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Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2011 review

EXPERT RATING
7.5

It’s a truism that the Alfa Romeos eulogized by the Alfisti, the marque’s hardcore fans, tend to be at least 40 years old.

Sadly, for this was a once great auto house, the impact of recent Alfas has been minimal; 914 local sales in 2010 tell its own sad story. But then, apart from a few worthy variants of the unfairly overlooked 159, Alfa hasn’t deserved much better.

Named for an old classic, the Giulietta, a medium hatchback that in Europe has been favourably compared with Volkswagen’s perennial Golf, represents nothing less than the most important car in the brand’s 101-year-old history. If it doesn’t succeed, Alfa Romeo sinks.

No pressure then.

The newcomer is remarkable for excelling in those areas recent Alfas haven’t, dropping the ball in one which Alfa usually has, but mainly in providing what few Alfas the past decade have so much as hinted at: substance.

VALUE

Two variants are available now, both with cutting edge turbo petrol engines. A diesel follows later in the year, as does a twin clutch automatic transmission.

The sole gearbox to be going on with is a six-speed manual, which will retard sales as surely as if the cars all came painted pooh brown. Pity, because the engine transmission match is great.

The 1.4 TB MultiAir retails at $36,990; the 1750 TBI with the famous Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) four leaf clover badge at $41,990. The latter stands visually apart for that prominent emblem, lowered suspension and dark 18-inch alloys.

Both variants are well equipped with standard features including the Q2 electronic differential and the DNA selective drive switch that enables drivers to choose between dynamic, normal and all-weather modes.

A premium pack (including radio/mobile controls on the steering wheel, folding door mirrors and parking sensors) is optional on the 1.4 and standard on the QV. So too is the sport pack with smokey alloys, 10mm lowered sports suspension, aluminum pedals, leather steering wheel and upholstery.

TECHNOLOGY

A tour de force. Or is that “forza”? Whatever, the latest DNA setting is no gimmick; all modes are genuinely unique and useful, though you’ll be poking the switch to dynamic at every opportunity. Optimum fuel consumption occurs in Normal, to which the Giulietta defaults when the ignition key is turned.

Using turbo-charging, a twin overhead camshaft and direct injection, the 1750 TBi’s seemingly small capacity outstrips almost all four cylinder engines to obtain nigh on three litre performance for four pot economy. Using scavenging technology to make optimum use of the turbo charger, it produces its maximum 340Nm torque from only 1900rpm.

The supposedly lesser engine is arguably more impressive; one Alfa claims is as important to petrol engines as the common rail it developed for diesels. An electro-hydraulic variable valve actuation technology controlling air intake, it produces 125kW and 250Nm, the latter from barely above idle, but emits only 134g/km.

Propeller headed as all this appears, the result is instantaneous performance that belies capacity. The cost is measured in premium unleaded petrol.

DESIGN

So fine without. So poor within.

This is one great-looking, completely distinctive five door. Even better in the metal than on the page, there’s not an angle from which the Giulietta, especially the QV, doesn’t work.

Coupe lines, accentuated by hidden rear door handles, mean quite some compromise in rear passenger space (do not option the panoramic roof if you intend to transport adults), but the days of Alfa’s driving position being for orangutans (ludicrously long of arm and stubby of leg) are over.

What a weeping pity the interior design isn’t matched by materials of quality.

Around the eye line, it’s not bad, but too many surface materials are substandard, even downright cheap. The switch controls are sweetly ’60s retro, but you don’t for a moment believe they won’t snap off at some point.

In the QV, with its handsome leather thrones, the cut-price nature of the lower cabin plastics isn’t so obvious; in the MultiAir it’s glaring. Surfaces are too easily marked and give no confidence as to long term.

In our 1000km-old QV, the bonnet release handle came off in our cameraman’s hand. In our MultiAir, the driver’s wing mirror pane vibrated not quite to the point of falling out.  At this money things needs to be better. At half the money there is better. It makes me think long and hard about spending my money.

SAFETY

The good news resumes with best in class ratings in European crash testing. It’s down to fixtures including collapsible pedals and steering column, progressive chassis deformity, double front seatbelt pretensioners to curtail “submarining” and removing the need for driver’s knee airbag, and enhanced side impact protection.

Add to this daytime running lights and the full raft of active safety acronyms. Go forth in confidence.

DRIVING

And when you do, rejoice in a choice of two such brilliant engines.  The QV is almost atypically Alfa; controlled, composed and refined to the point of being inaudible. Where’s the fizz, the crackle, the brio?

Some (any) aural indication would be welcome, because the QV can accelerate seamlessly from high gear at low speed to a license shredding extent and you’d hardly know it. Like the truly well sorted car it is, it seldom feels as fast as it’s travelling.

Yet, more atypically, the ride is completely accomplished, even on 18s and lowered suspensions. Transferring torque to the front wheel with most grip, the electronic Q2 diff seems almost to claw you around corners. If you’re not horrified by the notion of changing gear for yourself, here’s a worthy rival of the all too common Golf GTI. It’s not better or worse as such, rather it’s of a different flavour, as though the hatch body was incidental and you are driving a five door compact grand tourer.

Though the QV makes the 100km/h mark from standing a second quicker at 6.8, the MultiAir is its equal if not better, not least in terms of ride and getting the output it has to the tarmac. Can an Alfa be this indifferent to road irregularities? It has the composure of something bigger and softer, yet the intimacy and chuckability of something smaller and more fun. Super direct electro-mechanical steering abets the game.

VERDICT

Alfa gets there at last.

ALFA ROMEO GIULIETTA

Price: $36,990 (MultiAir); $41,990 (QV)
Engines: 1.4L 4-cylinder turbo petrol  (125kW/250Nm); 1.75L 4-cylinder turbo petrol (173kW/340Nm)
Transmission: 6-speed manual; front wheel drive
Thirst: 5.6L/100km (MultiAir); 7.6L/100km (QV)

Pricing guides

$13,999
Based on 9 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,888
Highest Price
$15,950

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
1.4 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $4,620 – 6,820 2011 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2011 1.4 Pricing and Specs
QV 1750 TBi 1.7L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $12,888 – 15,950 2011 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2011 QV 1750 TBi Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.5