An Ital­ian job

Five-door stands out from small sedan and hatch pack

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - PAUL POT­TINGER paul.pot­tinger@cars­guide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

SAFETY

Five stars from Euro NCAP are one thing but the ac­tive abil­ity com­po­nent is what will save you from putting that to the test.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

Hardly the sound­est small car choice but at least you’ve made a choice.

12 months/15,000km

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)

1290kg Space-saver

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