There are plenty of things that would irritate me about the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce Ti if I were to run one day-to-day. The way it beeps loudly every time you lock and unlock it, and the way the hazard warning lights blink furiously whenever you apply any meaningful force to the brake pedal, and the DAB radio signal that dips out every couple of minutes, and the fact there is no simple way of disengaging the traction or stability control. But none of that would ruin the car for me, because the way it steers and rides, goes and handles, plus the way it looks; all of it would comfortably outweigh the little annoyances.
The Alfa could well be the best out-of-the-ordinary sporty saloon on sale today. Or it might be the Jaguar XE HSE P300 AWD, the similarly-priced, slightly more powerful alternative (and alphanumeric fetishist). These are the cars that sit well beneath the likes of the fire-spitting Giulia Quadrifoglio and the brutish Mercedes-AMG C63, never mind the absurdly expensive XE SV Project 8. All fine machines, but also fiendishly costly to buy and run.
The Giulia and XE both have a whiff of leftfieldism about them. Or contrarianism if we're being unkind. To have narrowed your search down to one of these two cars you've confirmed by proxy that you don't want the most athletic car in the class, which is probably one of the more potent versions of the latest BMW 3 Series. You've decided as well that you don't want a Mercedes C-Class, the most luxurious saloon of its type, nor an Audi A4, which in its recently updated guise is perhaps the most modern small saloon you can buy.
You want something a little quirkier. Something less obvious. I count myself among your number. And while we're here I can't help but point out the similarities between Alfa Romeo and Jaguar: both quintessentially of their home countries, both in challenging straits these days despite their enormous reputations, both with rich histories of building beautiful sporting cars and racing them with huge success, and both comprehensively dwarfed by the German market leaders. But we've already agreed you're not interested in die üblichen verdächtigen.
The XE HSE P300 AWD starts at £44,035. For that you get a turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 300hp and 295lb ft of torque, plus four-wheel drive and an eight-speed ZF auto. The Giulia Veloce Ti costs from £46,005, for which you get 280hp and 295lb ft, also from a 2-litre turbo four-cylinder. The Alfa drives only its rear wheels via the same ZF gearbox as the Jaguar. (There are more affordable versions of both cars. The XE S P300 costs £39,415, but you'll have to make do with 18 rather than 19-inch wheels, less fancy seats and non-essential features like power fold mirrors and high beam assist. The Giulia Veloce costs pretty much the same as that XE, but compared to the Veloce Ti you'll miss out on 19-inch Quadrifoglio-style wheels, leather and Alcantara seats, some carbon fibre interior trim and so on.)
Study the spec sheets of both cars and one particular comparison will leap off the pages and smack you right in the cheek: the Jaguar is more than 250kg portlier than the Alfa. You could fill the Giulia with passengers and still it would be lighter. Which perhaps explains why, despite its traction disadvantage, the Italian car is no slower to 62mph than the British one, both clocking 5.7 seconds.
There are must-have optional accessories on both cars. The Alfa's Performance Pack costs £1675 and adds a limited slip differential (which in itself is by no means a must-have given you can't banish the electronic nannies), switchable dampers and steering column-mounted gear shift paddles. On the Jaguar you'll want to add the £1030 Dynamic Handling Pack, which brings adaptive dampers and switchable drive modes.
It's a pity you can't pay to replace their interiors wholesale with more sophisticated cabins, because both cars lag well behind the German alternatives when it comes to cockpit design and quality. To me the Alfa's interior looks and feels like something you'd expect to find in a Korean hatchback, leather dashboard or not. The gear lever is completely naff and the infotainment scroll wheel looks and feels cheap. The Jaguar's cabin is little better, the clunky dashboard design feeling every one of its five years. Rear seat space is pretty sparse, too.
What you do get, in both cases, is a very mature and sophisticated set of driving dynamics. The XE is a refined and civilised thing, and even on this car's enormous optional 20-inch wheels it rides beautifully. It feels connected to the road surface but the going is never jiggly, while the adaptive dampers help to smother broken patches of tarmac as though the car's sitting on 16-inch wheels and big, doughy tyres. Jaguar's chassis engineers are a match for any other comparable manufacturer's in that respect. The Giulia rides well, too, although it seems to derive its suppleness not from very clever damper tuning, but from much lighter springs - one advantage of it weighing so much less.
They both steer in intuitive, confidence-inspiring ways, although compared directly back-to-back the Alfa's rack comes out as the better judged. It's quick and light, but it isn't saddled with the unhelpful springiness around the centre point that afflicts the Jaguar's helm. Both display good body control over three-dimensional stretches of road as well, each allowing natural amounts of up-down body movement but never any sloppiness. Again, though, the Jaguar manages that feat because of its exceptional suspension tuning, while the Alfa does the same simply by being relatively light.
So it goes on. When you pitch the XE into a bend it grips hard but also feels nose heavy, immediately settling into very gentle understeer. Given enough space you could no doubt adjust the car's line on the throttle coming out of the bend, but during the week I had with the car I never found the space. The Giulia, meanwhile, feels so sweetly balanced in a corner - front engine, rear-wheel drive, just so - neither pushing on nor threatening to trip into sudden oversteer. Given that benign natural balance it's such a pity you can't get rid of the stability control system, although you do still enjoy feeling the chassis settle into that neutral state corner after corner.
Neither engine is especially soulful, but both are more than effective. The Jaguar's muscular and responsive four-pot makes itself known in the cabin by its warbling though not entirely convincing soundtrack, while the Alfa's engine feels full of energy and rasps in a more authentic but also more muted way. You could swap the engines over without improving nor injuring either car. Their transmissions are basically fine, too, both frustrating from time to time by denying you the downshift exactly when you want it. They each lack the snappiness of dual-clutch gearboxes as well, but they're both smoother than DCTs in normal use.
The XE does show the Giulia how it should be done in certain ways - its interior switchgear is vastly better and throughout a nasty winter, particularly on appropriate tyres, its four-wheel drive system would really come into its own - but having spent plenty of time in both and after flinging each car along the same section of surface-of-the-moon Berkshire B-road, the Alfa Romeo is the one I long to own the most. It's more fun to drive, more striking to look at and, for me, more desirable. Even in spite of those little irritations.
SPECIFICATION - JAGUAR XE HSE P300 AWD
Engine 1997cc, 4 cyls, turbo
Gearbox Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power 300hp @ 5500rpm
Torque 295lb ft @ 1500-4500rpm
0-62mph 5.7 secs
Top speed 155mph
Kerb weight 1690kg
SPECIFICATION - ALFA ROMEO GIULIA VELOCE TI
Engine 1995cc, 4 cyls, turbo
Gearbox Eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power 280hp @ 5250rpm
Torque 295lb ft @ 2250rpm
0-62mph 5.7 secs
Top speed 149mph
Kerb weight 1429kg