Falling for Giulietta
The new Alfa shows a welcome return to form, writes Paul Pottinger
IT’S A truism that the Alfa Romeos eulogised by the Alfisti, the marque’s hardcore fans, tend to be at least 40 years old.
Sadly, for this was a once great auto house, the impact of recent Alfas has been minimal: 914 local sales in 2010 tell their own sad story.
But then, apart from a few worthy variants of the unfairly overlooked 159, Alfa hasn’t deserved much better.
Named for an old classic, the Giulietta, the medium hatchback has been favourably compared in Europe with VW’s perennial Golf. It represents nothing less than the most important car in the brand’s 101-yearold history. If it doesn’t succeed, Alfa Romeo sinks. No pressure then.
The newcomer is remarkable for excelling in those areas that recent Alfas haven’t, dropping the ball in one which Alfa usually has, but mainly in providing what few Alfas the past decade have so much as hinted at: substance.
TWO variants are available now, both with cutting-edge turbo petrol engines. A diesel follows later in the year, as does a twin clutch automatic transmission.
The sole gearbox to be going on with is a six-speed manual, which will retard sales as surely as if the cars all came painted brown. Pity, because the engine transmission match is great.
The 1.4 TB MultiAir retails at $36,990; the 1750 TBI with the famous Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) four-leaf clover badge at $41,990. The latter stands visually apart for that prominent emblem, lowered suspension and dark 18-inch alloys.
Both variants are well equipped with standard features, including the Q2 electronic differential and the DNA selective drive switch that enables drivers to choose between dynamic, normal and all-weather modes. Alfa gets there at last.
A premium pack (including radio/ mobile controls on the steering wheel, folding door mirrors and parking sensors) is optional on the 1.4 and standard on the QV. So too is the sport pack with smoky alloys, 10mm lowered sports suspension, aluminium pedals, leather steering wheel and upholstery.
A TOUR de force. Or is that ‘‘forza’’? Whatever, the latest DNA setting is
no gimmick; all modes are useful, although you’ll be poking the switch to dynamic at every opportunity. Optimum fuel consumption occurs in Normal, to which the Giulietta defaults when the ignition key is turned.
Using turbocharging, a twin overhead camshaft and direct injection, the 1750 TBi’s seemingly small capacity outstrips almost all fourcylinder engines to obtain nigh on three-litre performance.
Using scavenging technology to make optimum use of the turbo, it produces its maximum 340Nm torque from only 1900 revs.
The supposedly lesser engine is arguably more impressive; one Alfa claims is as important to petrol engines as the common rail it developed for diesels.
An electro-hydraulic variable valve actuation technology controlling air intake, it produces 125kW and 250Nm, the latter from barely above idle, but emits only 134g/km.
The result is instantaneous performance that belies capacity. The cost i s measured in premium unleaded petrol.
SO FINE without. So poor within. This is one great-looking, distinctive five-door. Even better in the metal than on the page, there’s not an angle from which the Giulietta, especially the QV, doesn’t work.
Coupe lines, accentuated by hidden rear-door handles, mean quite some compromise in rear passenger space (do not option the panoramic roof if you intend to transport adults), but the days of Alfa’s driving position being for orangutans (ludicrously long of arm and stubby of leg) are over.
What a weeping pity the interior design isn’t matched by quality materials.
The switch controls are ’60s retro, but you don’t for a moment believe they won’t snap off at some point. Surfaces are too easily marked and give no confidence as to their long term durability.
At this money things needs to be better. It makes me think long and hard about spending my money.
THE good news resumes with bestin-class ratings in European crash testing. It’s down to fixtures including collapsible pedals and steering column, progressive chassis deformity, double-front seatbelt pretensioners to curtail ‘‘submarining’’ and removing the need for a driver’s knee airbag, and enhanced side impact protection.
Add to this daytime running lights and the full raft of active safety acronyms. Go forth in confidence.
THE QV is controlled, composed and refined to the point of being inaudible. Where’s the fizz, the crackle?
Some aural indication would be welcome, because the QV can accelerate from high gear at low speed to a licence-shredding extent and you’d hardly know. It seldom feels as fast as it’s travelling. Yet the ride is completely accomplished, even on 18s and lowered suspensions. Transferring torque to the front wheel with most grip, the electronic Q2 diff seems almost to claw you around corners.
If you’re not horrified by the notion of changing gear for yourself, here’s a worthy rival of the Golf GTI. It’s not better or worse but a different flavour, as though the hatch body was incidental and you are driving a five-door compact grand tourer.
The QV makes the 100km/h mark from standing a second quicker at 6.8, but the MultiAir is its equal if not better in terms of ride and getting its output to the tarmac. It has the composure of something bigger and softer, yet the intimacy of something smaller and more fun. Super-direct electromechanical steering abets the game.
ALFA gets there at last.
Fine lines: the base model Alfa Romeo Giulietta (above) and the top-spec model (opposite page) inside and out.