Fall­ing for Gi­uli­etta

The new Alfa shows a wel­come re­turn to form, writes Paul Pot­tinger

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

Value

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.

Technology

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.

De­sign

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.

Safety

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.

Driv­ing

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.

Ver­dict

ALFA gets there at last.

Fine lines: the base model Alfa Romeo Gi­uli­etta (above) and the top-spec model (op­po­site page) in­side and out.

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