Mazda3 VS Alfa Romeo Giulietta
- Brilliant, integrated tech
- No compromise to refinement
- Benefits might be too subtle to justify price premium
- Aus set to get less effective Euro-spec
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
- Stunning looks
- Great engine
- Big boot
- Poor cabin storage
- Turbo lag
- No reversing camera
We all know that X means buried treasure in the world of children’s book pirates, but it’s looking like it could hold similar relevance for what lies under the bonnet of future Mazdas.
We first officially heard about Mazda’s industry-leading Skyactiv-X technology at the brand’s Global Tech Forum in Germany two years ago, but now we’ve ventured back to Germany to drive it in production form ahead of its Australian arrival aboard a new flagship version of the Mazda3 early next year.
No other manufacturer has managed to productionise compression ignition for a petrol engine, and with an underlying intention to make the combustion engine work better for everyday driving, in the face of the electric-focus of all other global brands, this could be the most exciting technological development of my career.
Why invest so much in combustion engines if every other major brand is beginning to treat them like yesterday’s news? While the Japanese government predicts that 52 per cent of new cars sold in 2030 will use some form of electrification in their drivetrain, the same data suggests 90 per cent will still use an internal combustion engine as at least an element of their drivetrain. That’s 90 per cent of the market, more than a decade from now.
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|
Unlike most big technological advancements, this isn’t about extra performance or reinventing the wheel, it’s about Mazda’s bigger picture approach to deliver the best mobility solutions for right now, while still planning for electric and fuel cell vehicles in the future.
That may sound like a line straight out of the Skyactiv-X press release, but Mazda’s realistic approach to our continued dependence on combustion engines is commendable.
My final judgement will have to wait until we know how much more it will cost over a regular Mazda3, but I can say the technology works really well and should really suit Australian conditions.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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.
Aside from the stunning good looks of the new Mazda3, the only visual distinctions the Skyactiv-X version scores over a regular high-sec model are bigger exhaust tips like those seen on the latest version of the Mazda6, and a Skyactiv-X badge in place of the regular models’ Skyactiv-G.
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.
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
This is probably the biggest question mark above the Mazda3 Skyactiv-X’s head for now, with all we know being Mazda Australia’s plan to launch it as a new top-spec version, so sit above the existing $36,990 G25 Astina flagship.
How far above will be the clincher, and given it’s not likely to quite match the performance of the G25, it will depend on what value you place on outright driveability and a marginal fuel saving over the base 2.0-litre engine.
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
What’s compression ignition again? It’s basically how a diesel engine works, by using extreme pressure instead of spark plugs to burn fuel. Skyactiv-X still uses spark plugs, but only to kick off the ignition process and act as a safety net for cold starts and other edge cases, while extreme compression makes for much more effective combustion, which means improved efficiency.
This combustion efficiency means the engine can use a much leaner fuel-to-air mixture, and make more power and torque with less fuel and even less wasted fuel out the exhaust. Mazda describes it as delivering diesel-like torque and fuel consumption, with the power, responsiveness and refinement of a petrol. Or in other words, one step away from turning water into wine...
Mazda is calling the process Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI), and the extreme pressures required to make it all happen are created by higher static compression ratio (but less than a typical diesel), much higher fuel pressure and boosted air pressure entering the combustion chamber.
Key to managing all these heightened parameters (and the very technological advancement that makes it all possible) is an ultra sensitive in-cylinder pressure sensor that has been developed specifically for this task.
Delivering the boosted air pressure is a Roots-type supercharger - or what Mazda describes as a high-response air supply - which was chosen over other air pump designs like a turbocharger or the Miller-cycle supercharger previously used in Eunos models because of its instantaneous boost delivery and breadth of efficiency.
Speaking of breadth of efficiency, perhaps the biggest plus for average motorists is that the engine’s efficiency zone has multiplied, meaning the difference between city and highway consumption, leadfoot drivers and my Dad, heavy and empty loads etc will be far less than a typical petrol engine.
This all represents a continuation of core principles we’ve seen from the start of Mazda’s Skyactiv era. That is, to make an existing engine type work better under everyday driving conditions rather than targeting outright performance.
The Skyactiv-X era starts with a 2.0-litre based on the regular Skyactiv-G engine, with the same 1998cc capacity. Other capacities are planned, with the eventual reborn rotary looking increasingly Skyactiv-X along with a straight-six version for a new CX-9 in a couple of years. Smaller versions are unlikely due to the economies of scale involved with such technology in a smaller and therefore cheaper car.
