Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
What - Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Where - Balocca, Italy
Date - April 2010
Price - £16,995 - £24,995
Available - July 2010
Key rivals - Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Citroen C4, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, SEAT Leon, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf
Summary - the all-new Alfa Romeo Giulietta has plenty of practical plus points, but leaves us wondering what's happened to its Italian soul.
We like - performance and economy, impressive safety claims, practical boot, style, comfort
We don't like - driving experience doesn't entirely convince, interior quality not quite up to best in class, what's happened to the passion?
People want to love Alfa Romeo. The history and the passion - it gets some of us really steamed up. Trouble is, when was the last time the marque actually built a great car?
The all-new Giulietta is aiming to redress this rather fundamental issue. It promises class-leading safety, high-tech engines, a comfortable ride and great dynamics - all wrapped up in a svelte hatchback package.
There are neat visual design features aplenty. Groundbreaking? Maybe not. But it's still nice to see the hidden rear door handles return, and the curly-wurly rear LED lights do look cool.
Under the skin the Giulietta is packed with exotic materials - ultra-high strength steel and some aluminium are joined by magnesium and Xenoy plastics in places - and Alfa boldly expects it to achieve Euro NCAP's highest crash test rating ever.
We'll see how that pans out in a few weeks. In the meantime we've been let loose on the Italian roads in 170hp petrol and diesel Giuliettas, and hot-lapped Alfa's Balocca test track in the 235hp Cloverleaf range-topper.
Is the Giulietta as good as Alfa says it is - or is it just another heart-breaking Romeo?
With turbos, Start&Stop, MultiAir and direct injection, the Giulietta has a statistically impressive engine line-up. All claim an excellent balance of performance and economy.
Judging by the 170hp 1.4 turbo petrol, the 170hp 2.0 JTDM turbodiesel and the 235hp '1.750' turbo petrol we sampled, the performance isn't in doubt. These cars go - and then some.
They all cover 0-62mph in 8.0 seconds or less, with the top dog Cloverleaf shooting there in 6.8, helped by up to 250lb ft of torque kicking in from just 1,900 rpm.
That's a greater torque-per-litre figure than any other petrol vehicle in the world. It shoves. The 'up to' part comes in conjunction with the DNA system that's standard on all Giulietta models.
Like the MiTo before it, DNA gives the driver control over throttle mapping, steering weight, the Q2 electronic limited slip differential, stability control, braking, suspension (Cloverleaf only) and peak torque figure.
The options are Dynamic, Normal and All Weather. The additional throttle response is welcome, but the other alterations seem of marginal relevance in reality - even the brake 'pre-filling' function doesn't stop the stoppers quickly going soft under duress.
More concerning is the surprising lack of emotional engagement. Its confinement to the track rather dulled the Cloverleaf's impressive speed - but it's the lack of a rorty exhaust note that left us disappointed.
Fine for an average hatchback, but for an Alfa Romeo...? And then there's the sloppy six-speed gearshift, which isn't helped by the giant plastic tennis ball of a gearknob. Odd.
Ride and handling
This curious theme continues with the ride and handling. Alfa has created a comfortable car that immediately inspires sensations of involvement, but push on through this superficial gloss and the Giulietta shows far less convincing composure.
The suspension is soft - which makes it comfortable - and still resists bodyroll. But it doesn't always deal with challenges in a single go. Bumps cause not one bounce but two; this floatiness creates a slight undulating motion through longer corners.
So in this respect the Alfa is more like an average Citroen than, say, a Volkswagen or a Ford. On British tarmac, where surface imperfections are more norm than exception, we suspect the Giulietta may become rather unstuck.
On track the Cloverleaf felt safe - the electronics swiftly dealing with mistakes under braking, the Q2 delivering decent corner exit traction. But it lacks incisiveness and true precision.
Renaultsport has nothing to fear. Considered as an easy-going family car the Giulietta is fine. But again, as an Alfa Romeo...
With the brand's rich sporting heritage, you're left wondering what the engineers were aiming at. A UK evaluation most definitely beckons before it gets our whole-hearted seal of approval.
The Giulietta's interior is a nice enough place to spend time if you're in the front - with metal-finish trim sections, flippy buttons, twisty dials, Italian script and a distinct style.
But the quality isn't quite as high as the best of its rivals, and although the packaging gives a reasonable amount of rear space for a car this size, head and legroom are still a little tight for long-term adult comfort.
The detailing seems more contrived than genuinely evocative, there's a touch of wind noise at motorway speeds, and quite a bit of tyre and road noise depending on the surface.
Still, the rear suspension is consciously designed to avoid intruding into the boot space - giving you a very rectangular 350 litres, ideal for suitcases.
Economy and safety
Time for some genuine highlights. Alfa's engine tech is now extremely efficient. The 170hp turbo petrol emits just 134g/km CO2 and officially returns 48.7mpg. The 170hp turbodiesel emits 124g/km CO2 while returning 60.1mpg.
The Cloverleaf misses out on the Start&Stop system standard on these two, but does feature a dual continuously variable valve timing, turbocharger scavenging system and direct injection. Result: 177g/km CO2, 37.1mpg.
We've touched on the safety claims already. In order to support its assertions ahead of the Euro NCAP results, Alfa not only showed us crash test footage, but one of the actual cars as well.
The passenger compartment is so well protected that the front and rear doors open and close without issue even after an offset frontal impact at the NCAP standard 64km/h (39.7mph).
The MSN Cars verdict
People want to love Alfa Romeo. We want to love Alfa Romeo. But while the Giulietta isn't a bad car, on this short initial acquaintance it doesn't quite have us convinced.
If you love the way it looks, have always wanted an Alfa, aren't that bothered about outright handling, and are prepared to take a chance with a marque where reliability remains a questionable entity - by all means go straight for it.
The engines offer plenty of appeal, and the crash safety looks set to be something worth shouting about, after all. Plus the value is strong, with standard kit including air conditioning, stability control and six airbags.
Everyone else, we suggest you hang on - at least until we've had the chance to drive the Giulietta extensively in the UK.
|Need to know|
|Engines petrol||1.4 turbo 120, 1.4 turbo MultiAir 170, 1.750 turbo Cloverleaf 235|
|Engines diesel||1.6 105, 2.0 170|
|Power hp||105 - 235|
|Torque lb ft||152 - 258|
|0-62 mph (secs)||6.8 - 11.3|
|Top speed (mph)||115 - 150|
|Mpg (combined)||37.1 - 64.2|
|CO2 g/km / Tax %||114 - 177 / 10 - 23|
|Rating (specific model)||Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.4 TB 170|
|Ride and handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
On the road with the landmark Lambos for special golden anniversary drive.
Date 13/05/13, Duration 4:26, Views 8945