Ford Focus VS Alfa Romeo Giulietta
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
- Stunning looks
- Great engine
- Big boot
- Poor cabin storage
- Turbo lag
- No reversing camera
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce hatch with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Nobody just buys an Alfa Romeo, in the same way that nobody goes out and just buys a top hat. Yes it's functional and yes you'll looking amazing in it whether you're male or female, and people will pay you compliments - possibly question your judgement, too, but it's not the obvious choice and buying one is a conscious decision. See, you don't even know if I'm talking about the top hat or the Alfa any more.
At backyard barbecues and dinner parties throughout Australia you'll overhear people saying: "My heart says yes but my head says no." They're not discussing robbing the convenience store on the corner after dessert, but they're more likely to be talking about buying an Alfa Romeo. See Alfas are famous for their stunning beauty, their racing pedigree and their performance, but in the past they've been infamous for their reliability issues. You knew that, right?
The top-of-the-range Giulietta Veloce with the dual-clutch auto is the best reference to the brand's performance pedigree. This version has only just arrived on the market, and follows a major styling and technology update to the Giulietta in 2015.
Like most test cars, we lived with it for a week. Is it too small to be a family car? What's wrong with the glovebox? Is it as racy as it looks? What's with all the water? And is it just me or are my hands too small to drive this car? We'll even be able to point you in the right direction for a guide to Giulietta's reliability.
|Engine Type||1.7L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta6.3/10
So much right and some things not quite right – the Giulietta has the Alfa Romeo mix of highs and lows which the brand is famous for. There’s no mistaking that this is a unique and sexy looking car, with the practicality of a five-door hatch plus impressive handling and performance. More heart than head decision here though it seems, but romantic Alfa enthusiasts should adore it.
Have you got a 'classic' Alfa Romeo experience, good or bad? Tell us in the comments below.
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta8/10
Alfa Romeo couldn't design a boring car even if it was handed a picture of a Toyota Camry and told to copy it or else. The Giulietta is no exception.
There's the deep 'V' grille shared with the new Giulia sedan and 4C sports cars that make up the current Alfa model line-up. There's the bug-eye headlights with pretty inset LEDs and the chiselled bonnet, a side profile which looks like that of a mini Porsche Cayenne and a cute-but-tough bottom with its elegant taillights and twin exhausts.
The latest update brought a honeycomb mesh grille and a slightly different design to the headlight and LED foglight surrounds. The tail pipes were also given a styling tweak, so too were the alloy wheels.
The cabin saw new materials and finishes added. The Veloce had the Alfa Romeo logo stitched into the integrated headrests, shiny sports pedals, and lashings of faux carbon fibre trim on the doors and dash.
You can tell a Veloce from the outside by the red Brembo brake calipers behind the front wheels, 18-inch alloys, its chunkier exhaust tips poking out of the diffuser, red pin-striping to the front and rear bumpers, and the black window surrounds.
Okay, how big or small is it? Here's some dimensions for you. The Guilietta is 4351mm long, 1798mm wide, 1465mm tall and the Veloce with its sports suspension is 9mm lower than the others with 102mm of ground clearance.
Compared to say a Mazda3 hatch the Giulietta is 109mm shorter end-to-end and only 3mm wider. But if you're considering an Giulietta why are you looking at the Mazda3 anyway? That would be sensible - Like comparing Cancer Council hats to top hats.
The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta5/10
Beautiful things tend to favour form over function. The Giuletta tries to do both and succeeds…but also fails in places.
Successes first: despite its coupe looks it's actually a five-door hatch with ‘hidden' handles for the rear doors placed up at window level near the C-pillar. So good is the two-door disguise that our photographer climbed into the back seat through the front door.
Rear legroom is a bit tight back there and at 191cm I can sit behind my driving position but I'd hate for me to be sitting behind me because my knees are digging hard into the seat back.
Headroom isn't much chop either and I literally can't sit in the back seat and hold my head high – a combination of that sloping roofline and the optional double sunroof reduces the head space.
A major practicality fail is the lack of storage throughout the cabin.
My wife's phone kept mysteriously appearing in the footwell every time we left it in the glove box, like there was a tear in the time-space fabric, but then we realised it was slipping through a gap.
There's no centre armrest storage bin in the front – actually there's no centre armrest. There is a pop-up hidey-hole on the dash but with only enough room for a pair of sunglasses.
