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Car group tests

Jaguar XE vs Alfa Romeo Giulia vs Audi A4

Jaguar’s new 2.0-litre XE is leading the rise of petrol power in compact execs. We pitch it against the Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo Giulia

The swing from diesel domination to petrol power shows no signs of relenting as more and more manufacturers begin to reveal incentives to persuade motorists to switch to petrol and consider diesel scrappage schemes.

That means a petrol-powered compact executive saloon is once again becoming a viable proposition, and the Jaguar XE, fitted with the firm’s new 2.0-litre turbo Ingenium petrol engine, is the latest to join the ranks.

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Alfa Romeo offers a compelling alternative in the form of its Giulia 2.0 Turbo. Both cars deliver the same level of power, while in the trim levels we’re testing there’s just £530 in it on price. Audi does things a little differently with its petrol A4. This front-wheel-drive model has slightly less power and a dual-clutch auto;  the other cars here feature conventional manual transmissions. The Audi is also pricier, but the level of quality and technology on offer arguably betters both competitors.

But how economical will these cars be compared with their diesel derivatives and which petrol saloon will reign supreme?

Jaguar XE

Model:Jaguar XE 20t R-Sport
Price:£31,045
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 197bhp
0-60mph:8.2 seconds
Test economy:32.0mpg/7.1mpl
CO2:144g/km
Annual road tax:£140

Jaguar’s petrol XE was originally launched with a 2.0-litre turbo engine that was sourced from its tie-up with Ford, but now the compact exec saloon has been revised and features a 2.0-litre turbo petrol version of the brand’s own Ingenium engine. In £31,045 R-Sport trim (although our pictures show a top-spec Portfolio), is this enough to overcome the challenge from Alfa and Audi?

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With a  lighter 2.0-litre petrol engine mounted in the nose, the XE’s front end feels as keen to change direction as any example we’ve driven. The steering is fairly weighty, but has plenty of precision. It’s quick enough to match the rate of response from the chassis, while there’s a decent level of grip.

Although the Jaguar rolls a little in corners, this compliant side to the car’s set-up means that away from our test track and on the road, the XE offers a ride quality that neither of its rivals can match.

However, at the track the Jag trailed in our performance tests. The 0-60mph sprint took 8.2 seconds, which was a yawning 1.5 seconds slower than the Giulia. The Jaguar’s automatic gearbox didn’t react as quickly as the Alfa’s or Audi’s off the line, while the software’s programming shifts up early in first. This meant the XE was slower.

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In gear the deficit was reduced, and although the XE couldn’t match the Giulia’s pace, it was quicker than the Audi between 50 and 70mph in fifth, sixth and seventh gears. There’s only 10kg between these two cars’ kerbweights, so the Jag’s extra horsepower and shorter gearing helped here. The engine revs sweetly, although it feels a little more laboured than the Alfa’s more torquey 330Nm unit.

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The gearbox doesn’t shift quite as quickly as its rivals’ in manual mode – particularly the A4’s dual-clutch – but it’s smoother and more refined.

Alfa Romeo Giulia 

Model:
Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0 Turbo Super
Price:£31,575
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 197bhp
0-60mph:6.7 seconds
Test economy:30.7mpg/6.8mpl
CO2:138g/km
Annual road tax:£140

Alfa Romeo’s petrol saloons have always had appeal and this £31,575 Giulia 2.0 Turbo Super aims to once again tug at your heart strings. This time it’s backed up with solid driving dynamics, usability and strong economy. Taking on talented rivals like the XE and A4, can it hold its own?

This is backed up by the car’s dynamics. The chassis is the sharpest here, with super-fast steering compared with even the A4’s. At first the Giulia can feel nervous and hyper-alert because its steering is that sensitive, particularly in the Dynamic setting. However, once you get used to the rate of response, you learn to use less lock and the Giulia’s reactions feel more natural.

The engine matches the chassis’s keenness to perform and revs freely with a nice rasp. It was the quickest car on test, accelerating from 0-60mph in 6.7 seconds. With eight gears in its transmission, it was also the fastest over our in-gear assessments, pulling strongly from low down thanks to that combination of strong torque and lower weight. However, the box isn’t the smoothest-shifting unit. In manual it jerks its snappy changes through, and while in auto it slurs shifts better, it still doesn’t have the precision of the A4’s dual-clutch set-up.

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The flaws extend to the ride. In the most part the Alfa handles bumps and imperfections well in the Natural setting, or with the adaptive dampers in their softer mode, but some surfaces and potholes do send a shockwave through the chassis, with some lateral wobble noticeable.

By and large the Giulia offers a decent level of comfort, although it’s clearly set up for sportier dynamics. That was helped by the limited-slip differential on our car, which further boosted agility.

Audi A4

Model:
Audi A4 2.0 TFSI S tronic S line
Price:£33,790
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 187bhp
0-60mph:7.1 seconds
Test economy:32.3mpg/7.1mpl
CO2:126g/km
Annual road tax:£140

Diesels make up the majority of compact executive saloon sales, but with the recent scandal surrounding the ‘dirtier’ fuel, petrol models such as this £33,790 A4 2.0 TFSI 190 S tronic S line are becoming more popular. The Audi packs plenty of tech; the question is whether it can match the pair it’s facing here when it comes to driving dynamics.

Diesels often aren’t as refined as petrol engines due to the extra vibration and unwanted noise from under the bonnet. Modern petrol engines are much quieter and, thanks to clever turbocharging, deliver their torque in a smooth, linear fashion.

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With the car’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which also brings launch control, the A4 sprinted from 0-60mph in an impressive 7.1 seconds. This was four tenths behind the Alfa, but the smooth and snappy shifts meant the Audi closed the gap over the 30-to-70mph sprint through the gears, taking 6.1 seconds to the Alfa’s six seconds flat.

