The improved Alfa Romeo Giulietta provides a welcome breath of fresh air for motoring writer June Neary
Will It Suit Me?
A small, affordable little Alfa Romeo would, once upon a time, have been something I would have steering people well away from. Not any more. Well, not since the arrival of the Giulietta anyway. This car has changed Alfa's sales figures in the UK beyond recognition - and deservedly so.
Audi's A3 and BMW's 1 Series are its intended target competitors, so you can infer from that that the car had better be not only good but of exceptionally high quality. It is. Yet at the same time, Alfa haven't lost their sense of style - or that great sound when you stretch out your right foot and the open road beckons.
For all those reasons, were I to be shopping in this market, the Giulietta is a car I would find difficult to resist. I'd thought I'd try the improved version with its upgraded 2.0 JTDm-2 diesel engine.
There's a real tension in this design: my colleague here recently described it thus: "the bonnet crease points curling over like the whitened knuckles of a balled-up fist. Like an oncoming jab, the overall effect isn't subtle; instead the bearing is one of threatening aggression." All of which rather put me off before my test car arrived and I had a chance to inspect the Giulietta in the metal. I don't want to be putting out 'threatening aggression'. Fortunately, as usual, he had been exaggerating. It's a look I quite like, particularly from the rear. And it's one that Alfa hasn't seen fit to change very much with this improved model, apart from the addition of sleeker front-end styling that includes a striking honeycomb grille, piano black bumper inserts with red highlights on sporty models and revised headlamp and fog lamp surrounds.
A seat inside an Alfa used to be not much better than a seat in a Fiat - which was generally where everything was borrowed from. No longer. Sit inside the Giulietta and the memories of Italianate driving positions that we grew up with in Alfasuds and Alfettas are banished forever. Seat, pedals, steering wheel, gearstick and mirrors all appear to be positioned around the figure of a human being rather than a gibbon. The rest of the interior has other such considerate touches too, including the clever Uconnect infotainment system on this revised model with its large, centrally positioned colour screen.
Alfa hasn't forgotten its heritage and has built upon the inherent romantic appeal of Italian cars. However, it's also true to say that around the relentlessly well-finished cabin are some determinedly modern high-tech touches. Six airbags come as standard, as does dual-zone climate controlled air conditioning. State-of-the-art multiplex wiring has made possible the option of a full-screen voice activated satellite navigation system with an inbuilt Bose stereo and GSM telephone system. It's not cheap, but the satellite navigation setup is one of the best available anywhere, as is the Vehicle Dynamic Control, which is a stability control system which aims to prevent the Giulietta spinning.
Behind the Wheel
The pick of the range could well be the 150bhp 2.0 JTDm-2 diesel variant I tried. Rest to 62mph takes 8.8s, en route to 130mph. Fast enough to make consideration of the top 175bhp version of this engine irrelevant I would say. Anyway, you can only have that unit with Alfa's 6-speed TCT automatic gearbox. I'd want the manual stick shift of the car I tried: much more Alfa. Those on a tighter budget can choose a 120bhp 1.6-litre JTDm-2 diesel or a 120bhp 1.4-litre TB petrol unit. Two more petrol engines complete the line-up, a 170bhp 1.4 MultiAir powerplant and a 240bhp 1750 turbo petrol Quadrifoglio Verde hot hatch model at the top of the range.
Performance tends to be taken for granted with Alfa Romeo ownership, but build quality has in past times often been woeful. It's turned around though in recent times. The fact is that since the 156 was launched at the end of 1997, Alfa's understanding of how to screw together a decent quality car has come on leaps and bounds. The latest Giulietta takes this foundation and reinforces it further.
Value For Money
Expect to pay somewhere in the £18,500 to £28,500 bracket for your Giulietta, pricing which puts it neatly between the common or garden Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra class and the premium Audi A3/BMW 1 Series segment. We'll get to that in a minute. It's a five door-only range and at there are two main decisions most buyers will need to make within it. At the bottom end of the line-up, there's the choice of a 1.4 TB petrol unit or a 1.6-litre JTDm-2 diesel. In the middle of the range, it's similar: you choose between 1.4 TB MultiAir petrol or the much improved 150bhp 2.0 JTDM-2 diesel unit. Whether you're looking at the foot of the line-up or in that mid-section of it, the premium to go from petrol to diesel is around £800-£900. Think twice about paying that if you're a low mileage user. Urban users looking for the convenience of the TCT automatic gearbox have it as a £1,300 option on the 1.4 MultiAir petrol model. Go for the top-of-range 175bhp 2.0-litre JTDM-2 diesel unit and you have to have it.The flagship petrol version, the potent 1750 turbo petrol Veloce model, won't leave you very much change from £29,000, so will be a rare sight on British roads.
Whichever mainstream variant you choose, you should find it decently equipped. All but the very basic models add things like alloy wheels, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and Bluetooth to a standard specification that already includes air conditioning, the Uconnect infotainment system, electric windows, a hill-holder clutch to stop you drifting backwards on junctions and the Stop/Start system that's fitted across the Giulietta range. Options include a panoramic glass roof. Safety-wise, this Alfa is especially well provided for. Not only did it score the now almost mandatory five EuroNCAP stars, but it also registered a best-in-class 87% score. Even the entry-level car gets six airbags, active anti-whiplash head restraints, VDC stability control and the usual electronic braking and traction aids.
Could I Live With One?
In a word yes. It has all the quality of its German rivals with a welcome dash of extra spirit.