Australia’s demand for luxury goods continue rising, so it makes sense that as Aussies fill their houses with art, and their wardrobes with designer labels, so their garages must be inhabited by increasing numbers of prestige automobiles, right? Where once cheap luxury cars were the preserve of compact German versions the market has since developed to overtake cars from all over the world. But in 2017 the best luxury cars under $80,000 still hail from Europe. In this case the Mercedes-Benz C200 returns to defend its own three-time class win, while recently resurgent Alfa Romeo struggles using an all-new Giulia Super, and perhaps surprisingly Volkswagen also makes a claim on the prestige market with its stylish new Arteon. After what seems like an eternity from the wilderness Italy’s Alfa Romeo is back along with the brand’s return with the Giulia sedan is nothing short of a triumph. Under the microscope of car of the year, the Giulia Super stood out thanks to adequate value against its peers in the course, a proud sense of history by the brand, yet an in-touch modernity that is guaranteed to match the expectations of discerning buyers.
Beginning under the bonnet, and the Giulia Super’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine gets off to a flying start with 147kW and 330km, outputs that provide the Giulia a more powerful foundation engine compared to most other competitors in the segment. In practice the engine seems prepared and keen in a way that Entices you to actually push – a fizziness the judging panel found lacking in the other cars in contention for this year’s title. Happy to rev, with an evocative soundtrack, the Giulia Super could easily be mistaken for a version higher up the range.
The inside also impressed with its fine mix of quality materials including real aluminium change paddles, stitched dash surfaces, interesting wood treatments that tread the fine line between nostalgia and contemporary luxury, and leather car seats. Having said that, not everyone found the Giulia a spot-on fit. Some of the taller judges specifically felt that maybe the Giulia could do with a slightly more generous front door opening, even though once within the inside fits like a tailored suit, setting all significant controls within easy reach of the driver for a harmonious atmosphere. While the dynamics received compliments, with accurate and quick steering and stubborn rear end grip with a readily controllable amount of adjustability, the Giulia also does not forget that the majority of the time it’ll be utilised as a commuter tool. In more relaxed driving, ride comfort was exceptional. There’s a stability to the ride, but no brittleness or unpleasant edges which produce the Giulia hard to live with.
Added upmarket touches such as extended genuine leather trim across the dashboard and doors only reinforce the Giulia Super’s prestige placement, as do a heated steering wheel, powered driver and passenger seats, and adaptive cruise control – characteristics that may be readily found on the options list of several competitions. It was the overall balance though that sealed the deal; The Part luxury, part sporty character that actually impressed. The Giulia does not set a foot wrong when it comes to either – pampering or functionality – handing it the name of Drive Best Luxury Car Under $80,000.
As returning section champion over the last 3 years, plus Drive Car of the Year in 2014, the Mercedes-Benz C200 went to this bout with a hefty weight of expectation on its own shoulders. Although it did not take the win this season, the C200 barely disappointed. Mercedes-Benz’ wealth of experience with this sort of vehicle shows with instantly clear quality and luxury that grabbed the attention of our judging panel. Perhaps unexpectedly a starting cost of $61,900 makes the C200 the most affordable of the group but that does not impact on the basic engineering incorporated in the C-Class as a whole.