From their earliest inception in 1910 to the present day, Alfa Romeos have always been vehicles of passion. The styling, the interior trim, the uniquely Italian design elements. The way the rorty engine revs out, the way the steering feels alive in your hands, the way the chassis dances in unison with the road, making best use of what little power is available. The way the car seems to have a fun, light hearted energy about it; the suggestion that the only thing the driver truly takes seriously is the proper enjoyment of life. In other words, they are vehicles of passion with unquantifiable traits that cause buyers to throw caution to the wind and to take ownership of the car their heart desires, without complete conscious knowledge of knowing exactly why.
But the Alfas of the past decade seem to have lost their way. The styling, as razor sharp and stunning like never before, had been writing the kinds of cheques all over town that the dynamics simply couldn’t cash. The 159 is one of the most striking sedans on the road, but it was underpowered for most of its life and far too heavy. The Brera, a direct development of the jaw dropping Giugiaro styled showcar, was a little, well, doughy. And for some reason Alfa Romeo replaced their passionate 3.2 V6, one of the all-time great V6 engines, with one developed by General Motors whose basic architecture it shared with the VE Commodore. The passion that made Alfa so famous was slipping away.
But since those days we’ve had a GFC and a gigantic corporate restructure rescue mission that has resulted in Chrysler becoming part of the Fiat group. As part of the restructure, charismatic Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne realigned the Alfa Romeo brand, admitting it had lost its way and promising to return it back to the heart-throb, fun loving cornerstone of the Fiat Group it once was. This Giulietta is the first post-restructure era Alfa I’ve driven, and I approached my drive full of questions to answer. Would it live up to the promises made by Marchionne? And most importantly, given that it finds itself in roughly the same price ball park as its more focussed rivals (Subaru WRX, Renault Megane RS250), would it be filled with enough of the famous ‘Alfa verve’ to make it a viable alternative for us performance focussed drivers?
Base Giuliettas are available with either a 1368cc four utilising the MultiAir technology pioneered on the Fiat 500 TwinAir or a 2.0 JTDm2 MultiJet diesel. The car Any Given Reason drove – the performance QV model, is the only model in the range to be fitted with the 1750cc TBi turbocharged and intercooled direct injection petrol motor. Sharing only its capacity with that famous Alfa twin cam of the 70’s, the new 1750 is a thoroughly modern engine with a vastly different character to what we’re normally used to seeing from Alfa. Rather than the revvy, peaky motors of past, the new 1750 is a torque monster, producing its maximum torque of 340nm at just 1900rpm, with a peak power of 173kw arriving at 5,500rpm, the rev limiter cutting in a further thousand rpm ’round the clock.
I can already hear the cries of Alfa purists from afar, but hold on – this engine is genuinely good fun. The grunty motor slingshots you from apex to apex with a whoosh of turbo noise, accompanied by a faint turbo whine if you listen carefully. The extra torque plays out nicely on the daily commute too – the Giulietta easily held 100km/h up the freeway and through the tunnels in 6th gear, with two up and the a/c working overtime keeping us cool from the 41 degree afternoon.
The Giulietta is fitted with what Alfa calls its ‘DNA’ system, a toggle switch on the console that allows the driver to electronically change the character of the car. Selecting ‘Dynamic’ quickens the engine responsiveness, allows the turbo to feed the engine with maximum boost, increases steering feel, changes the settings of the tricky Q2 differential, and enables brake Pre-fill, a system which fills the brake lines with fluid in anticipation of braking, improving the immediacy of the 330mm Brembo brakes.
Until now I’ve never really understood the point of systems like DNA – why would you ever want anything but maximum power and responsiveness, I reasoned. But in the real world the racy Dynamic mode is actually not that great around town; it’s harder to drive smoothly and it uses more fuel. Normal mode is exactly what you want when you’re just driving to the shops.
But when you hit the hills, Dynamic mode is exactly what you need, and the transformation is so noticeable that it feels like a completely different car. It transforms into, well, a proper Alfa. The increased throttle response eggs you on; the stability control isn’t nearly as intrusive in Dynamic mode and it lets you have some fun, even allowing the Giulietta to move about on the road as you push a little harder; trail braking carefully into corners can give the rear end a slipping attitude, aiding your turn-in. The Q2 diff feels like a proper limited slip, except it doesn’t try to rip the wheel out of your hands when you throttle on; rather it allows the steering to relay the information through your palms. The Q2 lets you power on even earlier than you think you can, and it almost feels as if it’s pulling the Giulietta around the corner, like it somehow knows where the road is going.
The corner speeds become a lot higher than you ever thought possible once you get your head around just how early you can sink your boot in. Your brain tells you it’s the electronic trickery that’s responsible for your clean lines, but from behind the wheel it feels suspiciously like an analogue car, and you’re its master. However your brain is confirmed correct once you return to the city and select Normal mode; the compromises of a proper Alfa are done away with, and you even have nice, light steering to help with parking.
So where exactly does the Giulietta sit? As good as it is, for me it still doesn’t come close to delivering what a proper, classic Alfa does down that same stretch of road. But that’s more of a reflection of modern cars in general; they don’t give you the same purity; times have changed. You trade purity for air conditioning, for a 10 speaker Bose sound system and for crash safety – the 5-star rated Giulietta is the safest small car made in Europe.
The driving position itself is good but there are parts of the interior that are ergonomically flawed (there’s no drivers foot rest, and you can barely fit your hand between the B pillar to adjust the seat) and as good as it is, I still don’t think it’s in the same league as its more focussed competitors – it’s probably just as much fun, but it just doesn’t feel quite as raw. But it offers a lot that they miss; its sculpted body and exquisitely crafted taillights (copied by Toyota, Hyundai and Kia) have an unmatched road presence, and it genuinely looks and feels like a stylish piece of Industrial Design rather than a boyracer hotrod.
The way the details of the design have been resolved is superb; the trademark hidden rear door handles, the way you push the Alfa badge to open the boot and how the key replicates the heart shaped grille are examples of this. In other words, it’s as ‘proper’ as a modern Alfa could be. Thankyou, Mr Marchionne.
And here’s my conclusion, specially tailored to the demographics of Any Given Reason readers. If you need a single car that can tick the two most important boxes – weekend track warrior and daily driver, the Guilietta just misses out. It’s not quite focussed enough, and it’s hasn’t really been built with track work in mind.
However in an ideal world you’d avoid the pitfalls of attempting to tick two boxes with one car. A WRX or a Megane would make a better track car, but even they are horribly compromised compared to the purity a proper sports car delivers. In this ideal world you’d have a Giulietta for driving to work and to dinner – it is civilised, stylish transportation, and accomplished enough for a cheeky smile inducing hills blat when required.
And then you’d also have an old 105 or a Sud breathing through big Weber’s for those rare times when you want to experience a pure, proper Alfa on the track or your favourite stretch of twisty road. Given the regulated world we now live in, the Giulietta comes as close to being a proper Alfa as is possible. It’s not perfect, no Alfa ever has been, but it is full of those unquantifiable traits that really make me want to own one. And I’m not quite sure why…
Words and photos by Andrew Coles
Other drive stories on Any Given Reason:
Since driving the Giulietta for this story, new, more competitive pricing for the entire Fiat and Alfa Romeo range has been announced. The Giulietta family now starts at $29,350 for the 1.4TB MultiAir Distinctive. The 1750 TBi Quadrifoglio Verde as driven here starts at $39,150.Adelaide Hills #Alfa Romeo #Giulietta #Golding Wines #Italian #QV #Turbo