3. Alfa Romeo Giulia
The Giulia marks a rather dramatic and significant return to form for Alfa Romeo. Built on a new rear-driven model platform and well able to mix it with the best cars in this class for handling poise and driver appeal, it’s also as fine-looking a saloon car as the class has seen in recent years and, with strong engines in its armoury, has all of the qualities that Alfa brand devotees would be likely to want from it.
In the way it goes about dealing with a challenging road, the car has a rare blend of light-rimmed handling agility, handling balance and compact on-road feel that give even diesel-engined versions a surfeit of sporting appeal. It’s let down somewhat by an interior that seems low-rent when judged against the German alternatives, and by a lacklustre infotainment system that’s a bit light on features and unintuitive to use.
The car certainly looks the part, though, especially in barnstorming Quadrifoglio guise, which adds in a Ferrari-derived 503bhp twin-turbocharged V6 and huge driver appeal. More economy-minded buyers will find the diesel engines also offer strong performance and fuel economy.
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4. Mercedes C-Class
Where the 3-Series, Giulia and XE place more focus on driver engagement, Mercedes has taken a more luxurious and refined approach to what a compact saloon can be with the C-Class. Think of the ‘W205’-generation ‘C’ as a miniaturised S-Class and you wont go far wrong in your expectation of the kind of dynamic compromise it offers.
Material quality inside is among the best in this class, and overall the interior is only let down by the fact that some taller passengers will find space in the back a bit tight. Standard equipment is generous across the range, too – with the technological and material highlights of top-of-the-range versions being particularly ritzy and impressive, and the car’s driver assist systems being very strong.
That the C-Class’ handling isn’t quite as poised or inviting as some is unmissably true, but it’s unlikely to discourage Mercedes owners who will value this car’s more laid-back ride and more opulent character. Meanwhile, when Mercedes banished its old 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine from this car midway through its life and replaced it with a much quieter, more efficient and more willing new 2.0-litre unit, it addressed what was arguably the car’s biggest weakness.
Unlike Jaguar and Alfa Romeo, Mercedes does offer a tax-saving plug-in hybrid version of the C-Class; but unlike the equivalent BMW 3-Series, it’s got a diesel engine. The C300de combines just under 200-horsepower from its combustion engine from just over 100- from its electric motor, and qualifies for ‘BIK’ tax from the 2020/21 financial year at just 12 per cent of its P11D-qualifying list price where a C220d diesel would make you liable for 31 per cent of it.