BEAUTIFUL but flawed. It’s a portmanteau that Alfa Romeo’s cars have had to lug around for some time and, given the history of retina-soothing Alfas of yesteryear that had a propensity for rusting and so-so electrics, it’s been a difficult one to shake. The Giulietta, however, has been touted as something of a renaissance for the marque with the promise of those pleasing aesthetics being augmented by improved quality. It was with this in mind that we welcomed a range-topping Giulietta 1750 TBi Quadrifoglio Verde to our long-term test fleet to see how Alfa’s latest offering would acquit itself over a year and 20 000 km.
The Alfa tradition of sculpting some of the most gorgeous cars on our roads certainly hasn’t bypassed the Giulietta. Finished in a lustrous metallic Alfa Red, possessed of eye-catching daytime LED running lights and rolling on a set of 17-inch telephone-dial alloy wheels, the Giulietta’s curvaceous styling drew lots of attention from bystanders and even reduced its custodian to furtively checking out the car in every reflective surface passed on the drive to work.
The Giulietta’s cabin, although rather dark, shares the exterior’s sense of occasion with such neat touches as a dark brushed chrome-effect trim panel spanning the facia, toggle switches based on those of the 8C supercar, a metal-effect gearknob, a chunky leather-wrapped sports steering wheel and a twin-cowl instrument binnacle.
Even with a brace of six-footers comfortably ensconced up front, there’s a respectable amount of legroom for the rear passengers, although headroom can be a bit pinched, and the boot serves up a useful 272 dm3 of load space that expands to around 1 000 dm3 with the 60:40 split backrest folded. The only black marks against the Alfa’s cabin were its proneness to trim shudders from a seemingly indeterminable source when traversing uneven surfaces and some cheap-feeling and easily scratched plastics on the lower facia and door panels. Some members of the test team also bemoaned the lack of a footrest upon which to place their clutch loafer, but you soon got used to automatically sliding your foot under the pedal when not operating it.
Among the optional extras fitted to our long-termer were partial-leather sports seats (with heating – a boon in winter – and electrical adjustment) that proved eminently comfy; a panoramic sunroof that lent some airiness to the dark cabin but developed a lot of wind noise when open and a superb Bose audio system. This lattermost item was integrated with Alfa’s Blue&Me Bluetooth and audio management system, which worked a treat in this particular application. Given that my previous experience of such a system in a Ford proved so recalcitrant that it reduced me to profanity-spouting frustration only to patch me through to a bemused girlfriend mid-expletive, I was not expecting great things of the Alfa’s system. I was to be proved wrong as the Alfa’s phone module responded accurately to vocal inputs and even made selecting folders and tracks from the USB a cinch.
Although this model’s turbo-charged 1,75-litre engine develops an impressive 173 kW and 340 N.m of torque, the Giulietta doesn’t really feel like a hot hatch but it does have a duality to its nature. With the DNA drive-select system in its normal setting, there’s noticeable turbo lag below 2 300 r/min and the exhaust note is rather subdued, but once the turbo spools up, the forward momentum is impressive and the Giulietta picks up serious pace in the mid-to-upper rev range. Nudging the DNA selector to the more aggressive dynamic setting sees the dials in the binnacle briefly light up and the car hunker forward as the throttle response sharpens and the overboost kicks in to negate some of the low-end sluggishness.
The steering, although not possessed of much feel, is accurate and makes the Giulietta fun to thread through the bends at a brisk pace. There is a noticeable amount of body roll when pressing on, but the ride, despite those low-profile tyres, is supple enough to deal with all but the worst of broken road surfaces. Around town, the levels of refinement were commendable and the fuel consumption hovered between 9,5 to 10,0 litres/100 km, but a stint on the open road beckoned at around 12 000 km.
Filled with the girlfriend, her associated chattels (which means almost every item of clothing and condiment in her house), braai wood and other holiday accoutrements, the Giulietta’s nose was pointed northwest towards the coastal resort of Strandfontein for a near-1 000 km road trip.
On the open road, the car continued to exhibit a pliant ride and composed road manners, but a good deal of tyre roar did permeate the cabin at speeds above 100 km/h, necessitating the odd utterance of “pardon?” and cranking the admittedly slick Bose sound system up a notch or two.
Thanks to the power on offer, the usual scourge of long-distance drives – articulated lorries with an aversion to crawler lanes – were hastily dealt with. In these situations, nudging the DNA drive selector into dynamic was especially pleasing – that additional bit of oomph is always welcome when dealing with slower traffic. You do, however, have to bear in mind that once switched back to its normal setting, the DNA system won’t engage dynamic mode at speeds above 100 km/h (an understandable safety net that prevents all havoc potentially breaking loose with accidental deployment in extremis). This sometimes necessitates backing off the throttle when approaching slower traffic so as to bring the car down to a DNA-friendly speed before surging past.
Brisk overtaking manoeuvres also uncovered another quirk that can catch the weary traveller unawares – the Alfa’s steering has a strong self-centring action at high speeds that can induce some unexpected lurch when changing direction. Having said that, given the fact that the Giulietta sends all of its power to the front wheels, a strong self-centring action is preferable to the alternative: potentially vicious torque-steer. It’s just an element of the car’s handling to which you become accustomed and accordingly adjust your driving style.
These quirks aside, the Alfa proved itself to be a consummate long-distance driver. In addition to a weekend’s worth of clothes/food/beach gear, the boot also managed to swallow a couple of cases of wine purchased during an impromptu stop in Klawer. Given the undulating landscape and regular lorry-overtaking, the fuel consumption on that trip was pretty respectable too, at an average of 9,72 litres/100 km.
There was, however, a trim mis-hap during the trip. The Giuletta’s gearknob cover – a rather fetching metal-effect item – had developed some play over the previous weeks and eventually popped off. Given that the car had only 13 000 km on its clock and had not been treated to any ham-fisted driving, such a part failure was unexpected. With the cover off, I noticed that it was held in place by three plastic teeth that clicked into holes in the knob – an odd arrangement considering the torsional forces to which a rounded gearknob would be subjected.
This was a point that I brought up with the service shop manager at Imperial Fiat-Alfa Romeo in Kuilsrivier, who agreed that a fixture utilising a more effective – if not as visually appealing – grub or Allen screw setup would probably avoid such a problem. The service-shop manager who sourced the replacement item swiftly was courteous and professional regarding its fitment. The replacement part cost R230 (covered by the warranty).
The Giulietta 1750 TBi QV acquitted itself well during its 20 000 km tenure with CAR. Although some trim quality issues persisted, the car felt mechanically robust and dealt commendably with everything from its 60-odd-kilometre daily commute on a variety of roads to its weekend up the West Coast. Given that the QV model, despite its power, doesn’t really fit the hot-hatch bill in terms of outright dynamic poise and weighs in at more than R350 000, it’s safe to say that its an Alfa enthusiast’s choice.
The CAR team has sampled both the 1,4 MultiAir and 1,4 Progression models and found their mixture of frugality, performance and better ride owing to a more sympathetic wheel/tyre combination very appealing. The minor trim and packaging issues could drive those expecting Teutonic levels of build quality and driver comfort to distraction, but the cars for which they’d settle would kill for an ounce of the Alfa’s style and charisma.
It seems that Alfas still represent an emotional purchase but, given the Giulietta’s blend of talents, the heart-over-head balance seems to have shifted a little more to the latter, and that bodes well for this car.
See a video wrap-up of this test here
*Including registration and licence, but excluding depreciation and insurance costs – at time of test.
**As recommended by manufacturer; incl. VAT – at time of test.