For car manufacturers every sale is also an opportunity to create brand loyalty, but by the time people get to the junior executive stage, they will have the names BMW, Mercedes and Audi firmly impressed on their membranes. Indeed, German dominance of the luxury car segment begins here-or to be precise-at an earlier stage, when you first start dreaming of the next great leap car-wise. Are there no other decent luxury cars? Yes, there are, but the holy German trinity have put themselves in the enviable position where Japanese, French, Italian, American and even Swedish car manufacturers have to fight their almost mythical reputation and status-appeal.
It's a well-earned reputation, built over several decades of producing cars that bear the hallmarks of quality, performance, reliability and style. Does this mean that the likes of Volvo, Saab, Honda, Alfa Romeo and Peugeot should just give up? Not at all. They too have come on in leaps and bounds, creating cars that are capable of giving the established trio a run for their money. The main obstacle will be one of perceived value and desirability, but here Audi, who joined Mercedes and BMW relatively late in the game, can serve as a shining example. To shake it all up we cast an established star in the junior executive segment, the BMW 320D, against a strong new contender, the Alfa Romeo 159 1.9JTD.
After all, that's what first attracts the attention. Set side-by-side, they look like two hot favourites in a beauty pageant, although the initial impact is not exactly the same. While the Alfa makes an immediate impression of beauty and aggressive bearing that speaks to you instinctively, the BMW is a more geometrical, industrial study in automotive design. To me, BMW have always combined German efficiency and Italian flair very well, but in this model the technological side seems to be dominant. BMW were always going to break a few egg shells when they introduced this line of styling, and to my mind it takes some getting used to. Beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder, but I prefer the modern yet classic looks of the Alfa over the complex geometry of the BMW. If that seems a surprising verdict at this stage, it isn't. Alfa have always been known to produce some of the most beautiful cars this side of an Aston Martin.
© Michel Cruz