Drive Test – Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV | Drive Magazine

22 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Drive Test – Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV | Drive Magazine

Alfa is back! For real.

With the new Giulietta, Alfa are playing a dangerous game…

The thing about dredging up your classic names from the past to help drive sales of a new model only (if at all) vaguely related to the iconic nameplate, is that you risk tarnishing both your current and historical images if the new model is really a lemon dressed-up in nothing more than some evocative heritage.

That said of course Alfas tend to be judged on entirely different criteria to more run of the mill marques. So powerful is it’s passionate past that glaring errors and oversights can be overlooked if the car feels right, like an Alfa.

So, the new Giulietta QV we have here needs to be good for the sake of Alfa present and past – let’s see how it does then.

First came the disappointment

Firstly, I have to admit I was a huge fan of the new Giulietta, until I actually saw one in the metal at the local unveiling event at Melrose Arch. The problem wasn’t so much with the new car, but the fact that the company had surrounded the new metal with historical models so richly steeped in heritage and epic legend, not to mention more jaw-dropping shapes than a professor in Pythagoras could shake a stick at.

All this had the opposite of the intended effect for me. Rather than dressing the new Giulietta up in the glories of the past, the amazing assortment ended up making the new model look, well, rather plain. I commented at the time that it looked like no more than a MiTo with five doors…

Fortunately that isn’t actually the case. Standing on its own in our Kempton Park car park, the new Giulietta looks great. The faint traces of 8C in front flow well into sharply defined flanks and a cheeky hatchback rump, while the extra jewellery like the vertical LED side strip in the headlight units and the horizontal row of LEDs at the rear fit well with the shape of the vehicle on the whole, and it’s a decidedly cohesive styling effort all round.

Particularly when you look at the segment it’s focussed squarely on, the “premium hatch”. Even though most of the cars in this segment are actually 2-door hatches, the Giulietta manages to make them look a little uninventive by comparison, without actually going so far as to resort to Lamborghini-esque shouting, ie bright green paint.

This same understated classiness is echoed within. It begins with the delightfully tactile, ergonomically-shaped and surprisingly uncluttered steering wheel. Despite being festooned with the normal array of satellite controls for the stereo system, the wheel looks like it’s been made with its primary focus being the steering of the car, which is a good thing.

The centre console is surrounded by an artful brushed-aluminium look swathe which extends the length of the dash, which even if it does reveal itself as plastic under the touch of your fingertips looks superb. Sitting “inside” this stripe is a cool sound system which integrated perfectly with the flow of the fascia as a whole, and beneath this a wonderful row of toggle switches (again, plastic) for turning the fogs on and off and disabling the active cornering illumination trick of the headlights. Below that is a fairly conventional-looking climate control arrangement.

The seats aren’t particularly supportive but they look and feel very good, and would still be comfy places to park your rear end even after hours on the road. There’s not a lot of room in the rear, no, but it’s also not markedly cramped so it’s all good.

Truths and lies

So far then, the new Giulietta is a solid proposition, with eye-catching looks and an inviting interior, but like I said at the beginning of the article these aren’t the qualities Alfisti are particularly interested in. It’s driving that counts in an Alfa, and it was here that the MiTo although an adequate and cute little car didn’t quite live up to the snake-eating-man logo.

First impressions are mixed. The 1750cc turbocharged four cylinder fires easily but then settles to quite a clattery idle, faintly dieselish (devilish even?) in its note and smoothness. There’s a chunky metal sphere atop the six-speed manual shifter which feel great to grab, but then the conventional handbrake appears to have been fitted after everything else, and just given the green light despite the fact that it doesn’t actually go down properly snagging on some sculpted bit of plastic in the centre console no doubt. “Does it disengage the handbrake?” you can almost hear some Alfa marketer asking an engineer… “Yes of course but….” “Then we’re done, roll it out!”

So you press the DNA selector forward to engage Dynamic, turn off the TC… hang on. There doesn’t seem to be a way to disengage these systems in the Giulietta, which is a bit worrying in a so-called drivers’ Alfa.

Getting off the line is made slightly trickier in Dynamic mode than left in Normal, as the throttle is so sensitive that once you’ve defeated the typical sluggish low-end response of a high compression-ratio ‘charged engine the revs zing enthusiastically up into the meat of the tachometer on seemingly a millimetre of actual pedal travel. So it’s keen to be revved then, is it?

Full-bore in first unleashes a strong but civilised wave of power and torque which feels only very slightly less than the claimed 173kW, before the engine-nannying rev limiter cuts in at a mere 5800 rpm! This is something which Alfas have annoyed me with in the past, and it’s just inexplicable why it’s reared its ugly head again in the Giulietta when this new-generation motor should be quite happy to go all the way to its red line.

In fact, the claimed 6.8s sprint time to 100km/h from rest has to have been achieved in a Giulietta with this electronic “feature” substantially relaxed, or even disabled completely. With the limiter reset to its correct 6500rpm cut off point, you would hit 100km/h at the top of second, but as it is you have to shift into third just shy of this speed slowing down the overall sprint time. It’s still certainly a quick car the Giulietta QV, but doesn’t quite feel sub 7-second quick.

