Gi­uli­etta, eye candy with sub­stance

Alfa Romeo hatches a well-en­gi­neered car of rare beauty and abil­ity, writes Paul Owen

Matamata Chronicle - - Motoring -

These are dark days for Alfa Romeo glob­ally but the new Gi­uli­etta five-door hatch­backs are so good they have the po­ten­tial to re­verse the for­tunes of the Fiat Group’s pre­mium fam­ily-car brand. With Europe bur­dened by debt, car sales have dropped dra­mat­i­cally, par­tic­u­larly in Fiat’s most im­por­tant mar­ket, Italy. It is hard enough to sell a cheap value-packed su­per­mini or a sen­su­ously-styled scooter on Fiat’s home turf right now, let alone some­thing pur­port­ing to be more mys­te­ri­ous, pres­ti­gious and lux­u­ri­ous. But if any car de­serves to suc­ceed, it is the Gi­uli­etta, for it marks a come­back for one of Italy’s old­est and proud­est car mak­ers. Laugh-out-loud fun to drive and sweet candy for the eyes, the Gi­uli­etta is a con­tem­po­rary Alfa made how misty-eyed old car buffs re­mem­ber them.

Alfa has never for­got­ten how to make good look­ing cars and the Gi­uli­etta car­ries on the tra­di­tion. In the pre­mium Euro­pean hatch­back class, noth­ing comes close in vis­ual ap­peal. Eye the Gi­uli­etta and recog­ni­tion lights up in the brain. The float­ing shield-shaped grille, the ex­pertly dis­guised rear doors and the V-shaped en­gine bon­net em­bel­lish­ments could only come from one car maker.

Dis­tinc­tive styling is some­thing we have come to ex­pect from Alfa Romeo but lead­ing-edge en­gi­neer­ing had be­come sadly lack­ing, un­til now. En­ter the new con­struc­tion of the Gi­uli­etta body to re­fute the no­tion that high crash test scores and rigid­ity im­prove­ments are achieved at a cost of in­creased mass. The lighterthan-the-147-it-re­places Gi­uli­etta will achieve a high­est-in-class Euro NCAP crash test score ac­cord­ing to its maker but not at the ex­pense of style and el­e­gance. Vis­i­bil­ity also has not suf­fered in Alfa’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to be one of the safest com­pact hatch­backs. The body re­futes en­gi­neer­ing wis­dom that girder-thick wind­screen pil­lars are re­quired to de­flect crash­gen­er­ated en­ergy. The new body uses three stag­gered load paths to de­flect frontal im­pacts and only the last re­serve of these calls the lead­ing glasshouse pil­lars into play. An­other in­no­va­tion is high­per­for­mance Xenoy plas­tics to which the front and rear bumpers at­tach. Cheap and easy to re­place, these ab­sorb low-speed dam­age typ­i­cal of car-park tiffs be­fore metal gets dented.

The rigid­ity gives the Gi­uli­etta’s steer­ing and sus­pen­sion sys­tems a po­si­tion of strength to work from. There is a wel­come so­lid­ity to this car while tra­di­tional traits like the Gi­uli­etta’s ag­ile steer­ing have been re­tained. Even ill-main­tained back roads could do lit­tle to up­set the Gi­uli­etta, es­pe­cially the slightly higher-rid­ing base model with its high­er­pro­file 17 tyres and more com­pli­ant sus­pen­sion tune. Even the most pow­er­ful Gi­uli­etta model, the 1750 TBi QV, took most of the bumps in its stride de­spite its stiffer springs, re­duced wheel travel and size-18 boots. The bal­ance of both cars through the twisties was a great en­hancer of driv­ing plea­sure, as was the finely-tuned in­ter­ven­tion of the sta­bil­ity sys­tems when driv­ing in the sporti­est of three modes (dy­namic, nor­mal and all-weather), which keep the driver in com­plete con­trol un­til chim­ing in at the last pos­si­ble mi­cro-sec­ond.

Nat­u­rally, per­for­mance, price and kit sep­a­rate the two Gi­uli­etta mod­els. At $46,990, the base 125kW 1.4 Mul­tiair ver­sion has the $47,250 118kW Volk­swa­gen Golf TSi right in the mid­dle of its crosshairs, while the 173kW $54,990 1.7 TBi QV lines up the $58,500 155kW Golf GTi. Both Al­fas use their lighter body con­struc­tion and more pow­er­ful turbo-charged en­gines to good ef­fect, press­ing home a per­for­mance su­pe­ri­or­ity that can be mea­sured in both over­tak­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion and fuel use. Han­dling bal­ance, road­hold­ing, brak­ing per­for­mance and sheer verve also ap­pear to be Alfa ad­van­tages.

The fact that the Gi­uli­etta can only be bought ini­tially with a six-speed man­ual gear­box may hold back its sales un­til mid2011, when a robo­tised sixspeed twin-clutch sim­i­lar to VW’s pop­u­lar DSG trans­mis­sions will ar­rive for the 1.4 Muli­tair model. Ateco NZ is also con­sid­er­ing the im­por­ta­tion of a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel ver­sion. Even with­out that third en­gine choice, the two turbo-petrol mod­els are ex­pected to ac­count for 140 of the ex­pected 270 sales of new Alfa Romeos on the New Zealand mar­ket dur­ing 2011. That is quite a lift from the 117 cars that the mar­que sold here in 2010. No won­der many are pre­dict­ing that the Gi­uli­etta may be the car that changes the game for Alfa Romeo. At a Glance: En­gines: 1.4 Mul­tiair: 1368cc turbo-charged in­line four de­vel­op­ing 125kW (170bhp) at 5500rpm and 250Nm at 2500rpm; 1750 TBi QV: 1742cc tur­bocharged in-line four de­vel­op­ing 173kW (235bhp) at 5500rpm and 340Nm at 1900rpm.

Trans­mis­sions: 6-speed man­ual (1.7 and 1.4) and twin-clutch robo-man­ual (1.4 only); front-wheel drive with elec­tronic lim­ited slip diff

Per­for­mance: 1.4 Mul­tiair man­ual: 0-100: 7.8 sec­onds, fuel con­sump­tion: 5.8litres/ 100km on EC com­bined city/ high­way driv­ing cy­cle, CO2 emis­sions: 134g/km, Euro 5 com­pli­ant; 1750 TBi QV: 10-100: 6.8 sec­onds, fuel con­sump­tion: 7.6litres/ 100km on EC com­bined city/ high­way driv­ing cy­cle, CO2 emis­sions: 177g/km, Euro 5 com­pli­ant

Prices: 1.4 Mul­tiair man­ual: $46,990; 1750 TBi QV: $54,990; 1.4 Mul­tiair TCT: tba

Hot: There is plenty of en­gi­neer­ing sub­stance to back up the Gi­uli­etta’s ob­vi­ous style

Not: No two-pedal ver­sion of 1.7 Gi­uli­etta, just three New Zealand deal­ers, no iPod in­ter­face

Gi­uli­etta: A bea­con of light

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