Mazda is making two versions of the Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre for now, one with 16.3:1 compression designed for Europe that favours Premium unleaded petrol, and one 15:1 version aimed at the US with their abundance of lower grade unleaded.
Unlike conventional engines, it’s the lower compression version that will deliver the biggest benefits, because Skyactiv-X relies on the usually “bad thing” pinging to do its best.
We’re set to get the Euro-spec one in Australia, which unfortunately means we won’t quite be getting the very best Skyactiv tech again.
The Euro-spec engine puts out 132kW at 6000rpm and 224Nm from just 3000rpm, which on paper sounds about halfway between the existing Skyactiv-G 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre and 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre petrol engines.
The engine also incorporates a mild hybrid system, but don't be confused by the H-word, there's no electric drive element. It simply means its got a cleaver alternator that only engages when needed and on deceleration to reduce efficiency-sapping drivetrain friction,
Pop the bonnet and you’re confronted by the biggest engine cover you’ve ever seen, but unlike most, this one is equipped with labeled latches that encourage you to have a look underneath. This encouragement continues with a clever little retention hook to hold the cover up against the bonnet while you’re poking around.
Unless you’re a Mazda engineer you’re likely to be baffled by the array of hoses, ducts and wiring, but you might get a kick out of spotting the supercharger.
There’s less to be said for the transmissions though, with versions of the existing six speed manual and torque converter automatics deemed up to the task, with the new engine’s increased efficiency zone negating any increase to the ratio count. The ratios have been adjusted to suit the new output characteristics, and while the ratios are yet to be published, there’s a narrower spread across the six with what feels to be taller first and sixth gears.
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.
All this hooha about fuel savings, and Mazda is yet to confirm an actual figure for Australia. We do know the hatch is rated at 4.5L/100km in manual and 5.3L/100km in auto according to the NEDC, which is historically close to the figures generated by the ADR 81/02 test we go by in Australia.
If it comes close to matching the NEDC figure it will be a win, sitting comfortably under the 6.4L/100km (manual) and 6.2L/100km (auto) figures currently applied to the Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre Mazda3 hatch.
While the Australian-spec Skyactiv-X engine is expected to align with Europe rather than the US, and therefore be tuned to deal with Premium 95 RON unleaded, it’s still unclear if it will accept the cheaper Regular 91 RON unleaded.
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.
What’s probably most amazing about Skyactiv-X is that you can’t really tell there’s anything special going on under the bonnet.
Push the start button and it gets going like any other petrol Mazda, although perhaps quieter.
Move off from rest and there’s no significant difference to the way it feels.
When I drove the prototype version of this drivetrain, there was a slight pinging under light throttle as it transitioned from spark to compression ignition, but I’m pleased to confirm that the extra two years of calibration has tuned this down to the tiniest occasional diesel sound, and it all feels a bit like a smooth diesel that’s more responsive than you expect.
The European-spec Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre’s outputs suggest it should be closer to the existing 2.5-litre in terms of performance, but in reality it feels closer to the 2.0 litre.
My perception is likely to be clouded by the Skyactiv-X’s specific transmission gearing, but it could also be because it’s able to do the same job with less revs and therefore not sound like it’s working so hard.
First gear feels quite tall with either transmission, and we also found the auto and manual were only sitting on 3500rpm in sixth at 160km/h on the Autobahn.
Mazda doesn’t specify performance figures, so it would be handy to put all three alongside each other from a standing start. But then, that’s not what Skyactiv-X is all about, it’s more about performing better under light throttle and incidental bursts of acceleration.
We can’t wait to put it to the test over some hilly terrain and familiar territory when it hits Australia early next year.
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 existing Mazda3’s maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating will almost certainly be carried over, and the high level of safety gear fitted to the existing G25 Astina is also likely to be matched.
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.
Service pricing is also yet to be confirmed, but Mazda engine development boss Eiji Nakai assures CarsGuide that the new engine will not need servicing more frequently or cost any more to service than existing Skyactiv-G engines.
So expect the same 12month/10,000km intervals, with five year/50,000km capped servicing plan totalling just under $2000 over that period.
Like all new Mazdas, the recently upgraded five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty will apply to the 3 Skyactiv-X.
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.