In a market where most cars support decisions of the head, is there still room for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV, which is firmly driven by the heart?
It was apparently a wise person who once suggested to never let emotion cloud your judgement. Sage advice for sure, but I would wager the philosophical thinker in question was not Italian.
Italy has a rich and passionate culture, with a history of emotion ruling judgement more often than not. Build a beautiful 56-metre tall bell tower on soft ground, why not. Impress your girlfriend by swinging your cruise ship really really close to those rocks, sure thing.
Talking cars, and right now the 2016 Alfa Romeo Guilietta QV is possibly the most Italian car you can buy. So it would be fair to say that what it lacks in sensible ‘judgement’, it makes up for in pure, passionate emotion.
Put simply, this is a car that in my role I can’t really recommend, but if given the chance, would myself line up to buy with wistful abandon.
Alfa Romeo has tried to make the Giulietta a bit more approachable, by shortening the ‘Quadrifoglio Verde’ moniker to straight-up QV. The car is a Corolla-sized hatchback, and in its most-sporty guise here, now packs a 177kW/340Nm turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
It’s a motor taken from Alfa’s svelte 4C sportscar and a worthy mill for a hot hatch. Plus, the $42,000 price (plus options and on-road costs) makes the Alfa, on paper, a higher-rated B-road fighter than the 162kW/350Nm, $43,490 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The problem is, for your $42k you don’t really get all that much beyond the zippy engine and Italian flair. There’s no reverse camera, keyless entry, keyless start, heated seats, electric seats, driver assistance tech or any other cool, fancy whiz-bang type goodies.
In a sense, the top-of-the-range QV is actually quite basic.
It’s not new either, the fundamental design dates back to 2009. Sure there was an update in 2013, but a minor tweak to the grille does not a new car make. That said, the design is still one of the Giulietta’s strong points.
More beautiful than it is muscular and aggressive, the Giulietta was designed in-house at Alfa by Lorenzo Ramaciotti, a man whose design CV reads like a who’s who of the world’s most beautiful modern classics. Ferrari 550 Maranello, Ferrari F430, Maserati GranTurismo, Alfa Romeo 4C – it’s fair to say the Giulietta comes from very high-quality, and more specifically, very Italian breeding stock.
We had a pre-update one as a long-term review car back in 2014, and it surprised us just how often people would stop on the street and ask questions about the Giulietta. The years have done little to dull the Alfa’s appeal, and our 2016 test car in Ghiaccio White (one of ten colour options), with contrasting grey 8C 18-inch wheels and panoramic glass sunroof ($2000 option) still garners sideways glances and extra looks from passers by.
Emotion is still at the forefront of the Alfa’s being.
Inside, the sports seats are extremely comfortable and again, stunning to look at. The white and green stitching, combination of Alcantara and leather and brushed-metallic racing harness holes (we aren’t sure anyone will ever use these) result in a sense of sporting luxury that makes the Giulietta feel just that little bit more special.
The back seats aren’t hugely roomy but they are comfy, and the centre armrest exposes a ski-port to the 350-litre boot. The 60:40 seats don’t fold totally flat, and our parcel shelf clips broke. While not a pinch on the 480L boot on the Peugeot 308, it is bigger than the Ford Focus at 316L.
Headroom in the back and front was mildly affected by the large sunroof, but we noticed you can open the top and close the blind – which is pretty handy on a very sunny day when you want the breeze but not the burn.
The giant steering wheel too, is nice to hold but really should have the white and green stitching instead of plain white. The aluminium pedals and dash trims are great.
However good it looks though, there is a pretty major issue. Ergonomics are not a strong point of the little Alfa.
For a start, there are buttons all over the place. You’ve got audio controls on the wheel, as well as a wiper and indicator stalk – all good there, but there are also a set of menu buttons behind the wheel, more menu functions on the stalks and further lighting switches next to the touchscreen.
The 6.5-inch touch screen itself runs the U-Connect software that should be familiar to Fiat and Jeep drivers around the world. The system works and the sound from the BOSE speakers is pretty good, but the interface can be slow to react and we had a few niggles with Bluetooth and hard-connected iPhone audio.
There’s a cool ‘conference call’ function of the telephone, but the traffic alerts feature of the navigation never shows any data. Give and take as they say. Plus, this is a 2016-model range-topping hatchback with a screen smack-dab in the middle of the dash, but no integrated reverse camera.
These are small things on their own but they collectively add more points to the ‘why would they do this’ list.
We still love the ‘Benzina’ and ‘Acqua’ gauges for the driver, and the look and feel of the DNA drive-mode switch, but the seemingly random placement of the media interface next to it still raises eyebrows.
