First Drive: Alfa Romeo Giulietta

20 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on First Drive: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta

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First Drive | Turin, Italy | Alfa Romeo Giulietta |

The answer was quick and simple: just the VW Golf. During the press conference for the debut of the Giulietta someone asked Harald Wester, CEO of Alfa Romeo, what cars he considered to be rivals to the new family hatchback. His response shouldn’t come as a surprise; image, quality and all-round competence aside, the Golf is one of the best-selling hatches in Europe.

To truly compete in this crucial marketplace the Giulietta has to compare favourably to it, while using Ford’s Focus as the dynamic benchmark.

In the Metal

Some might say that Alfa Romeo’s designers have it easy. There’s a rich design heritage to draw on, symbolised by the prominent shield grille, while no line seems too sharp or curve too sensual to make it into production. The Giulietta could only be Italian, and that’s a very good thing. Despite the use of the historic nameplate, the new car shares little aesthetically with its forebears.

The shape and detailing is bang up to date, a fact that is underlined by the utilisation of LED lighting front and rear, the back lamps in particular a triumph with their unique spiral design.

At first glance you may think that the Giulietta is a three-door hatch, but as with most modern Alfas the handles to the rear doors are subtly mounted up high at the back of the door. Alfa Romeo reckons it won’t need a separate three-door model for this reason. We’ve reserved a star for appearance until we see how it looks in its most basic format on its smallest wheels.

Inside, the style is a little more retro, with a big silver gear knob and toggle-like switches on the dashboard grabbing your attention. The fascia itself is made from a textured plastic that is far nicer to touch than it has any right to be. Indeed, most surfaces that fall to hand are made of solid, tactile materials.

There’s plenty of space too thanks to overall dimensions that fall between the Golf and Focus, while rear passengers are accommodated well despite the sloping roofline.

What you get for your Money

At the time of writing it’s not entirely clear what you will get if you spend your money on a new Giulietta. When it arrives in right-hand drive markets this July prices will start from Ј17,000 in the UK and Ђ23,000 in Ireland. What is certain is that Alfa Romeo will fit every Giulietta it makes with a full arsenal of active and passive safety systems in a bid to achieve the highest score it can in the Euro NCAP safety ratings.

Five engines will be available initially, all turbocharged. A pair of 1.4-litre petrol units with and without the clever MultiAir inlet valve timing system deliver 118bhp, 152lb.ft and 168bhp, 184lb.ft respectively. Diesel options are a 1.6-litre JTDm unit producing 103bhp and 236lb.ft or a 2.0-litre unit boasting 168bhp and 258lb.ft.

Topping off the range is a high-performance Cloverleaf model, which we’ll deal with in Worth Noting below.

Driving it

To be a serious contender in this segment the Giulietta must confidently manage the balancing act between long distant comfort and cornering ability. VW’s latest Golf is adept at this, though the Ford Focus is still acknowledged as the car to beat dynamically.

Between our base for the day and the motorway there are a few miles of open, smooth tarmac sharply punctuated by a variety of tightening corners. Although this is our first time driving the Giulietta, it instantly feels good, flowing with the road rather than fighting against it, while remaining composed and stable during heavy braking. More than that, it engages the driver from the off, allowing a little throttle adjustment mid corner.

Really enthusiastic driving in the Giulietta is accompanied by the persistent intervention of the car’s myriad safety systems. Thankfully they’re quick-acting and they don’t detract from the experience too much – from the perspective of a keen driver. The majority of buyers will probably only ever receive electronic assistance when they need it.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The D.N.A. switch is carried over from the MiTo. so the driver can choose Dynamic, Normal or All-weather modes. How far these modes reach is dependant on the model, but in most it at least alters the throttle map and power steering assistance. It also activates the Q2 electronic ‘differential’ – which applies the brakes to a spinning wheel – and will alter the gearchange strategy in the dual-clutch automatic gearbox (when it arrives in 2011).

We hit the motorway next, already impressed. The Giulietta deals with the fast-moving route well, giving the driver confidence to maintain high speeds. Admittedly, at the sort of speeds more often seen on mainland Europe, there is a pronounced increase in the wind noise coming from the A-pillars and door mirrors, but for the most part the occupants are well insulated from the outside world.

Under these conditions the engines are nicely muted, as they are around town. Once we leave the motorway behind in search for some twisty hill roads, it’s time to really test the Giulietta’s mettle. Holding the D.N.A. selector towards D brings a new display to the instruments to show turbo boost, while the sharper throttle and heavier steering are instantly noticeable.

We tried 2.0-litre diesel and 1.4-litre petrol models back-to-back on the same challenging piece of road. Similarities include weighty steering with just enough feedback, masses of mechanical grip, a slick and smooth gearchange and impressive low- to mid-range torque. While these engines share a 168bhp power output, the JTDm diesel has significantly more torque at its disposal. That’s just as well, as the power band is narrow.

The gearing is distinctly high too, no doubt in the search for those valuable mpg. This 2.0-litre diesel is probably the best all-rounder of the Giulietta line-up, though we have yet to try the entry-level 1.6-litre, which boasts a wallet-friendly 114g/km CO 2 figure.

Worth Noting

Sitting atop the Giulietta range is the Cloverleaf. It’s a standalone model with its own specification and it’s the only version to feature Alfa’s turbocharged 1750 engine under the bonnet. On paper it sounds like a mouth watering prospect.

Maximum power output is 232bhp at 5,500rpm, which compares favourably to the likes of the Focus ST and Golf GTI. and if you choose Dynamic mode there’s up to 236lb.ft of torque on tap at just 1,900rpm. Our drive in the car was short and limited to a wide smooth track so we’ll reserve final judgement until driving it back home, but there’s certainly more edge to the Cloverleaf. If nothing else it looks the part thanks to large alloys, a subtle body kit and a lower stance.

It’s also well equipped.

Summary

This isn’t the first time a new Alfa Romeo has arrived on the scene proclaiming to be the best thing since sliced ciabatta. In the past a first drive such as this might finish with the admission that our hearts long for the daring lines of the Alfa, but our head tells us go for the more competent alternatives. That’s no longer the case.

We’re not saying that the new Giulietta is clearly better than its targeted adversaries, but it’s certainly good enough to be spoken about in the same sentence.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta

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