This could partially be down to the smooth nature of the power delivery. Not that there isn’t the traditional torque “hole” of a classic turbo car low down, in fact there’s not very much happening at all in the engine bay below 3500rpm despite the claim of all 340Nm being available at 1900rpm. It just isn’t, and it isn’t even the MPS case where it might be except for electronics limiting the twist in the lower gears to safeguard driveshafts.

Even in higher gears out on the highway, the turbo needs to be lit for the torque to be there, and you can hear just that happening at about 3500.

But then even when it’s charging hard in the upper reaches of the rev range, the power delivery remains smooth and quite unfussed. The front wheels aren’t thrown off by torque steer unless you’re unleashing the torrent in the middle of a bumpily-surfaced corner for example, it’s all very nicely tied down and contained.

The engine doesn’t even start to scream to let you know you’re trying hard, although there is a nice purposeful growl from the twin exhaust pipes under full load, followed by a noise very much like that of an Italian coffee maker frothing up the milk to be served in your imminent Cappuccino when you lift off. The sounds never really intrude if you don’t let them, but they definitely make for a more passionate audible signature than the slightly anodyne thrum you get in the main competition, the Golf GTI. Wastegate chatter, interestingly, isn’t really evident on lift-off, but can be heard when the turbo spools up at the 3500rpm mark#8230;

If there’s anything the soundtrack strongly reminds me of, it’s a street-spec Lancia Integrale from the late 80s/early 90s. In fact, the whole power delivery has echoes of that drive resurfacing in my mind, the same old-school all-or-nothing turbo deliver, similarly unstressed and bassy engine growl, and the AWD Lancia only had slightly less torque-steer on the whole.

If it sounded like I was questioning the quoted rpm of the peak torque output earlier (I was), I have to be clear and absolutely rubbish the quoted consumption figures, some 10.8l/100km in the “urban cycle” and 7.6 for the “combined”. Sure it is, maybe if you disconnect the turbo. In the real world, driven hard on typical stop-start suburban favourites this car is indecently thirsty for a 1.75-litre car, you’ll easily have it up past 14l/100km in no time!

And finally, the unadulterated passion

But here’s the rub. Despite power output which seems to be being artificially limited and a voracious appetite for the increasingly dear pink liquid, the new Giulietta QV is an awesome hot hatch. There really is more than enough go to match the established players, but in the corners it’s sensational.

It probably wouldn’t carry more speed (or even quite as much) through the corners than an XDS-equipped GTI, but it’s the intimate way in which it talks to you all the time that will have you trading-in your emotionally-detached German alternative in no time if tactility is important to you.

The Alfa tells you exactly, in minute detail, exactly what it’s doing and what’s about to happen. Settle into the bend and then increase the amount which you need to turn and you can feel exactly how much of the increased lateral load is being absorbed by the suspension and chassis itself, how much is going into compressing the rubber at each corner, and what you still have available in reserve should it be needed. Cornering is safe and stable overall, although the rear is quite mobile under braking, and trailing the brakes combined with a very direct and responsive front-end can make for some entertaining handling.

And it does this all the time, even when straight, despite suspension which controls movements beautifully but is also amazingly supple and absorbent of craters. So supple in fact that the Volvo S60 which I relinquish the Alfa for later in the week actually feels quite hard and crashy. Firmer suspension would certainly have this car up their challenging the very best of the premium hatches on a track, but for the real world the setup it comes with as standard is a perfect balance.

This bond between driver and machine is highlighted well by the brakes. In most modern cars, safety is such an issue that you’re basically applying braking force just by covering the middle pedal. The Alfa at first feels a tad under-servoed by comparison, but once you’re used to the fact that you actually need to apply pressure before getting pressure from pad to disc in return, you discover brakes which are full of progression and require proper modulation from the driver to extract the best from, not some electronically-translated servo pressure. It involves you, makes the driver the most important part of the performance equation, and for that it has to be applauded.

There are a couple of other build quality foibles in addition to the dodgy handbrake positioning. For instance, the aluminium trims on the doors doesn’t actually meet at the shutlines, the front trim standing proud from the rear by an easily-noticeable margin. The front suspension can also at maximum attack feel a little shaky like the Pug 308 GTi we tested last month.

But, and this time not just because of the Alfa badge on the front but in fact on merit alone, you can easily overlook the shortfalls in the new Giulietta. Because it’s a car you buy with your heart and not your head – if it was your head you were using the VW would probably be in your garage instead. It’s a car which oozes character and charm, and ingratiates itself with you every moment of your experience with it.

It was a car I really did not want to give back, and that doesn’t happen as often as you think despite us motoring hacks changing wheels like a stereotypical truck driver does bedmates. Most of the time they just move on and the new one replaces them, the Giulietta however is a difficult machine to simply replace.

And the shocking surprise at the end!

Perhaps most amazing of all this however is a practical consideration, if you were buying this car with your own money. It’s aggressively priced, with CO2 taxes pushing the sticker just north of R330K, but boasts an immense 35 000 km service interval and even better 6-year/105 000km service plan supplementing the 5-year/150 000km warranty. Now that’s great value, and that’s something I never thought I’d be saying about the brand when driving the hideously overpriced offerings of just a few years ago.

Russell Bennett

Liked: Wonderful, communicative handling.

Artful architecture both inside and out.

Properly hot-hatch quick.

Comprehensive service plan.

Disliked: Lies lies lies about fuel consumption. It’s a drinker.

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