Alfa Romeo Giulietta
The hot hatchback market is a tough one to break in to. Dominated by German brands, any marque will have to offer something special to even register on the radar of the European motorist.
Alfa Romeo kick started a revitalised brand with the launch of the MiTo in 2008 followed by a replacement for the 147, the Giulietta in 2009.
Clocking over 3500 miles in the Giulietta, the 1.4 Multi-Air 170bhp model offers a good balance of performance, economy and comfort. The DNA switch (Dynamic, Normal and All-weather) adjusts the driving style of the car to suit the road and your driving preference. Each setting changes the weight of the steering wheel, throttle and brake response and the various driving aids.
Normal mode is ideal for a relaxed driving style – flooring the throttle gives you gradual acceleration and lower gears gives you control and comfort in stop and start traffic. The steering wheel is light but responsive and makes it ideal for parking or navigating twist and turns on busy city streets. For the most part, Normal mode gives you a car that responds like any other hatchback of this class.
To get the full Alfa experience, you need to flick the DNA switch to Dynamic. If you have your foot on the throttle when you do this, be prepared to be pushed back in to your seat. Dynamic increases throttle response, increases weight to the steering and sharpens up the brakes. The most noticeable difference is how the increased torque transforms the car into a car that desperately wants to accelerate. At that moment, the Giulietta is more than just getting you from A to B but a driving experience that lives up to the Alfa marque. Some will buy the Giulietta just for this.
Ride comfort on a set of 18-inch wheels is decent. The Veloce spec comes standard with 17-inch alloys which will provide better dampening on bumpy roads but even with the 18’s, you won’t find it uncomfortable. Style-wise, the Giulietta looks best on 18’s without looking grotesquely big but for most models you’ll find 17’s as standard.
The cabin is a nice place to be with its half-leather seats finished with red-stitching. The stereo system is integrated into the metal dashboard plate giving a seamless look. All the dials and buttons feel solid with a positive response – I particularly like the dual zone air conditioning controls with its big turn dials and intuitive layout. Alfa have done well to keep buttons and dials to a minimum – something that other manufacturers could learn from.
An original Alfa styling-invention found on the 147 is the hidden rear door handles. The deceptively clever design hides the door handles in the back of the rear windows, retaining the trendy 3-door look.
But this being Alfa, not everything is perfect. A small central arm rest is great for when you’re cruising on the motorway but it will quickly get in the way of gear changes and the handbrake.
The positioning of the pedals don’t feel right – the brake and throttle are too close together. Despite covering several hundred miles, I can still feel myself having to move my foot away from the throttle when I’m reaching for the brake.
Fuel economy is helped with a Stop and Start system which automatically cuts the engine when your foot is on the brake and gear is neutral – starting up as soon as you push down on the clutch. Cruise control helps eat up the motorway miles and although it doesn’t auto adjust to cars in front, it does return to its set speed if you do an overtake.
The Multi-Air engine is the culmination of over ten years of research and development, costing Fiat over $100 million. The investment is paying off as it was winner of best new engine 2010 and the TwinAir variant won best new engine of 2011. Multi-Air is Alfa’s answer to respecting the environment but without compromising performance. The principles behind Multi-Air is its ability to adjust the air intake valves electronically which helps control how it burns fuel. The result is improved efficiency and smoother delivery of performance which saves you money not just on fuel but road tax too. The 1.4 170bhp model tax disc costs just £130. If you go for the low/mid-range Diesel engine, you’ll find even better savings for fuel economy and road tax.
Alfa are pitching the Giulietta as a car with two personalities – it’s sensible and it’s exciting. My 600 miles have proven that to be true and whilst it has its issues, these are overlooked as soon as you give the Dynamic mode a go. The Giulietta’s unique styling combined with clever design and an excellent range of engines combine to make this a compelling hatchback that make the Golf and the A3 drab and dull.