It’s the Italian DNA…..
Every car fan should own an Alfa, our reviewer finds the latest Giulietta offers Mediterranean flair and a slice of la dolce vita driving
Review by Marc Stickley
They say that every true petrol head should own at least one Alfa Romeo in their motoring history, so I’m aiming for the next best thing – a week with the Giulietta, Alfa’s medium hatchback, sitting above the Mito (think Mini with flair) and below the Guilia (think executive saloon, with some sexy curves). There is also the carbon construction 4C sports car, but that’s a bit rarer and unfortunately didn’t end up on my drive this time!
Compared to the benchmark Golf and other recent drives in the same class (Ford Focus, Volvo V40), the Alfa brings a little something different to the party. A little “je ne c’est quoi”, or should I say “Non se che cosa”…” Find Your Passion” say Alfa Romeo and in driving this essentially normal hatchback, you might just be able to.
First impressions of the Giulietta are good – it looks sleeker than most of the other hatchbacks out there; Alfa claim it has coupe looks with hatchback practicality. I’d buy that description – the rear doors have their handles buried in the three-quarter pillar, making the doors look flush. The rear hatch’s rake is steep, so it definitely looks more coupe than upright hatch. The headlights look a little awkward – like bug’s eyes – but the LED daytime running lights that run up the sides like ticks are a nice touch. The optional paint on the test car was odd to me – not quite white, not quite blue, it was almost a mother-of-pearl finish (Alfa call it Luna Pearl, so that figures). One thing I have always liked on Alfas is the alloy wheels and the optional items (£100 upgrade – has to be worth it if you’re in the market for a Giulietta) fitted to this test car were pretty special and didn’t disappoint – they had a complicated spoked structure, that looked delicate, but again, different to most other cars on the road.
Inside, the cabin of this Business Edition Giuletta was functional and comfortable, the seats were supportive and it had most of the usual toys. The infotainment system wasn’t the most intuitive, with sub-menus only accessible in different modes, rather than from a top-level settings option, but everything you needed was in there to find eventually. The Giulietta had most of the kit you would need and some extra bits that were nice to have – folding door mirrors, sat-nav, u-connect DAB stereo – which allows easy access to your phone and music storage – although I do lament the loss of a good old CD player.
Without doubt, this car’s best feature is linked to the driving experience. The DNA switch is a nice extra touch for a car of this level, adjusting the ride and mapping settings – D for Dynamic, N for Natural, A for All Weather. Each position changes brake, ride, throttle and stability control set up. D is the “sporty” setting – the electronic differential (the Alfa Q2 system) is activated, the ride firms up, brakes are pre-loaded and the throttle map is sharpened. Switching from the other positions to Dynamic, you really do feel the extra urgency. Natural is middle of the road for all settings – perfectly ok for pootling around, but not so good for more spirited driving. I did wonder whether the DNA switch was gimmicky at first, but then wondered whether Dynamic is the base setting, as Natural seemed to just makes the car more fuzzy and sluggish. All Weather is a compromise of the two – a softer ride, but the Q2 e-Diff is activated. It is designed to give more traction and stability in heavy rain or snow. I did get a chance to try out the All Weather setting and I wouldn’t say I noticed much difference, but that said, the rain was heavy rather than torrential. I tended to switch to Dynamic for making progress, but back to neutral in traffic jams and transporting my kids to school… So, change the drive setting depending on your mood, journey type, passengers or the weather.
So, you’re in, you’re set, you’re ready to Ignite the Passion – so fire up the…1.6 diesel. Doesn’t sound exciting does it? Truth is, the engine was unobtrusive and pulled strongly throughout the rev range – it felt meatier than the 1.6 label would have you believe and much stronger than the 105 bhp the specs say it has, especially once switched to the Dynamic DNA setting. The car rode well, coping with twisty country roads and bumps and broken surfaces well. If left in Natural the ride was more compliant, but tended not to inspire confidence if pushing on. The Giulietta was also good over long distances and economical. The boot was a good size and there was plenty of space in the back. I’d say it really was more interesting to drive than quite a few family hatches – even in this diesel Business Edition guise, aimed at the company car buyer.
So, having figured out the infotainment (the DAB radio was good, the nav system was clear and accurate) and utilised the DNA switch on every journey at the mildest excuse, this was a good car to share a week with. It looks good, it feels quicker than the figures would have you believe and is a little different from the norm. Now I’ve scratched the Alfa itch I definitely want to try more. Higher spec and more powerful Giuliettas would definitely be fun to try, with dynamics and interior style renowned Alfa strong points after all, but if you want a company car friendly in the medium hatchback segment, the Alfa Guilietta is worth a look. At a shade over £19,000 for this model, it compares well with the usual suspects (Focus and Golf – that’s you), but definitely isn’t as everyday as the competition.