Published on Saturday 25 May 2013 18:53
Will It Suit Me?
A small, affordable little Alfa Romeo would, once upon a time, have been something I would have steering people well away from. Not any more. Well, not since the arrival of the Giulietta anyway. This car has changed Alfa's sales figures in the UK beyond recognition - and deservedly so.
Audi's A3 and BMW's 1 Series are its intended target competitors, so you can infer from that that the car had better be not only good but of exceptionally high quality. It is. Yet at the same time, Alfa haven't lost their sense of style - or that great sound when you stretch out your right foot and the open road beckons.
For all those reasons, were I to be shopping in this market, the Giulietta is a car I would find difficult to resist.
There's a real tension in this design: my colleague here recently described it thus: 'the bonnet crease points curling over like the whitened knuckles of a balled-up fist. Like an oncoming jab, the overall effect isn't subtle; instead the bearing is one of threatening aggression.' All of which rather put me off before my test car arrived and I had a chance to inspect the Giulietta in the metal. I don't want to be putting out 'threatening aggression'. Fortunately, as usual, he had been exaggerating. It's a look I quite like, particularly from the rear.
A seat inside an Alfa used to be not much better than a seat in a Fiat - which was generally where everything was borrowed from. No longer. Sit inside the Giulietta and the memories of Italianate driving positions that we grew up with in Alfasuds and Alfettas are banished forever. Seat, pedals, steering wheel, gearstick and mirrors all appear to be positioned around the figure of a human being rather than a gibbon. The rest of the interior has other such considerate touches too.
Alfa hasn't forgotten its heritage and has built upon the inherent romantic appeal of Italian cars. However, its also true to say that around the relentlessly well-finished cabin are some determinedly modern high-tech touches. Six airbags come as standard, as does dual-zone climate controlled air conditioning. State-of-the-art multiplex wiring has made possible the option of a full-screen voice activated satellite navigation system with an inbuilt Bose stereo and GSM telephone system. It's not cheap, but the satellite navigation setup is one of the best available anywhere, as is the Vehicle Dynamic Control, which is a stability control system which aims to prevent the Giulietta spinning.
Behind the Wheel
The pick of the range could well be the 1750TBi petrol unit I tried. Through a whole series of high tech innovations, Alfa has managed to squeeze 235bhp from this 1.75-litre engine which is a remarkable feat. If you can't stretch to that, then at the bottom of the range, a 120bhp 1.4TB petrol engine kicks things off and above that, is another petrol 1.4 that's also turbocharged but additionally has the sophisticated MultiAir valve-timing system helping it up to 170bhp.
The diesels will inevitably be popular and the Giulietta has a 105bhp 1.6-litre and a 170bhp 2.0-litre on offer. Both use the JTDm second-generation common-rail injection configuration and while they might not be as energetic as the petrols, neither efficiency nor muscle will be in short supply. All models get a six-speed manual gearbox and a dual clutch automatic is offered with the 170bhp units.
Performance tends to be taken for granted with Alfa Romeo ownership, but build quality has in past times often been woeful. Fact is that since the 156 was launched at the end of 1997, Alfa's understanding of how to screw together a decent quality car has come on leaps and bounds. The latest Giulietta takes this foundation and reinforces it further.
Value For Money
Expect to pay somewhere in the £18,000 to £25,000 bracket for your Giulietta, pricing which puts it neatly between the common or garden Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra class and the premium Audi A3/BMW 1 Series segment. Go for the desirable 1.4-litre 170bhp Multiair model that I've been trying here and you'll need a budget around about the £20,000 mark. There's a premium of around £1,700 if you want to go from 170bhp petrol to 170bhp diesel model, so do your running cost sums before opting for the black pump. As for rivals, well for base petrol and diesel models, the pricing is just above the level you'd pay for equivalent VW Golfs but offers a saving of up to £1,500 on comparable Audi A3 Sportbacks and 5-door BMW 1 Series models.
Whichever mainstream variant you choose - 1.4 or 1.8-litre petrol or 1.6 or 2.0-litre diesel - you should find it decently equipped. All but the very basic models add things like alloy wheels, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and Bluetooth to a standard specification that already includes air conditioning, electric windows, a hill-holder clutch to stop you drifting backwards on junctions and the Stop/Start system that's fitted across the Giulietta range. Options include a panoramic glass roof. Safety-wise, this Alfa is especially well provided for. Not only did it score the now almost mandatory five EuroNCAP stars, but it also registered a best-in-class 87% score. Even the entry-level car gets six airbags, active anti-whiplash head restraints, VDC stability control and the usual electronic braking and traction aids.
Could I Live With One?
In a word yes. It has all the quality of its German rivals with a welcome dash of extra spirit.