The two cup holders in the front are small. It's safe to say that unless you have somebody with hands at the ready, ordering drive-thru is possibly out of the question.
Or if you have long arms and can reach the fold down armrest in the back there are two decent sized cup holders along with a small storage space. There are no bottle holders any of the doors, but there is fortunately room for a phone and wallet because there isn't space for them anywhere else.
But wait, the Giulietta is saved from a total storage fail by a large-for-the-class 350-litre boot. That's 70 litres bigger than a Toyota Corolla's and only 14 litres less than the Mazda3. We could fit the pram, the shopping and the rest of the gear which goes with a military operation such as a trip to the park with a toddler in there.
Price and features
The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta5/10
The 2016 update saw the Giulietta variants renamed. There's the entry grade $29,990 Super Manual which has a six-speed manual gearbox, then buyers can step up to the Super TCT with a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission for $34,900 and then there's our test car – the Veloce for $41,990. There's 10 paint colours at your disposal from the colour of our car (Alfa Red) to Perla Moonlight. Only Alfa White comes at no extra cost, the rest are a $500 option.
The Veloce collects the same features as the Super TCT such as a 6.5-inch touch screen, with sat nav, front and rear parking sensors, three drive modes and then adds bi-xenon headlights, 18-inch alloys, leather and Alcantara seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, the big exhaust tips and the sports diffuser, tinted rear glass and then less cosmetic features such as sports suspension and launch control.
There's no reversing camera which is disappointing, considering they come standard on some cars half the price.
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta7/10
The Giulietta Veloce has a 1.75-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine which produce 177kW of power and 340Nm of torque. It's a great engine that lets loose a wonderful scream when pushed hard and the little grunts it makes when it changes gear when driving around normally sound like a giant enjoying his food.
The transmission is a dual-clutch auto which Alfa calls a TCT or twin-clutch transmission. I'm not a fan of them regardless of the brand of car they're in but the Alfa version is better than most of the others in its smoothness at lower speeds and decisiveness.
What about the Giulietta's reliability over time? This version of the car is less than two months old so we can only comment on what it offers as a brand-new vehicle, but you'll find good context in our used review of the earlier 2011-2014 Giulietta.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta7/10
Alfa Romeo says you should see your Veloce drink at a rate of 6.8L/100km during combined driving, but the dash showed more than double that during mainly urban driving while channelling Enzo Ferrari.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta6/10
There's so much potential here for a great driving experience such as the accurate and direct steering and great suspension which provides a comfortable ride and great handling, only for all to be let down by turbo lag which kills the responsiveness in the car.
Of the three steering modes: Dynamic, Natural and All Weather, the Dynamic setting was kept on almost always with the other two just feeling too lethargic.
The Giulietta is front-wheel drive and there's a lot of torque being sent to those wheels, but unlike a stack of Alfas in the past there's next to no torque steer. That said, our hill start test on a wet night saw those front wheels scrambling for traction as it accelerated up the slope. Cornering grip from the tyres is excellent, however.
There's some Alfa Romeo ergonomic issues in the cabin we've gotten used to over the years, but just because you're accustomed to something doesn't mean it's okay. For example, the cramped driver's footwell with the brake and accelerator pedals so close that it's easy to hit both at the same time.
The indicator and wiper stalks are also so far from the steering wheel rim that they're almost out of reach – I don't think I have small hands, nobody's ever pointed them out or laughed at them.
And speaking of wipers, the Giulietta is obsessed with keeping itself clean. Pull the wiper stalk towards you to clean the windows and such is the intensity of the spray from both the window washer and the headlight washers it's like you're captaining a fishing trawler that's hit a massive wave at sea. Put the car into reverse and the rear wiper starts squirting and washing.
For Christmas I want Alfa to upgrade their media unit or bin it – the UConnect system disconnected my phone without prompting and isn't intuitive to use.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta6/10
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta has been given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. It doesn't have the advanced safety technology such as AEB and lane keeping assistance which is now standard on any small hatches for a lot less money.
For child and baby seats there's two top tether and two ISIOFIX points in the back seat.
The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta6/10
The Giulietta is covered by Alfa Romeo's three year/150,000km warranty. Servicing is recommended at 12month/15,000km intervals with a major service every two years. Alfa Romeo doesn't have capped price servicing but there is Mopar Vehicle Protection which customers can purchase with the vehicle for $1995.