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Audi, BMW and Mercedes all make exceptional vehicles, but how special, or even valued, do you feel when you upgrade your trusty Ford Focus to a shiny new BMW 3-series only to lose it in a car park full of identical cars?
That's the problem with running a premium model that, in the case of the 3-series, outsells the Ford Mondeo. But if such ubiquity bothers you, Alfa Romeo has the perfect antidote - it's called the Giulia. Sitting on an entirely new rear-drive platform, the new Alfa Romeo saloon has all the right ingredients for the perfect small executive car. And adding to the mix, and excitement, is Ferrari's involvement in the development of the Giulia.
That's why you'll find a range of new engines and gearboxes that includes, believe it or not, an awesome 510hp V6 turbo that (whisper it) is a Ferrari California T V8 with two cylinders lopped-off. Even the way the Giulia drives, and rides, has been honed by the supercar-maker.
Sadly for us, however, the 191mph Giulia QV model that features that V6 won't be troubling any car lists in the near future, so we focused on the 150hp and 180hp versions of the 2.1-litre Giulia diesel.
Taking 7.1 seconds to reach 62mph, the smooth-spinning, enthusiastic diesel lives up to the Giulia's sporty lines but, surprisingly, there's no manual gearbox option. Instead, all models come with an excellent eight-speed automatic, hence the dramatic, large aluminium paddles that live behind the wheel that look, and feel, like they've been pinched from a Ferrari 488 GTB.
However, shattering the supercar illusion is the noise: the diesel is a raucous lump, although it compensates with very competitive emissions and fuel consumption. The 200hp 2.0-litre petrol turbo offers the missing refinement, but it's likely to be ruled out by fleets on cost grounds when its CO2 emissions are announced.
Peel off the motorway and onto your favourite road and the Giulia offers fine, balanced rear-wheel handling that comes close to, but ultimately misses, offering the enthusiastic drive a 3-series delivers, while the super-responsive steering feels odd at first, but don't worry - you get used to it and it suits the car. For a car so sporty, we're happy to report the Giulia comes with a very well-judged ride that, even over poor road surfaces, remains surprisingly comfortable for a sports saloon.
Inside, once you've navigated the tight access to the rear seats, passengers will find plenty of leg- and knee-room, plus just enough headroom. The boot is big too.
But it's not all good news. An Audi A4 feels far more expensive and has a better, more logical interior, and the Alfa Romeo falls down on quality. For example, there's an idiosyncratic infotainment system with iffy quality - some of the cars we drove suffered glitches, although Alfa says that will be fixed by the time deliveries start. We hope it's true.
All in all, it's a promising start for a car that is primed to be priced head-to-head with the 3-series, but offer more equipment. However, the Giulia will only succeed if its abilities are matched with strong residual values and low running costs. Fingers crossed it will have both.
Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.2 Multijet Super Sport
Model price range £29,000-£47,000 (est.)
Fuel consumption 67.2mpg
CO2 (BIK band) 109/km (21%)
BIK 20/40% per month £120/240 (est.)
Warranty 3yrs/unlimited miles
Boot space 540 litres
Engine size/power 2143cc/180hp
Achingly desirable beside more predictable rivals, but costs will