed, and that quickness turns to twitchiness. It doesn’t inspire confidence because it doesn’t communicate.

The Jaguar’s electric steering is nothing short of sublime, with plenty of feedback and engaging response from centre. The steering is lighter than the BMW’s (not the Alfa’s) and requires less lock – though sometimes you want lock.

In tandem with the excellent chassis stiffness, and the well-sorted and complex rear suspension, it makes for a great driver’s car in capable hands.

The suspension also proved competent, at least BMW-matching, under duress, with great rebound qualities evidenced by the fact that the car doesn’t get thrown off by mid-corner hits.

On the downside, it’s stiffer and more brittle over B-roads and cobbles than the Bimmer (in comfort mode), and when you’re really pushing it, the car turns a little ragged.

With the traction control (ESC) disengaged the Jag was sliding around on its Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres like a maniac, and often proved hard to catch. Then again, we aren’t professional racing drivers. The Jaguar and Alfa came about equal in our 80-0km/h braking test in the damp, with the BMW edging both by 50cm and feeling the most stable.

Once again the German proved to be the best all-rounder – and not just by way of its braking.

In comfort setting the dampers soften up noticeably, with the sedan offering commendable comfort and refinement in daily urban driving, mixed with ideal body control and highway-taming refinement and stability on the straights.

Under more dynamic driving it feels typically surefooted, offering predictable oversteer that won’t snap and bite you on the arse, even with the ESC off. In fact, if anything, it’s too sorted. Maybe that’s the Bridgestone Potenza tyres speaking.

The Sport mode feels great, because you don’t crash noisily and stiffly over potholes, yet the body control stiffens and the steering becomes artificially heavy and resistant.

The only real criticism is the vague sense of detachment at times from this Variable Sport Steering system, which we’d avoid when ticking the options boxes.

CONCLUSION

One obvious take-away, is the enjoyable driving experience that I had in all these cars.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce is a pretty stellar effort in a lot of ways. It’s gorgeous, powerful, has a lot of great cabin elements and is well-specified. It’ll lure a subsection of buyers with its badge, but there’s certainly substance there too, though there are some sub-par cabin trims and dynamic issues that could be better.

As I’ve already noted on a number of occasions already, the timing of this comparison test wasn’t ideal for the Jaguar, because of the MY18 model coming, though we can foreshadow the necessity of the new Ingenium engine from JLR to narrow the gap. There’s no doubt the British marque has the best steering in the class, wonderful chassis balance and undeniable cool factor, but its questionable value (too many expensive options) and poor back-seat space, makes it not as liveable to use on a day-to-day when compared to the BMW.

Sorry to those wanting an upset, but the BMW just feels like the most cohesive car here. Yes, it’s a little dull and inconspicuous, and we understand why you may go for the British or the Italian, but the 330i has the best balance of ride/handling dynamism and comfort, the most engaging drivetrain and the cabin that offers the fewest pitfalls.

The carryover champion remains exactly that, and it’s typically humble about it. Flashiness isn’t necessary.

RATINGS BREAKDOWN

BMW 3 SERIES:

  • Performance & Economy – 8.5
  • Cabin Space & Comfort – 8
  • Technology & Connectivity – 8.5
  • Price & Features – 8
  • Ride & Handling – 9

JAGUAR XE:

  • Performance & Economy – 7.5
  • Cabin Space & Comfort – 7
  • Technology & Connectivity – 8
  • Price & Features – 6.5
  • Ride & Handling – 8

ALFA ROMEO GIULIA:

  • Performance & Economy – 8
  • Cabin Space & Comfort – 7.5
  • Technology & Connectivity – 7
  • Price & Features – 8
  • Ride & Handling – 7.5

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

  • Simba Corp is the official and sole distributor of all new BMW vehicles in Kenya. They are located along Mombasa Road, as well as along Chiromo Road adjacent to Delta Corner.
  • The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles. Check out their official website or visit their showroom(s) for more information.

 

  • RMA Motors is the official and sole distributor of all new Jaguar vehicles in Kenya. They are located along Chiromo Road at Oracle Tower (Delta Corner).
  • The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles. Check out their official website or visit their showroom for more information.

 

  • Unfortunately, Alfa Romeo does not have an exclusive, official or sole distributor of their new vehicles in Kenya; however, there are a number of international car importation companies and local dealers who bring in Alfa Romeo models by themselves or on request.
  • This lack of an official local dealer for Alfa Romeo means that after sales service for Alfa Romeo owners is dependent on relying on credible garages or mechanics that are familiar with Alfa Romeo or such luxury vehicles.