– Unique styling inside and out
– Good high-speed handling
– Fairly compliant ride
– Could be quicker
– Rear cabin space
– Uncommunicative controls
Alfa Romeo has managed to build a mythical reputation over the last several decades, something that few other mass-market manufacturers have managed to replicate. The Fiat-owned carmaker builds slightly upscale sedans and hatchbacks as well as the occasional sports car, but they do it with a kind of flair that makes them stand out as something special. Their latest model in the GCC is the Giulietta, an indirect replacement for the 147 hatchback, and it continues that tradition.
Like most Alfas, the Giulietta offers uniquely attractive styling, certainly more so than pricier luxury-badged competitors from Germany. While all trim levels look the same, our top-spec tester came with the optional 18-inch wheels, which makes the car all the more attractive.
Inside, the stylish cabin design is rather unconventional, with certain controls placed where no one else places them, and certain gauges that are labelled in Italian on purpose, so you better know that “benzino” is really showing your fuel level! Cabin materials are made up of enough soft-touch trim and firmly-padded areas in all the right places, although hard-plastic areas are also within reach, like the big shiny panel along the dash, as well as all below-the-waist mouldings, the latter being on par for the premium hatchback class. The top model gets a motorised flip-up computer on top of the dash with integrated controls on the centre console, but the base model gets a simpler dealer-installed touchscreen. Several of the buttons are designed like flip-switches, and add to the car’s quirky character.
Space up front is good, with nicely-bolstered seats and enough headroom for most folks. Space in the back isn’t as impressive, with taller people just about managing to fit, with their knees barely clearing the front seatbacks and their heads just a hair away from touching the headliner. Boot space is adequate for a hatchback, made more practical with the split-folding rear bench. Storage spaces inside are limited, but include some small door pockets and even smaller cup-holders, because Europeans generally don’t drink while driving.
There’s almost all the features expected from a semi-premium hatchback, such as keyless entry, HID headlights with front and rear LEDs, smooth leather upholstery, aluminium pedals, decent dual-zone auto a/c with a single rear vent, good CD/MP3 stereo with USB and Bluetooth, navigation, lots of airbags, cruise control, and that pop-up LCD screen on the dash. However, some key features are either missing or outdated, such as the lack of a smart key with starter button, the manually-adjusted front seats, the pixelated graphics on the pop-up screen, and the monochrome LCD display within the gauges.
The standard motor is a 1.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder delivering a not-too-shabby 170 hp at 5500 rpm and 250 Nm of torque at 2500 rpm, mated to a new 6-speed “TCT” dual-clutch automanual transmission. It all looks good on paper, but actual performance is adequate rather than remarkable. The 1380-kg hatchback did a lazy 9 seconds flat on our 0-100 kph run during a late morning in May. There is a distinct lack of low-rev kick, but whether it’s due to turbo lag or simply the small displacement is hard to say. A regular 140 hp VW Golf 1.4TSI posted slightly quicker times in our testing, let alone a 220 hp GTI that costs about the same as the Alfa. It is as economical as the lesser Golf though, posting a 9.8 litres/100 km figure in our time together.
The car is a bit annoying in crawling traffic, due to its odd responses to driver inputs. There’s a horrendous electronic-throttle delay when taking off from idle, so you have to time your entry into junctions. While it’s soft to respond in “normal” mode, the throttle becomes much more sensitive in “sport” mode, to the point where now it’s annoyingly jumpy. It’s a characteristic of several other dual-clutch automatic cars as well, although it’s a bit more pronounced here. The gearbox itself is slightly clunky in its operation, and there’s a slight delay in responses when shifting in “manual” mode.
The Alfa largely redeems itself when you start gunning it on the twisties though. The suspension tuning is tight, with a firm yet comfortably compliant ride, but more importantly, making for almost unnoticeable body roll. There’s more than enough grip from the 225/40 tyres for spirited street-driving. The short-ratio steering lacks feel, but it’s variably-weighted and very sharp. The car’s handling is a proper confidence-booster when jumping into long sweeping corners, although it does understeer on the sharpest turns, even with ESP off, and is generally very hesitant to throw its rear out even when you try to induce it. At least the four-wheel-disc brakes are superb when pounded on.
However, the brake pedal itself feels very light and doesn’t do much if tipped in partially. It prefers a good push to do its job. The road noise is also a bit high, although wind noise is subdued at moderate highway speeds. Rear visibility ain’t that great either, although with proper use of sensors and side-mirrors, it’s not much of an issue.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is interesting yet flawed in many ways. But it’s possible to overlook its flaws as quirks that are part-and-parcel of Italian car-ownership. Some of it even seems intentional, as if designed to give the car more character instead of just building yet another humourless hatchback. Alfas have always appealed to a certain kind of buyer, which means it’ll continue to be a niche player here in the GCC, but the Alfisti probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
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