Giulietta, eye candy with substance
Alfa Romeo hatches a well-engineered car of rare beauty and ability, writes Paul Owen
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