The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde — QV for short — has long been an outsider's choice in the extremely competitive hot-hatch class.
Since going on sale here at the start of 2011, the Giulietta QV has occupied a niche in the market that values style and grace above raw speed. And who hasn’t at some point wanted something fast and Italian?
But this updated version is a little different. This updated version might just be about both style and substance.
It doesn’t look much different, but it’s received some changes where it counts. Looks were never the old QV’s problem.
Rather, the money has been spent improving the dated cabin with sexy new sports seats and a decent touchscreen infotainment system, at last.
Meantime under the bonnet, Alfa has fitted the gruffer and lighter 1.75-litre engine from the 4C coupe, matched to a six-speed TCT dual-clutch auto with paddles and a revised intake and exhaust system that gives it a better sound.
As before, power is sent through the front wheels, which is rather de rigeur for this class.
The changes are more in line with a significant update rather than an entirely new-generation car. We know Alfa plans two new compact cars before 2018, so this car will be around for a few years yet.
On face value, the updates are most welcome.
Let’s break it down. This updated version arrived on our shores in February of this year. The version tested here costs $42,000 plus on-road costs, though Australia also offers a six-speed manual version for $39,000 — $150 cheaper than before.
That latter price puts it neck-and-neck with the updated manual-only Ford Focus ST launching in a few weeks from $38,990.
This is interesting for two reasons. One: the old car was manual-only. Two: Australia is the only market anywhere that offers a manual option on what is elsewhere now auto-only, like the 4C. The catch? The old manual is matched to the old 1.75-litre engine.
As such, while both use a four-cylinder turbo-petrol with a 1.75-litre capacity, the TCT version has more power (177kW versus the manual’s 173kW), a quicker acceleration time (6.0 seconds versus 6.8sec) and better fuel economy (7.0 litres per 100 kilometres versus 7.6L/100km). Both produce an identical 340Nm of torque at 1900rpm.
Naturally, despite being manual fans here at CarAdvice, and wondering idly if an Italian hot hatch without a self-shifter is really fitting, we opted to test the car with the new powertrain — the QV TCT.
How does this stack up to the competition, you ask? The benchmark Volkswagen Golf GTI packs a 2.0 engine with 162kW and 350Nm and, in five-door DSG auto guise, costs $44,490. The company also claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.5sec.
So, the Alfa is $3000 cheaper and half-a-second faster than what we at CarAdvice consider the class champion. That's a good start.
Hot hatches using TCT gearboxes with paddleshifters are becoming more common, and while you’ll never convince me that the subjective raw engagement is similar, the benefits are made abundantly clear by the 0.8sec 0-100km/h performance discrepancy listed against the manual (thanks, Launch Control).
It’s amplified by the fact that, if memory serves, the QV’s six-speed manual is a little notchy and springy in the clutch anyhow.
The gearbox is a pretty impressive unit, largely devoid of low-speed gremlins or shudders, and acceptably swift to shift, especially in its sportiest setting. It’s not quite as rifle-bolt fast as a VW DSG still, but garbles between shifts are kept relatively at bay.
The plastics paddles don’t feel great to hand, however.
The ‘new’ engine is lovely. It’s a little lighter than before thanks to new materials, and has a revised intake system and exhaust that gives the TCT version a lovely characterful rasp befitting it roots. It doesn’t blip on shifts to the same degree as some, but it’s a laudable audible improvement.
Oh, and it’s fast. We had a Golf GTI manual in the office at the same time and across a number of conditions (including track time) it performed as quickly and on occasion quicker. Stay tuned for that particular story.
That said, for all of Alfa's talk of special 'scavenging' technology that maximises torque at low revs, it's still laggier and thereby less linear in its surging delivery than said GTI. It's less point and shoot and more point, wait... now shoot.
But it sounds fiery under revs and pulls hard once the turbo has spooled up.
Of course, need we remind you, that you'd be mad not to keep the DNA system that adjusts throttle response, gear shifts and steering weight in Dynamic D mode. It feels generally sludgy otherwise.
There's no clever torque vectoring etc, and you'll elicit wheelspin up front, meaning torque steer on rapid getaways, and potential understeer and scrubbing of the front tyres if you hit the loud pedal too early on exit. In this way it still very drives rather like an older-school FWD car, characterful and a pleasant sort of handful.
The dual-pinion steering box conveys a feel that's less razor sharp than some rivals. You won't carve up the corners like you will in a Renault Megane RS, with turn-in a little less eager and handling (body lean and directional stability) a little less assured.
Its kerb weight of 1300 kilograms isn't overly porky, but it doesn't feel particularly light on its wheels. The 330mm front/278mm rear brakes pull the car up well, though pedal feel could be better.
Make no mistake, you'll still tear up a mountain road and have a whale of a time, it's just that the competition here is so stiff, and it doesn't inspire that kind of preternatural confidence that some others in this class, or even the class below, do.
On urban roads, the ride errs towards firm on the 18-inch alloy wheels. The lack of adjustable dampers means the tune has to find a solitary compromise between road-holding and comfort. It will definitely rattle your teeth less than the Megane. As mentioned, you can shift the DNA to comfort mode and get lighter steering for parking, but the trade-off is a numb-er throttle.
It's biggest issue in this context is it turning circle and outward visibility.
A bugbear of the previous model was its naff cabin, most notably its outclassed multimedia system without a touchscreen or Bluetooth streaming.
This new version gets a nice 6.5-inch touchscreen powered by Fiat Chrysler’s UConnect system — meaning it’s easy to operate — and niceties such as satellite-navigation as standard. We still want to kick Alfa for not offering a reverse-vew camera on a car with such large C-pillars, though.
It's a massive improvement, as are the gorgeous one-piece racing-style seats with silver inserts that feel worthy of a car double the price. The old seats were too flat in the base, and this move is very welcome.
Issues? The driving position isn't perfect, despite the (oversized) wheel coming with reach and rake adjustment. And some of the cabin plastics, notably those running along the tops of the doors, feel cheap and naff. There's also little cabin storage, with small cupholders and door pockets, and no closable centre console.
There's also less rear legroom than in a Golf GTI, for instance (the downside in part of those bulky seats) and the large C-pillar and high waistline make it a hard bugger to see out of from back there.
It's quite well-equipped. Manual versions get: bi-xenon headlights, privacy tinted glass from rear of B-pillar, 18-inch 5-disc silver alloy wheels, QV kickplates, satin mirror covers, a leather steering wheel with white stitching, Bose nine-speaker audio system, leather and Alcantara seats with white and green stitching, red brake calipers, sports suspension, darkened headlights and said Uconnect 6.5-inch colour touchscreen.
The manual also lacks the TCT's better engine note, and is both slower and thirstier. Seems the $42K version is the better buy, academically anyway.
We have to commend Alfa here. It has improved two areas that most needed it on the QV, namely the engine character and the cabin layout.
As such, it's a much better proposition than before (and remember, we had its predecessor as an office long-termer, and named it Ralph out of fondness). Intellectually, it's no Golf GTI or Megane RS, but at least there's more substance to the style.