The 187bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit doesn’t feel quite as punchy as the Giulia’s engine, but it pulls strongly, and when you settle down to a cruise it’s incredibly refined, the transmission shuffling ratios sweetly unless you stamp on the throttle. Do that and the box can kick down a little aggressively.

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On smooth surfaces the A4’s ride is taut but begrudgingly absorbent, but on rougher roads the ride breaks down. It would be better on adaptive dampers; in this spec the no-cost Comfort Dynamic passive system struggles to cope with faster bumps and jolts – especially on our car’s optional 19-inch alloys – and it’s not as composed as the Jag in particular.

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The steering isn’t as fast as the Alfa’s, but it’s nicely geared to the chassis, which delivers good grip and agility. While it will change direction quickly, the A4 still feels a little flat compared with the Giulia, which is more alert and involving.

Verdict

First place: Jaguar XE

While the new Ingenium engine doesn’t offer the performance of the Alfa, it’s smooth and refined. The chassis’s involvement and desire to change direction makes up for this shortfall, but it combines this with the most compliant ride here. The XE is the cheapest car on test, will lose the least value and will be relatively affordable to run, even if diesel variants of this trio make more financial sense.

Second place: Alfa Romeo Giulia

With its punchy petrol turbo, fast steering and agile chassis, the Alfa is the driver’s choice. As a petrol car the Giulia very nearly beats the Jag; it’s practical, offers great performance and looks lovely. It’s even relatively efficient, so will be a cost-effective company buy. Poor infotainment and some quality issues hold it back, while it’s neither as composed nor as refined as the XE. 

Third place: Audi A4

The refined engine and snappy dual-clutch box help the Audi A4’s case, but it feels flat and lifeless next to its more fun-to-drive rivals. The infotainment and tech are the best here, but it doesn’t ride as well nor is it as involving or as comfortable as either the Alfa or Jaguar. While it’s efficient and well built, the A4 lacks the character of its rivals, plus it’s more expensive.

Other options in this category...

BMW 320i M Sport Auto

Price: £32,940Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 181bhp

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The 3 Series is as engaging to drive as the XE and Giulia, with adaptive dampers and sweet steering providing thrills on the road, plusgood comfort and refinement, helped by the turbo engine. The 480-litre boot rivals the best, so it’s down to personal choice.

Mercedes C 200 AMG Line Auto

Price: £34,165Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 181bhp

Mercedes’ C 200 petrol is even pricier in AMG Line trim. However, the nine-speed auto is smooth and refined, while the 480-litre boot, spacious cabin and decent infotainment – if you go for the COMAND Online system – make this an alternative to consider.

Figures

 Jaguar XE 20t R-SportAlfa Romeo Giulia 2.0 Turbo Super
Audi A4 2.0 TFSI S tronic S line
On the road price/total as tested£31,045/£31,045£31,575/£41,650£33,790/£42,505
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£12,226/39.4%£10,849/34.4%£12,202/36.1%
Depreciation£18,819£20,726£21,588
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,663/£3,325£1,629/£3,257£1,612/£3,223
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,991/£3,319£2,075/£3,459£1,973/£3,288
Ins. group/quote/road tax/cost27/£999/£14024/£939/£14026/£964/£140
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£599 (5-year package)TBC£167/£329/£167
    
Length/wheelbase4,672/2,835mm4,643/2,820mm4,726/2,820mm
Height/width1,416/1,967mm1,436/1,860mm1,427/1,842mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,998cc4cyl in-line/1,995cc4cyl in-line/1,984cc
Peak power/revs197/5,500 bhp/rpm197/4,500 bhp/rpm187/4,200 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs320/1,200 Nm/rpm330/1,750 Nm/rpm320/1,450 Nm/rpm
Transmission8-spd auto/rwd8-spd auto/rwd7-spd d-clutch auto/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel63 litres/repair kit58 litres/inflation kit54 litres/space saver
Boot capacity455 litres480 litres480 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,515/605/1,800kg1,429/N/A/1,600kg1,505/515/1,700kg
Turning circle11.2 metres10.8 metres11.6 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealers16,000 miles (2yrs)/849,000 miles (1yr)/55Variable/118
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.12th/13thN/A/N/A18th/15th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars92/82/81/82/5 (2015)98/81/69/60/5 (2016)89/87/75/75/5 (2015)
    
0-60/30-70mph8.2/8.1 secs6.7/6.0 secs7.1/6.1 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th3.1/3.6 secs2.5/3.2 secs2.7/3.7 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th/8th5.0/7.1/9.7/13.4 secs4.6/6.2/8.2/12.3 secs6.1/9.0/13.0 secs/N/A
Top speed/rpm at 70mph148mph/2,000rpm146mph/1,800rpm149mph/1,700rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph48.4/33.7/9.0m44.3/32.9/9.1m45.1/33.7/8.6m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph70/52/64/71dB69/52/65/73dB70/52/59/69dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range32.0/7.1/443 miles30.7/6.8/392 miles32.3/7.1/384 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined34.5/54.3/45.1mpg33.6/61.4/47.1mpg40.4/60.1/50.4mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined7.6/11.9/9.9mpl7.4/13.5/10.4mpl8.9/13.2/11.1mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket204/144g/km/27%213/138g/km/26%202/126g/km/24%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSix/yes/yes/£560*Nine/yes/yes/£550*Six/yes/yes/£450
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEBYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/yes/yesYes/£750/£550*Yes/£800/yes
Met paint/xenons/keyless entry & go£650/yes/£530£695/£625/£450*£645/LED/£525
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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