The layout and features are one thing, but the real world use and application is another. It's as if the Giulietta was designed but never field-tested.
I have normal sized hands and when driving using the paddles to change gear, they are just a bit too short and the function stalks just that little bit too far away to feel natural and comfortable. Sit in a Golf GTI, and while a bit ‘colder’ than the Alfa (despite the super-cool tartan), everything is just where it should be. This isn’t a style thing, it’s a basic usability thing and somewhere again the Alfa just shrugs its shoulders and mumbles something in Italian.
We will say though that the triple-dial climate control interface is really self explanatory and easy to use, and again another basic function that has been firmly given the style makeover, just for the sake of it.
Build quality is good, but not great – with a few stray pieces of trim here and there. It does feel solid and as we said, quite special, so these are quickly forgiven as part of its Italian-ness.
What does the ad say again? It is not a car, it’s an Alfa Romeo.
Part of the appeal of an Alfa is the drive, and it's here that the QV doesn’t disappoint – providing you’ve gone in with your eyes open. Bottom line, the Alfa is a hoot, albeit a specific one.
Off the line there is noticeable delay as the car gathers steam. With peak power at the top of the rev range, and peak torque from around 2000rpm, once you get moving – you get moving.
There is plenty of hustle out of the 1299kg hatch, but you need to really understand it to get the most out of the plucky Italian. Catch it off-boost and the lag is frustrating. Nail the throttle for some second-gear tyre chirps and you’ll need to manage the power delivery otherwise it’s a one way ticket to axle-tramp town on the torque-steer express. Wet roads? Forgedaboutit.
Figure things out though and the Giulietta QV is a hugely entertaining drive. It pulls hard throughout the rev range and, like many Italian cars, responds well to high-revving and drawn-out gaps between changes.
For 2016, the Giulietta traded its lovely six-speed manual for a six-speed DCT dual-clutch auto gearbox with the aforementioned paddle shifters.
There are some of the typical elastic gear engagement traits of other dual-clutch systems, but it seems less finickity than the Volkswagen DSG, despite not being as swift to change gears.
We didn’t experience the same rolling-delay that is inherent in the VW gearbox when parking, but did find the gear lever in our test car wouldn’t always ‘click’ into reverse and needed to be double-checked more than once.
Driving with vigour though, and the DCT works really well, treating you to a delicious exhaust pop on upshift.
Throw the Alfa at a winding B-road and it is surprisingly nimble. It’s an ‘older’ driving experience, you do need to understand the car to get the most out of it. Tighter corners will induce push understeer and powering out hard will get the traction control systems thumping away as they try to translate that entertaining turbo-oomph into grip.
There’s not a lot of the electro-mechanical jiggery-pokery you find in other hot hatches. My rudimentary Italian skills suggest there is no direct translation for ‘Revo Knuckle’ or quite possibly even the concept of limiting the effects of turbocharged front-wheel drive torque delivery. The Peugeot 308 GTI and Volkswagen Golf GTI get their power to the ground much more efficiently in every situation.
The DNA drive mode switch spent most of its time in D (Dynamic) as that is where this car is supposed to live. You can basically save a bit of fuel in the N (Natural) setting – but the changes to steering weighting, throttle sensitivity and overall fun are worth more than a few litres at the pump.
That said, it is thirsty. We saw 16.3L/100km around town which relaxed to a still-high 12.9L/100km with some highway driving. Alfa claims 7L/100km for a combined cycle, which may be achievable in N-mode and more conservative driving… but that’s not as much fun.
Our test car was fitted with the authentic Alfa Romeo roof racks too, which wouldn’t help fuel economy. They too are beautifully designed and really suit the car, but aerodynamically are possibly the loudest racks we’ve used in a long time.
Despite the vortex disruption blades and aero-friendly mounts, even without a bike on top they made driving with the sunroof open at over 80km/h almost unbearable.
You may find this review a bit all over the place. The car is good, but this is bad. It’s fantastic here but flawed there.
As I noted earlier, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta is not what you’d call a sensible car in any way. If you are buying a European hot-hatch, there are any number of more ‘complete’ offerings available, but I challenge you to find one with as much flat-out character as the Alfa.
This is a passion car. Heart over head every time. Yes it is fun, and yes it is special, but it is almost hilariously silly in so many ways.
If you are a head-based decision making person then move on. But for those who let their emotion govern their judgement, despite a raft of quantifiable reasons you should not buy this car, there is one big reason you would – and that is passion.
I can’t really recommend it, but given the chance, I would buy it and I cannot give you a tangible reason as to why.
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