posted on January 19, 2017

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Alfa Romeo holds the accolade for the most passion-inspiring, yet frustrating, automotive brand in existence. Their cars are notoriously temperamental and unreliable, yet many claim it is impossible to be a true gearhead until one has owned an Alfa. The ownership experience is often compared to a fiery romantic fling, a love-hate relationship where the highs are only matched by the lows.

Most American car lovers haven’t had the pleasure, or perhaps misfortune, of experiencing the notorious Alfa personality first hand. They never sold in particularly strong numbers here, and the 2017 Giulia is the first practical car they have offered American buyers in 22 years. And boy, was the wait worth it. In Quadrifoglio trim, it offers a twin-turbocharged V6 sending 505 horsepower to the rear wheels, but that’s not why I want to drive it. It’s the smoldering good looks, snarling wail from the exhaust pipe, and Alfa logo on the grill that draws me in. Whether or not it gets me to my destination is irrelevant — at least I’m in an Alfa.

Volvo S90

Like it or not, the cars we buy have a significant effect on the way we are perceived by others. Each brand and model has it’s own reputation that causes people to make assumptions about driver’s personality or other certain attributes. We’ve all heard the jokes about what the guy in the lifted pickup is compensating for, or how Audi drivers tailgate, or that BMW drivers can’t find the turn signal stalk.

The 2017 S90 is wonderfully free of such baggage. It’s just a car. A really nice car. The incredibly handsome, reserved styling and airy, well organized cabin promise a commute free of stress or discomfort, and no one will resent you when you pull into the office parking lot.

Acura NSX

It has been a full ten years since Honda first promised us a successor to the original NSX. Announced in 2007 for a 2010 release, the project was cancelled in 2008 due to poor economic conditions, then revived again in 2011, and finally released in 2016.

With such a long development cycle, the NSX has already been outclassed by other comparably priced supercars when you compare statistics like top speed and 0-60 times on paper. In the real world, no one does 190 mph on the way to work or logs their 0-60 sprint times from each stoplight. What truly matters is the overall driving experience, and that seems to be what the NSX has made first priority.

Three electric motors assist the 3.5L twin-turbocharged V6, which is more similar in design to the eight-figure Porsche 918 or McLaren P1 than to its similarly priced competition like the Ferrari 488 GTB or McLaren 570S. In that regard it captures the spirit of the original NSX, don’t think of it as a slower alternative to the 488 GTB, think of it as a way to experience the bleeding edge automotive technology at 1/8th the cost.

Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Although it shares its underpinnings with the new Miata, the Fiat 124 Spider has gotten a much more lukewarm reception from automotive journalists compared to its sibling. The styling is polarizing, to say the least. The delicate, high strung naturally aspirated engine has been thrown out in favor of a turbocharged power plant, along with another 100lbs of weight. The suspension has been softened to smooth out the ride quality.

In the eyes of many, these changes ruin the roadster charm. A small roadster should be something you can thrash up a mountain road, treating the throttle more or less like an on/off switch. The easily accessible torque from a turbocharged engine is an unwanted decadence to the true automotive purist.

I understand these criticisms, but the 124 Spider fills an empty niche in the market. Not every driver is the type of person who goes out into the mountains on weekends with the intention of taking their car to the limit. The 124 Spider offers the compact roadster experience, but recognizes it will be driven in the real world, at a much more approachable price than a Mercedes SLK or BMW Z4.

Joey is a freelance writer who loves everything about interesting cars and the people who drive them. He can most often be found lying under an old car or playing with his golden retriever, Molly.