Image Copyright Maksim Toome, 2011 Used under license from Shutterstock.com
Cars. Gotta love 'em. Luxury marques or high-spec sports cars, driving a great car can be a sublime experience. So when I needed a hire car, I turned to a quality Italian marque, Alfa Romeo, and their Giulietta for some fun. Here's what happened.
Why men love cars
If you've read some of my previous blogs about the best country pursuits for men or visiting the Champagne region, you'll know that I love several things in life, but two of them are definitely hitting the outdoors and the finer things in life.
So, combining the great outdoors with an open road and a luxury car marque is somewhere close to my idea of heaven. I've taken road trips through northern Spain and Italy and had a superb time on both occasions.
There's something exhilarating about either a powerful or high-end car or, ideally, both. But I've also had the joy of a road trip around Scotland driving the 2011 World Car of the Year, the Nissan Leaf, which is a great motor and electric too. Anything which excels in its category is something most men can appreciate.
The weekend away
So when the chance came up for a long weekend getaway with Chloe, who I've been seeing on and off for just a few weeks now, I took it. I hired a top-spec car, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and hit the road.
The Giulietta spec
Why the Giulietta? Well, a finalist for European Car of the Year last year, it's a slick-looking piece of kit from a quality Italian car marque which turns heads. It also has something of a mixed personality, managing to appeal to both men's more sporty side and at the same time, appeal to a woman's sense of European sophistication.
On the outside there's a large, snarling grille, a spacious high-top boot with the rear passenger door handles cleverly concealed for a coupe feel. The last thing I wanted was the sense of a family hatchback...
Under the bonnet it sports a six-speed 2-litre turbo-diesel engine with a whopping 140 brake horsepower, a top speed of 217km/h and will shift from 0-100km//h in 9 seconds. In other words, it's quick. Not Nissan GT-R quick (now that thing really DOES move) but more than enough to gently jolt you as you pull away from traffic lights.
Inside there's optional woven-leather seating, dual-zone air conditioning (Chloe apparently feels the heat and cold more, I don't have that particular affliction) so she gets what she wants, I get what I want... The seats were all-electric and our version had an electric double sunroof - an optional extra which seems well worth the investment, bringing more light into the cabin and a more spacious feel too.
So how does the Giulietta drive?
With the option to change the 'D.N.A' - Alfa's three-stage driving mode selection (Dynamic, Normal or All-weather) it's a flexible piece of kit. Dynamic gives an instant sporty roar and hands rev-control back to the driver, though Normal makes for a marginally more comfortable ride. All-weather kicks in the Alfa's various safety controls (which are several, earning it the top rating for European car safety) but tames the drive slightly, as you'd expect.
It's amongst the most fuel-efficient in its class with low carbon emissions. There was plenty of boot-space for our weekend bags and some additional shopping (she knows how to spend, Chloe, I'll give her that!) and handled twists and bends well. At night, the tinted windows slightly diminish the rear view, but having followed another Giulietta, the distinctive 'musical note'-shaped brake lights ensure you're definitely being seen by other (probably envious) drivers. Overall it's a great car to drive - comfortable, responsive and spacious.
You never know, I might just make our relationship permanent. The Giulietta that is. Chloe? We'll see.