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Unstoppable Alfa meets immovable Audi | PH Footnot

This week Dan has mostly been driving two of the fastest family cars on the planet. But which one does he really like?

By Dan Prosser / Monday, November 25, 2019

The revelation that follows is so earth-shattering you might feel the ground move beneath your feet as you read it: motoring journalists sometimes live in a bit of a bubble. No really, it's true. We - and I absolutely include myself in this critique - tend to get so giddy about all the things that make a car brilliant to drive on a deserted mountain road that we forget people actually have to drive these things in town, or on the motorway, or in the rain, or when they've just had a vasectomy. The way a performance car acquits along that mythical cresting B-road somehow becomes the only thing that matters.

I've seen it most evidently on those end-of-year megatests that set out to crown the very best fast car of the previous 12 months. Without fail the winning machine will be low and light, focussed and raw, as unconcerned with comfort over a very long journey as it is preoccupied with lap times. In recent years it's been longtail McLarens, RS Porsches and highly-strung Ferraris. What it'll never be is the more easy-going coupe or saloon with the less effervescent character. That'll be the whipping boy of the test and it'll finish last, or not much better. But at the end of the four or five day photoshoot and with a very long and tedious drive ahead, that'll be the car whose key the testers will trip over one another trying to pocket.

I was aware of it again when testing the Audi RS5 Sportback against what I think is the best sports saloon of its generation, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. I love the way the Alfa - once you get it onto the right sort of road and when the conditions are in its favour, at least - feels like a sports car that just happens to have an extra pair of doors and a decent rear bench. It's the only high performance saloon about which that can be written. My instinct then is to heap praise upon it and declare it the triumphant winner, particularly over an Audi that conforms so slavishly to the Ingolstadt form book that it almost seems self-sycophantic.

But the Alfa has a narrow operating window and when the road doesn't flow like a ribbon tossed over the landscape, the sun isn't shining radiantly and all the other car journalist rubbish, the Giulia Quadrifoglio can be frustrating. And I wonder, if you were to offer me three years in either car, during which time I'd cover 60,000 miles and drive through three frosty winters, would I in fact prefer to be in the more secure four-wheel drive car with the far smarter interior, the much better refinement levels and the far stronger reliability record?

From December to March I probably would. And if anyone says they'd pick the Audi for year-round use over the Alfa Romeo I would understand entirely. But on balance, I actually think that as opportunities to drive a really great car become fewer and farther between, I want more and more to be in the kind of vehicle that does get your fire burning. When the clouds do part and the road ahead does open up, I want to be driving the sort of car that allows me to make the most of those rare conditions. I always think it's a shame to find yourself on a great stretch of tarmac with the sun beating down, only to realise you have a portly, leaden-footed machine labouring breathlessly beneath you. But I'm a motoring journalist. I would say that.


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