2010 Alfa Romeo Giulietta, turbocharged four-cylinder, petrol, six-speed manual transmission
There’s a guy who lives near me who has been trying to sell his Alfa 156 Monza for months now. It’s silver, has tan leather upholstery, gorgeous alloy wheels and is about ten years old. It’s immaculate and the money he’s asking for it works out an average week’s income for me. Tempted? Hell yeah. But I won’t buy it; can’t buy it. Because it’s a ten year old Alfa and, despite its undeniable sensual appeal, I just know there’ll be problems along the way.
When it comes to cars like this, no matter how difficult I find it, my head always rules my heart.
My experiences with Alfa Romeo have always been a bit of a let down. I’ve really, truly wanted to love them but, 8C aside, I’ve always handed back the keys with a sigh of relief – lovely to look at yet distinctly average to drive and let down by the details. To this day, I can’t think of any car less dynamic or more wobbly than the current Spider. So many promises, so many disappointments. So when I started to read good things about Alfa’s new Golf rival, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, I approached it with a healthy dose of scepticism.
Because everyone in this industry seems to will Alfa Romeo to make good on all those unfulfilled promises; to make a genuinely brilliant (as opposed to just desirable) car. Were the reports I’d been reading simply written by people whose hearts were overruling their heads? Was the new Giulietta destined to join that huge list of Alfas that were missed opportunities? Or will it finally give the company a reputation for reliability, dynamism and, dare I say it, decent residual value?
Its market sector is a tough one to crack, that’s for sure. Ford’s Focus is a thoroughly decent car – entertaining to drive and the build quality, particularly in the cabin, is vastly superior to Fords of old. Then there’s the VW Golf which, for more years than I care to remember, has set the standard for how small to medium sized cars should be built. Renault’s output has also improved of late, so for those in the market for a car this size, there’s a fair bit of choice.
But Alfa Romeo is still on the wish list for countless customers because of the power that name wields and, looking at the Giulietta, it’s not difficult to see why.
White isn’t the best colour for this car, for it hides the lovely detailing in its design. The nose features that famous inverted triangular grille, instantly setting it apart from its more bland competitors, and the bonnet is beautifully sculpted.
Its flanks are curvaceous, leading to a quite lovely looking rear end with stylish LED tail lamps and the rear doors have cleverly hidden handles in the C pillar, giving it a more sporting look. It’s a taut, muscular design and, while looks are always a subjective, emotive issue, this is a car that I find turns plenty of heads.
Inside the flair continues and, at long last, Alfa has made a decent fist of making sure the controls are tactile as well as functional. Get into a Brera and feel the column stalk edges – they’re rough to the touch; they feel cheap. Not so here. The dash is horizontal and distinctive, it’s well laid out and the dials give a nice, sporting vibe that hopefully will continue when this thing is on the open road. There are flashes of inspiration from the 8C Competizione in here but there are minor niggles.
The rotary controls for the infotainment system are too smooth on the edges, making them difficult to turn with your fingers, the gear knob feels horrible, especially when cold, there isn’t anywhere handy to put your mobile phone or wallet and the arm rest between the two front seats is obstructive when it comes to applying the handbrake. But honestly, that’s about it. The Giulietta’s interior is a place most would be happy spending plenty of time in, even in the back, which is more spacious than you’d think when looking at it from outside.
Currently there are five engine choices – two diesels and three petrol motors, all of them turbocharged. Bottom of the heap is the 1.4 petrol which, in standard guise, won’t have you frothing at the mouth with 88kW, a top speed of 195km/h and a 0-100km/h time of 9.4 seconds. But then, when the 1.4 gets Fiat’s MultiAir direct valve control treatment, it becomes a different story. Power is up to 125kW, top speed is up to 218km/h, the 0-100 dash is down to 7.8 seconds, economy is better to the tune of 0.6 l/100km and CO2 emissions are down by 15g/km. It’s the one to go for.
If you want more speed then the 1750 TB might be for you. With 172.5kW on tap it’s the nearest a Giulietta gets, for the time being, to a Golf GTI rival. But the 1.4 TB MultiAir is the one I’m testing so that will have to wait for another day. All Giuliettas come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with a dual-clutch auto recently announced too and each model, with the exception of the 1750, comes with stop-start tech as standard. Also standard across the range are climate control, Alfa’s DNA selector, a trick diff and six airbags.
DNA (Dynamic, Normal, All-weather) is a system that controls the engine’s characteristics and it’s pretty effective. In normal mode the Giulietta is quiet, refined and nippy but select D and it not only goes with more of a shove but the engine note becomes notably more vocal.
The only pain is that, having selected D and then coming to a stop, you need to re-select it when you start the engine again. On the move, the gearbox feels precise and, while it isn’t the quickest transmission around, it’s hugely improved over Alfas of old.
The steering is wonderfully crisp. There’s a new electric, twin-pinion rack fitted and the motor is situated well away from the steering column, giving a more natural sensation through the wheel. Just 2.2 turns from lock to lock means it’s quick and the Giulietta is possessed of a very stable feeling no matter what the speed, no doubt helped by that Q2 differential that gives huge amounts of traction and grip, even in the wet.
It’s a relatively light car, too, at 1365kg, which can’t help but add to the sprightly feel behind the wheel.
There’s much to like with this car. I find myself trying to find faults, trying to find the weak chink in the Giulietta’s armour but I always fail to identify anything that would be enough to stop me buying one over its rivals. It’s comfortable, refined, well built, rapid and economical. It’s distinctive to look at and, at long last, those looks don’t deceive.
For anyone that’s ever been tempted by an Alfa Romeo and had that nagging feeling that it wouldn’t be a sound, long term proposition, it’s perhaps time to think again. Because the Giulietta is quite possibly the biggest motoring surprise of 2010.