Needs some­body to love

It’s an Alfa so it has fa­nat­i­cal fol­low­ers, though the turbo and the air­con fails make the age­ing Gi­uli­etta too hot to han­dle

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK - WITH PAUL GOVER

ALFISTI around the world can’t wait for the new Gi­u­lia, the all­new four-door sedan that’s the make-or-break car for the Ital­ian brand in the 21st cen­tury.

The fans of the Alfa brand in­clude some of the most tragic sup­port­ers in the car world and for now, in Aus­tralia, they have the up­dated Gi­uli­etta.

It would be good to say the Gi­uli­etta points to the larger Gi­u­lia — but it’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to em­pha­sise that it does not. Where the Gi­u­lia is all new, the Gi­uli­etta is def­i­nitely show­ing its age de­spite a fresh­en­ing for Aus­tralia that in­cludes the re­turn of the Ve­loce — it means fast — badge and pack.

The 2017 up­date brings a mild re­fresh of the styling, in­side and out, new-look al­loy wheels and pric­ing from $29,900.

Alfa calls the Gi­uli­etta a hot hatch. It’s a com­pact four-seater with front-wheel drive.

The base vari­ant, with 1.4litre turbo (110kW/250Nm), is called Su­per — no trans­la­tion needed — and will run from rest to 100km/h in 8.2 sec­onds.

Spend $34,900 on the Su­per TCT, still a 1.4-litre turbo but with 125kW/250Nm out­puts, and the sprint takes 7.7 sec­onds.

Go­ing to the full-fat Ve­loce means spend­ing $41,900 to get a 1.75-litre turbo four (177kW/ 340Nm) that turns a six-speed twin-clutch trans­mis­sion with vari­able driv­ing modes. The sprint time is slashed to a claimed 6 secs, top speed is 244km/h and thirst is 6.8L/100km.

The Ve­loce is pre­dictably loaded with launch con­trol, sports sus­pen­sion, 18-inch al­loys, Brembo brakes and bi-xenon head­lights.

In­side, it has a 6.5-inch touch­screen, flat-bot­tom leather steer­ing wheel and

leather-and-Al­can­tara trimmed sports seats.

But here’s the thing — the Gi­uli­etta is old. It’s had to sol­dier on as Alfa bat­tled to get the Gi­u­lia ready for the road and it’s show­ing its age.

The shape still looks chic and there is slick de­tail­ing from the twin ex­haust pipes to car­bon­look head­lamp clus­ters and dark gloss ex­te­rior parts.

How­ever, it’s still a cramped baby that’s too busy in the dash, cramped in the back and bat­tling to win friends against ri­vals in­clud­ing the out­go­ing Re­nault Me­gane RS, VW Golf GTI (from $41,340) and even the Ford Fo­cus RS with its con­tro­ver­sial drift mode ($51,000 with a wait­ing list).

ON THE ROAD

The way Alfa cars look, sound and run make you smile. I’ve never been a card-car­ry­ing Alfisti, though — too many bad ex­pe­ri­ences in the past, from very iffy qual­ity to dodgy dy­nam­ics and aw­ful cabin er­gonomics, kept my en­thu­si­asm in check.

Driv­ing the Gi­uli­etta in Italy ini­tially was a salient re­minder that Alfa makes cars with per­son­al­ity but flaws. A re­cent ex­am­ple is the very or­di­nary 4C, which looks truly won­der­ful but is also deeply flawed in terms of the driv­ing po­si­tion, en­gine re­sponse, front-end grip and chas­sis bal­ance.

So I’m com­ing to the Guili­etta Ve­loce with a smile. And trep­i­da­tion. Fear strikes not once, but twice, be­cause that’s the way Al­fas get you.

A brief sprint in Mel­bourne shows the car has plenty of punch, great grip and good brakes, but the cabin looks aw­fully old.

Then I get an­other car home and it im­me­di­ately fails the cool test. On a 33-de­gree day, the first test fo­cuses on the air­con­di­tion­ing. And the Gi­uli­etta fails. Aw­fully.

I’m tempted to park it and get the train as I’m al­ter­na­tively blasted with sat­is­fac­tory cool air and hit with waves of out­side un­pleas­ant­ness.

When I call Alfa cen­tral with this griev­ance, I’m told the test car is fresh back from the shop after a re­pair job on the air­con. So I’m mov­ing on, wait­ing for the sun to drop and then as­sess the car on my favourite test road.

Be­fore then, I con­firm the seats are great — comfy with good sup­port — but the driv­ing po­si­tion is lousy as I can’t get the steer­ing wheel any­where close to where I need it.

The dash looks old, the ma­te­ri­als are old, the fin­ish­ing is all right but not up to pres­tige-car lev­els and the rear-seat space is tight even for my sev­enyear-old.

The en­gine sounds great when it’s romp­ing to the red­line, as any Alfa should. It’s en­ter­tain­ing in a straight line and I’m sure it will match the claimed 6.0-sec­ond time to 100km/h.

That said, there is heavy pulling on the steer­ing wheel as the 18-inch front tyres scrab­ble for grip, which makes twisty roads feel far too chal­leng­ing. The car is work­ing against me, in­stead of play­ing my game.

I like the dou­ble-clutch gear­box and the chance to pick a drive mode for com­fort, econ­omy or all-out sprint­ing.

The brakes are fine, the head­lights are good and there is five-star safety but if it comes down to a glam-off with the com­ing Gi­u­lia, the body’s show­ing its age.

My time in the Gi­uli­etta comes straight after a quick sprint in an Abarth 124, which shows a dif­fer­ent and bet­ter way for Ital­ian cars. It’s a mild tweak of the award-win­ning Mazda MX-5, pick­ing up the best of the Ja­panese road­ster and adding Ital­ian spice for a car which is good enough to earn a place in our com­ing Car of the Year shootout.

TICK OR NO TICK

I love the en­gine in the Gi­uli­etta Ve­loce. Raunchy and re­spon­sive, it also makes for epic torque steer and a car that’s hap­pier cruis­ing than sprint­ing.

The car is also com­pro­mised and lim­ited for day-to-day use with a fam­ily, even if it is pro­moted as a hot hatch, and just plain too old for to­day. And then there is the epic air­con fail.

So, much as I want to like the Gi­uli­etta I just can’t. And, be­cause any Alfa is a car you need to love, there is no chance for The Tick.

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