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Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - Giulietta - QV Line

Our Opinion

We like
Dynamic mode’s performance, steering, chassis tune and exhaust, styling, seats, handling, brakes, sturdy body, updated multimedia
Room for improvement
Annoying idle-stop system, road noise, firm ride, big turning circle, lacklustre performance in Normal

Alfa Romeo logo11 Jun 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

ALFA ROMEO has long done things differently, but we’re flummoxed by the thinking behind the MY15 Giulietta small car.

Late last year the facelifted Series 1 was released – that’s right, not 2 but 1. A directive from Italy, apparently. Does that mean the pre-change version on sale since 2011 is known as the Series 0?Anyway, the sweet $24,550 opener (simply known as Giulietta) has been guillotined, leaving the entry level Progression at $29,000, plus on-roads. You can’t buy a diesel anymore either.

Worse still, the 125kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-pot MultiAir petrol turbo in the previous $27,450 mid-range Progression has been ditched for the old base model’s detuned 88kW/215Nm unit, so the net loss is greater than the $4450 gap implies. To restore full power and torque, you’ll need another $1550 for the $33,000 Distinctive.

And if you want a Giulietta auto, well, the Italians now demand you pay $35,000 for the Distinctive instead of $29,450 for the old Progression… and that’s what we’re testing here.

Testing indeed. Is it at all surprising that sales have subsequently nearly halved so far this year, after a 16.4 per cent growth in 2014? Is distributor Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia actively trying to sabotage its rising star? We for one lament the passing of the entry level model with its zingy acceleration, supple suspension and gorgeous hubcaps.

FCA says all Giuliettas are now better equipped to go with the altered grille, dashboard, seats, trim changes and alloy wheels denoting the MY15 makeover. We should hope so seeing everything costs a whole lot more. It’s all part of the brand’s abandonment of the mainstream for more premium pastures.

Among the additions are a new 5.0-inch touchscreen featuring FCA’s easy and logical U-Connect system, tyre-pressure monitors and rear parking sensors, as part of a well-specced package that also sees 16-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, electric windows, heated exterior mirrors, air-conditioning, six airbags and Alfa’s DNA system that alters steering and throttle responses.

The Distinctive adds climate control air-con, front parking sensors, heated and electric front seats with driver’s side memory, leather upholstery, electrically folding mirrors, auto headlights and wipers, an auto dimming rear-view mirror, rear-seat armrest, chrome-rimmed fog-lights, dark-look headlights, a rear air duct, and more soundproofing. Nav, however is optional.

Speaking of options, our Giulietta was fitted with the $4000 Q Line Package, bringing sports suspension, 18-inch alloys instead of the 16-inch items on standard models, darker tint, and a host of racier QV gear that really sets the Alfa apart visually as a sub hot-hatch sporty.

Interior

Five years on from its European launch and the Giulietta is now showing its age, despite the upgrades.

Strong points include a very solid (almost Teutonic) feeling body when you open and shut the doors, backed up by a sense of quality and strength in the car’s construction. There really is nothing flimsy or cheap about the Distinctive’s presentation.

Being an Alfa with an obvious sporty bent, we’re more than willing to overlook its still-pretty and swoopy coupe-like roofline that makes entry and egress a tad cumbersome for taller folk. The latter may not be so forgiving, though, and in this respect the Giulietta is shaded by the Golf.

The same applies in the rear seat, which is fine for most average-sized people, though it is underscored by a fine cushion, lots of room for those with big feet (tucked underneath the front seats) and a central airvent. The front seat area, too, is quite generous in terms of length, width and height, as befitting a vehicle that is 4350mm long, 1800mm wide and nearly 1470mm tall.

Similarly, the driving position is atypically Italian in that it is very accommodating, backed up by snug yet supportive bucket seats that – with the help of the tilt/telescopic wheel adjustment – allows for sufficient comfort and control.

Some of the dashboard’s detailing, however, is less than satisfactory for a social-climbing Alfa, including its rather austere presentation (despite the sportier Q Line additions to the instruments and cabin trim), hard-to-read analogue dials on the go, retina-searing red digital display info, bitsy centre vents, and overly plasticky appearance. It’s also too similar to the smaller and cheaper Mito to really seriously lure people away from Golfs, let alone an Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series. A bit more storage would also be appreciated.

On the other hand, the big central touchscreen is incredibly easy and simple to operate, and a massive improvement over the fiddly old system that seemed to make no sense.

