MOST competitive scenarios and sporting disciplines throughout history are littered with defeated contenders who (or which) were crushed under weights of expectation. By the time the plucky Alfa Romeo 147, the predecessor to the new Giulietta, reached the mid-point of its life cycle, premium brand competitors had blitzed the high end of the compact market and traditional volume manufacturers rolled out products with newly-found dynamism and sophistication. Yet the 147 soldiered on for what seemed like an eternity and now, with the belated arrival of the Giulietta, Alfa Romeo expects this newcomer to work the catwalk like never before but simultaneously appeal to the mainstream… It’s a tall order, but Alfa’s got a game plan.
Head-turning style is a prerequisite for every new Alfa Romeo, but the words “elegant” and “hatchback” don’t usually sit well together. When viewed directly from the front, the Giulietta looks like a more resolved, but nonetheless derived, version of its MiTo sibling. Some may not like the proportions or positioning of the “suspended grille” but, as ever, the allure lies in the detailing of the exterior design and that’s why the testers were unanimous in their praise.
The edge of the front apron is distinctively curved and just behind the recessed rear door handles, the shoulder line sweeps gently away from the flanks before curving back into the apex of the hatch, itself replete with a subtle kick just above the ornate LED-adorned rear taillamps. As a result, the Giulietta’s profile is distinctive and pleasing enough to get buyers to the showroom, and that’s a pretty good start.
Traditionally, an Alfa Romeo road test usually takes a turn for the worst when the interior comes up for appraisal, but the Giulietta’s cabin was a revelation by virtue of its conventional layout and the initial impression of neat-and-tidiness (as opposed to design flair with the expected durability of a Christmas cracker). There are soft-touch materials on the facia, and the circular climate control dials, shapely side air vents, metallic gear knob, “racing car” toggle switches and traditional Alfa dials lift an ambience of almost Teutonic austerity.
The Giulietta will also appeal to young families in a way that the 147 could never have hoped. The boot capacity is a handy 272 dm³ that can be extended to around 1 000 with the 60:40 rear seatbacks folded flat. Rear legroom, if not copious, can transport two adults in relative comfort even if headroom is a little tight.
In terms of safety equipment, dual front, side and curtain airbags are supplemented by ABS with EBD and BAS, vehicle dynamic control, anti-slip regulation, cornering brake control including dynamic steering torque, and a hill holder. Last year, the newcomer earned a Euro NCAP five-star crash test rating with a score of 87/100; the highest achieved by a compact car up to that point in time…
The list of interior appointments on this model is quite competitive too; the Blue&Me (Bluetooth with voice commands and MP3 media player with USB port) and multi-function steering wheel are standard, for example, but the Visibility Pack, which includes a rain sensor, electrochromatic rear-view mirror and automatic headlamps, will set you back an extra R3 000 and cruise control R1 250.
Frustratingly, the adaptation of the Giulietta from left- to right-hand drive has compromised the driving position to an extent. Although most testers could find a comfortable position behind the wheel… eventually (adjusting the back rest angle while seating requires stuffing one’s right hand into a minuscule gap between the B-pillar and the base of the driver’s seat), the pedals are placed in offset positions in the narrow footwell. There is no footrest, so to avoid rubbing one’s shin against the hard edge of the transmission tunnel ad nauseum, it’s best to keep your left leg straight and rest your foot under the clutch pedal.
But it’s arguably worth the compromise. In fact, testers were even inclined to forgive the Giulietta’s oldschool tarty red digital displays out of appreciation for the newcomer’s involving driving experience. The 1,4- litre turbocharged MultiAir motor always sounds raspy and eager even though it doesn’t rev all that highly and it’s mated with a delightfully slick six-speed gearbox. Producing peak outputs of 125 kW and 250 N.m of torque, the engine has an unobtrusive stop/start system and its taxable CO2 emissions rating is 134 g/km.
Considering CAR’s fuel index of 7,0 litres/100 km for this model, the Giulietta should have an optimal range of 857 km from its 60-litre tank… We have our doubts that many owners will ever realise such a level of fuel efficiency, because the temptation to hustle the Giulietta along a favoured stretch of twisty blacktop, with its motor merrily spinning in its torquey mid-range and the turbo cheekily puffing away on throttle lifts, is signifi cant.
With the Alfa’s now familiar DNA drive mode selector set in Dynamic, the steering feels just quick enough and near-perfectly weighted to keep the driver informed of the attitude of the front wheels when pressing on. Turn-in is true, grip abundant and the accelerator and brake pedals feel sharp and responsive in their reactions, although probably a tad too sensitive for normal driving conditions. It needs to be said that we discerned some roll in the corners at the limit, but the body lean is arguably a worthwhile trade-off considering the otherwise forgiving ride quality under normal driving conditions.
Given Alfa Romeo’s meagre market share, is a competitive price tag of R279 900 good enough to lure buyers away from the Giulietta’s (primarily German) opposition? After all, no-one wants to own a steeply depreciating asset! In the defence of Fiat Auto SA (Alfa’s local distributor), our sources reveal that the company’s dealer network has made steady improvements in after sales service and MiTo models are said to retain their values well.
Therefore, the inclusion of a five years/150 000 km warranty and six years/90 000 km service plan is arguably the most concrete step the brand could have taken to bolster the Giulietta as an ownership proposition.
TEST SUMMARY Alfa Romeo has stated its intention to remain a niche brand in South Africa, but in order to grow from its near negligible market share into a brand that can do justice to its 101-year heritage it needs products that appeal to more than just alfisti. To that end, the astutely-packaged Giulietta marks a clear departure for Alfa Romeo…
Its competitors at the premium end of the compact market are nearing the end of their life cycles and its mainstream rivals either have gaps in their line-ups or products that fail to capture the imagination. We think the Giulietta’s arrived at a good time to win over buyers with its fine balance of style, performance, practicality, safety and economy. It’s imperfect, yes, but also has many merits.