An Italian job
Five-door stands out from small sedan and hatch pack
CARSGUIDE EDITOR HARD to stand out in a small car these days, what with every second diminutive hatch or sedan being a Mazda3 and almost everything else looking alike.
Try, if you can be bothered, to pick a Pulsar or a Cruze in a crowded car park.
Anyone with a few extra bob to drop on their shopping trolley is doing so on a new Golf. And why wouldn’t you?
Not one choice from this overpopulated segment (some 250,000 will sell this year) isn’t utterly dependable, safe, sound and resoundingly dull. An exception, one that is a barely marginal player, is Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta. For a hatch, a vehicle type defined by practicality, it’s something of a perverse pleasure.
The entry-level 1.4-litre Giulietta has been re-labelled as the Distinctive. That it is.
Despite a drastic, overdue price slice to just under 30 grand, the hatch is still a bit overpriced next to the new Golf.
An auto of the twin clutch variety, which is standard on all Golfs bar the very base model, adds $2K. And that is not so very base despite starting about $6000 under the Alfa. Moreover, VWbrings capped price servicing and a big dealer network. In terms of equipment, the Alfa hasn’t much to boast of. And the resale will eviscerate you.
Yet if you’re straying in the direction of these scattered showrooms, it’s reasonable to assume you’re less interested by litres per 100km than the way in which you get to 100km/h. Those who style themselves as Alfisti tend to focus firmly on the past yet here’s a contemporary car worthy of Alfa’s hallowed heritage. Put what price you will on that.
Anyone who still doubts small turbocharged engines are not where it’s at— that only capacity counts— will be dragged into this decade by the Giulietta’s 1.4 MultiAir four.
The International Engine of 2010 combines turbocharging with direct fuel injection and a system that opens the valves to the optimum. The result is an instantly tappable wave of torque, almost all of which occurs at barely above idle.
This can be regulated by the DNAswitch, which, when Dynamic mode is engaged, produces yet more torque in addition to beefing up the steering feel. This is the setting you’ll engage at almost all times. The fuel consumption figure was obtained in Normal mode, which is dieselchallenging, but you’re not in the market for that are you?
All this makes the bigger capacity but free-breathing petrol plants most Japanese makers persist with look like relics. The Alfa’s breadth of talent is worth every cent paid for premium unleaded.
Standard is the Q2 electronic differential, which sends power to the front wheels with the most traction. Like that clever little engine, it works so seamlessly you’re scarcely aware of it.
You won’t find many functional objects with so much form. The traditional Alfa cues — shield grille, Milanese badge, offset licence plate and hidden rear door handles— set this five-door apart. This base model lacks the presence of the top-line Giulietta QV. Lowered suspension, bigger wheels and leather trim are options, if you really must. The interior reminds you that Italy has struggled to consistently massproduce a decent affordable car. Oh, don’t bother writing in. You know it’s true. The Giulietta’s inside story is as doleful and drab as the exterior is evocative. Fit, finish, materials and ergonomics aren’t good enough. A $19K Cruze has better plastics.
Five stars from Euro NCAP are one thing but the active ability component is what will save you from putting that to the test.
Start engine. Select Dynamic mode. Find first gear. And be engaged.
With the exception of Ford’s Focus Sport, no small car this side of hot hatch money entertains to this degree. In any case, the Australian-issue Ford for the moment lacks a turbo four to compete. As things stand the entry Giulietta is a better all-round device than the near $40,000 QV. A second slower to 100km/h it may be (7.8 seconds in the manual) but its ride serves vastly better when getting quickly across the busted blacktop that passes for a B-road in this country.
The heavier QV would hit the ruts hard. The Distinctive skims them. The QV also runs out of puff— though it’s formidable down low, the QV’s 1.75-litre turbo simply doesn’t want to know after 5800rpm— a frustratingly low, diesel-like ceiling. The ostensibly lesser car has meaningful power to impart on top of its torque.
It’s usefully more flexible and enjoyable, with a tastier engine note to boot.
Hardly the soundest small car choice but at least you’ve made a choice.
No 5 stars 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 125kW/230Nm (250Nm on overboost)
6-speed man, twin-clutch auto; FWD 5.9L/100km (auto 5.2L) 4.3m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.4 H)