Lastly, out back, an adequate 350 litres of luggage space is available, and is aided by a low and deep floor, as well as a split/fold backrest with the practicality of a ski-port opening into the cabin.

Engine and transmission

The good news is that the Distinctive’s revvy 125kW 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir powerplant is as strong down-low, lusty through the gears, and strong up top as ever, even if it does need premium unleaded petrol (like most other Euros) to be at its most efficient.

As before, Alfa provides its DNA performance-enhancing mode, a chromed toggle switch ahead of the gear lever that ups the ante in terms of acceleration and responses. Default is N for Normal, so pushing it forward to D for Dynamic basically is like lighting a firecracker under the already luscious Latino hatch.

That’s where the Giulietta really comes into its own, combining muscle with a raspy attitude that elevates the Distinctive up to pseudo-GTI status, backed up by decisive yet progressive braking capabilities. Dynamic mode is wildly addictive and a hoot to boot. Its 0-100km/h sprint-time is a commendable 7.6 seconds.

The bad news is that a fuel consumption penalty perhaps a little higher than anticipated is the price to pay also, the six-speed dual-clutch TCT auto is neither the smoothest nor the most responsive of its ilk, often resorting to delayed and jerky upshifts in heavy traffic. If you lust after an Alfa and can drive a manual, please try the latter first.

Finally, a word about the Italian’s idle-stop system. Hands-down the slowest we’ve tried, often requiring an impatient driver to wait for what seems like seconds before it fires up. We’re left with not much confidence over its longevity as a result.

Ride and handling

The Distinctive matched with the optional Q Line package diminishes the suspension suppleness that we’ve come to enjoy in previous Giuliettas. Never less than hard over bumps, and without the aid of adaptive dampers that make the ride tolerable in competitors wearing similarly sized 18-inch alloys, the Alfa is not comfortable or refined on anything other than super-smooth roads.

The flipside, of course, is sharp and accurate handling, superb roadholding, and a sense of glued-down control that is totally in keeping with the Italian hatchback’s sporty image. That’s pretty much par for the course in any Giulietta, really, but the wider footprint seems to amplify the connectivity with the road. And tyre noise too, by the way.

The choice is yours. Beautiful wheels or a cushy ride. You cannot have both.

Safety and servicing

Alfa Romeo does not offer fixed-price servicing, though there is an inclusive three-year roadside assistance program. The warranty period is for three-years and 100,000 kilometres.

Fitted with six airbags, all Giuliettas receive a five-star ANCAP crash test rating.

Verdict

The Giulietta is fundamentally a very good – and all-too often overlooked – premium small car, with just enough Italian fizz to set it apart from far-more mundane C-segment hatchbacks.

In the past we’ve been enamoured with both the base 88kW 1.4 turbo MultiAir six-speed manual and the mid-spec turbo-diesel TCT, but the former is now too expensive while the latter is no longer available.

So what to do? With the handsome Q Line sports pack, the Alfa looks great but rides badly, and at $39K it is up against the extraordinarily talented Golf GTI. For these and other reasons, then, this car just does not stack up.

The Alfa’s not a lost cause though by any stretch of the imagination. Since the manual is superior to the laggy TCT dual-clutch transmission, we’d stick with the former – on standard 16-inch wheels – and enjoy the Giulietta for what it was always intended to be – Italy’s mainstream alternative to blander hatchbacks. Cheapest is best. We hope FCA is listening.

Rivals

Volkswagen Golf GTI DSG, from $41,900, plus on-road costs
FROM just $3000 more than the Giulietta, the iconic hot-hatch pioneer shades the Alfa on a number of fronts – power, torque, comfort (adaptive dampers are standard) and space. A towering achievement.

Skoda Octavia RS 162 TSI DSG, from $38,790, plus on-road costs
Brilliant interior packaging – it’s virtually a medium-sized hatch – and keen pricing make the RS 162 TSI a thinking person’s GTI, though the sheer refinement and finesse of the quieter Golf (with adaptive dampers) cannot be matched.

Peugeot 308 Allure Premium auto, from $36,440, plus on-road costs
PEUGEOT’S renaissance machine is altogether a sweeter and more involving drive, with punchy performance, excellent handling and a comfy ride, backed up by a beautiful interior. But the base 1.2 turbo three-pot is better still.

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