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
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.