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First drive: Alfa's comeback kid Giulietta guns for Golf

Light, not tight: The Giulietta’s Alfa-developed platform is designed to save weight while maximising interior space.

Alfa Romeo’s make-or-break Giulietta hits Australia priced from $36,990

18 Jan 2011

ALFA Romeo’s long-awaited, 147-replacing Giulietta hatchback made its Australian debut this week with a two-model line-up, majoring on class-leading safety, generous standard equipment and high technology in an attempt to initiate an overdue comeback for the 100-year-old Milanese motor maker.

Alfa importer Ateco Automotive expects the Giulietta’s appeal to reach a far broader audience than its predecessor and therefore contribute heavily to a 20 per cent boost in Alfa sales – with a projected volume of 1100 units this year – despite declining sales of its 159 sedan and wagon range and the fact the two-door Brera and Spider twins are in run-out with no replacement likely until 2013.

At launch, the model range opens with the $36,990 Giulietta 1.4, which packs the potent 125kW MultiAir engine from the current top-spec MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde (QV), driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission.

Alfa’s TCT (Twin Clutch Transmission) automatic, which recently made its first Australian appearance in the MiTo, will become available as an option on this model mid-year. Ateco expects Giuliettas equipped with this transmission to account for the majority of sales.

The $41,990 Giulietta QV flagship, which sits 10mm lower on its turbine-like 18-inch alloys, is powered by a 173kW version of the 1750cc turbo-petrol four that recently replaced the 2.2-litre engine in the 159. Drive is fed through a slightly taller-geared incarnation of the 1.4’s six-speed manual but no TCT-equipped variant is planned.

Also pencilled in to join the range in the third quarter of this year and available with the TCT gearbox, will be a 2.0-litre diesel Giulietta which, as GoAuto has reported, promises even smaller thirst and emissions than the 1.4 while matching its power output and trumping the QV’s torque figure.

26 center imageUnlike several previous Alfa models, often derided by cynics as being Fiats in fancy dress, the Giulietta is the first model to incorporate an all-new, Alfa-developed “Compact” platform that will be shared across the Fiat Group – including Chrysler – and is versatile enough to be downgraded for use in cheaper volume sellers and adapted to underpin compact SUVs.

The new underpinnings make extensive use of high and ultra-high strength steel, and attention to light-weight interior construction means the larger and better-equipped Giulietta weighs just 1.5 per cent more than the 147 it replaces.

Unsprung weight-reducing suspension components, including a hollow tubular front anti-roll bar and a largely aluminium multi-link rear set-up promise to aid agility. The rear suspension’s design also maximises boot space by reducing intrusion.

In addition to weight saving and improved handling, the new platform lends itself to high occupant safety levels and post-crash repairability, which in turn should contribute to lower insurance premiums.

The Giulietta’s body is bookended front and aft with replaceable Xenoy plastic crash absorbers that can reduce the need for expensive panel beating or replacement following slow-speed shunts.

Meanwhile, three stages of deformation rails protect the cockpit frame from larger impacts and an array of internal safety devices including six airbags, double seatbelt pre-tensioners (which are claimed to negate the need for a driver’s knee airbag, further reducing weight) and active anti-whiplash head restraints are standard equipment.

The investment in safety technology comfortably earned the Giulietta a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, with a total score of 87/100 (the highest yet achieved in its class) meaning the car will retain its five-star rating under next year’s more stringent test regime.

The Giulietta features an update to the 'DNA' drive mode system that debuted with the MiTo, which enables the driver to alter the car’s driving characteristics on the fly by moving a three-position (D, N and A) selector by the gearlever.

With the selector set to N (for Normal) the default setting is applied while A (All-weather) sets the electronic stability control system to high alert for safer driving in slippery conditions.

D (Dynamic) mode sharpens throttle response and optimises the engine’s torque delivery. The difference is most dramatic in the QV, which delivers 300Nm at 4500rpm in N mode and 340Nm at just 1900rpm in D.

D mode also firms up the steering (more so if it senses cornering forces upwards of 0.6g) and backs off the various electronic safety nets (including an electronic limited-slip differential like that of the Golf GTI) to allow for more adventurous exploration of the car’s limits.

In addition, when the driver lifts off the throttle in D mode, pressure in the braking system is automatically increased to quicken response and reduce pedal travel by 30 per cent.

Engine performance figures show neither Giulietta variant up as a slouch. The 1.4 produces 250Nm of torque at 2500rpm in Dynamic mode (230 at 2250rpm in Normal), which along with its quoted 125kW output is sufficient to accelerate its 1290kg payload to 100km/h in a claimed 7.8 seconds, topping out at 218km/h.

EU fuel and emission figures for the 1.4 are 5.8L/100km on the combined cycle and 134g/km of CO2.

With its staggering specific output of 98.5kW per litre, the slightly heavier (1320kg) Giulietta QV manages to beat its sibling to 100km/h by a second on the way to a terminal velocity of 242km/h.

For comparison, the QV weighs 40kg less than the $40,490 five-door Golf GTI, produces more power (GTI: 155kW) and torque (340 v 280Nm) from a smaller engine and claims slightly better fuel economy (7.6 v 7.7L/100km). According to official figures, the QV accelerates to 100km/h a tenth of a second quicker than the manual GTI and pips its top speed by 4km/h.

While Ateco acknowledges the cheaper (kW for kW) Golf as a competitor to the Giulietta, it also has enough confidence in its product to expect it to rub shoulders with the big three German luxury brands as a value-for-money alternative to Audi’s A3, BMW’s 1 Series and Mercedes’ B-class.

Both the 1.4 and QV come comprehensively equipped with dual-zone climate-control, cruise control, hill holder, rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming interior mirror, automatic wipers, dusk-sensing lights and a six-speaker CD radio with MP3, USB, “Blue&Me” smartphone integration and steering wheel controls.

Seat and steering wheel adjustment is manual on both models and only the 1.4 gets idle-stop functionality. The QV adds part-leather upholstery, an uprated Bose sound system, tinted windows, aluminium pedals, beefier brakes with red-painted callipers and exterior accoutrements such as side skirts, dark headlight surrounds, cloverleaf badges and a satin finish on the door mirrors.

Only two options are available: metallic paint at $995 and full leather upholstery with a sunroof for $4000.

Styling of the Giulietta was carried out in-house and is, after the MiTo, the second interpretation of the 8C supercar’s design language applied to a small hatch.

Designed to appear as though it is hugging the road with its squat stance and a wheel at each corner, it also debuts Alfa’s latest shield grille, designed to give the impression that it is floating in the nose aperture, suspended in mid-air.

The rear door windows taper off to fool the eye into seeing a coupe silhouette and, like those on the 156 and 147 (which have been subsequently copied by the likes of Holden’s Barina Spark), the rear door-handles are hidden to give the illusion of a three-door.

The Giulietta is a crucial car for struggling Alfa Romeo, which in 2009 sold fewer cars globally than Holden sold in Australia alone. Ateco sees the Giulietta as a realistic prospect for attracting sales through “user choosers” looking for an alternative to the usual fleet specials.

Australian Alfa sales dipped 26.1 per cent in 2010 to 914 units, the top seller being the 159 sedan and wagon range, which accounted for almost half that figure. On paper at least, the Giulietta looks to be the car to turn things around.

Alfa RomeoGiuliettapricing:
1.4 MultiAir$36,990
1.7 TBi QV$41,990

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