21 Oct 2013

Alfa Romeo Giulietta first drive review

Matt Hubbard reviews the 2013 Alfa Giulietta 1.4 TB MultiAir 170bhp

Alfa Romeo Giulietta
It's very easy to offend people when you write about things on a regular basis.  Some groups are more sensitive to criticism than others.

Take cyclists for example.  I happened to mention that I spent a lovely summer's evening driving a Jaguar XF, but that it was partly spoiled by road racing cyclists.  I said they were in my way and were very grumpy.  This kicked off some kind of war on Twitter and in the comments section of the article between motorists and cyclists, and those who were both.  Opinions on both sides were extreme.

Another touchy group are Alfa Romeo owners, or ex-owners, or even people who quite like Alfas and talk about buying one one day if they can afford the breakdown service annual subscription.

Oh dear.  Sorry Alfistis.  Let's crack on with the review.  I'll try and tread carefully.

I find Giulietta impossible to spell without getting it wrong at least once.  It's a pretty sounding name, but is infuriating to type repeatedly.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The Alfa Guilietta Giuletta Giulietta is also a pretty looking car, for a Golf-sized hatchback.  It has that Alfa grille which makes it look continuously surprised, on a lovely sculpted nose with the number plate set stubbornly resolutely to one side.

The flanks look fine, with little creases over the wheels, and the profile is much more coupĂ©-like than its competitors.  It's a 5-door with the rear doors hidden in the shape, with handles in the C-pillars.

The rear end is well brought together and features Alfa's classic lights, which Jaguar may or may not have pinched for the F-Type.  The name, Guillietta Giulietta, is displayed in an italic font and finishes the car off nicely.  It is perhaps the best looking hatchback on the market.

Then we step inside, and into a time-warp from 1998.

The Alfa Giulietta costs £23,675.  Its interior is only slightly better than that in an MG3, which costs £9,999.

There is no touch screen.  Instead you get a radio/CD screen with red digital lettering.  The buttons feel flimsy.  Underneath the radio is a row of switches who's design and manufacture seems to have been outsourced to Fisher Price.

Under those are the climate control dials with more red digital lettering and more flimsiness.

The actual design and layout of the dash isn't so bad, it's just been rendered in cheap feeling materials.  A slab of aluminium across the car should look fantastic but instead looks like it might be high grade plastic - yet it is aluminium.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The steering wheel is set at an odd angle so the top is too far away and the bottom too close to you.  The gear stick is too far from your left hand.  The hazard warning button is so close to the air vent you would occasionally press it whilst adjusting the vent.

The pedal arrangement is bizarre.  The brake normally sits higher than the throttle so you can come off brake and straight onto throttle.  In the Giulietta all the pedals are on the same level.  Push the brake and you have to pull your leg back up and on to the accelerator.  There is no room to the left of the clutch so your foot has nowhere to rest when not in use and it snags when you move it to depress the clutch pedal.

The seats have little lumbar support and make it feel like you are sitting on a bench.

Let's go for a drive and see if Alfa have imbued some magic into the driving experience.

Unfortunately not.  The steering is comical.  It wants to centre all the time and resists being turned in either direction.  When you do manage to steer the Giulietta understeers and you roll out of the unsupportive seat.

The ride manages to achieve the incredible feat of being quite soft and harsh.  It transfers all the lumps and bumps of the road surface into the car.  Take a corner and, as well as understeering, it rolls badly.

The engine has a decent amount of poke but sounds thrashy, which becomes tiresome.  Come out of a corner and floor the throttle and it torque steers a lot.

To drive the Giulietta is not fun.  It is wearing on your body and on your spirit.  Alfas are not meant to be like this.  They are meant to be passionate and quirky, not tiresome and terrible.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The Man From Alfa told me about a mythical lever just in front of the gearstick.  Alfa calls it D.N.A. which stand for Dynamic, Natural and All-weather.

I was told to select Dynamic and it would transform the car.  This is what Alfa says:

"Move the selector up to Dynamic position and the car performs exactly as you expect from the sporting spirit of any Alfa Romeo: the engine response is immediate; delivery is substantial due to the overboost, while the Electronic Q2 differential allows corners to be taken in complete safety with impeccable control."

I selected D and the ride just got worse, whilst understeer was slightly reduced.  I didn't detect any change in the engine, although it is quoted as having 170 lb ft of torque in N and 184 lb ft of torque in D.

I finished the drive thoroughly deflated.  I'd heard a lot about Alfa Romeos but had yet to drive one; and was genuinely expecting a fantastic car.  Alfistis are so passionate about Alfas I was really looking forward to driving the Giulietta in order to experience the sheer devotion to the brand myself.

But instead I felt conned.  The Alfa Giulietta is a terrible car with no redeeming features, except its beauty.

The interior is poorly laid out and poorly rendered.  The ride is dreadful and the handling woeful.  Some aspects of it's design are downright belligerent.

The Honda Civic costs the same and is better in every conceivable way, but in more dowdy clothing.

If you are a fan of the Alfa brand do not drive a Giulietta.  You will be gutted, as was I.

Specs: Price £23,675, engine 1.4 litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol, 170bhp, 184 lb ft of torque, 6-speed manual gearbox, 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds, 48.7mpg, 134 g/km of CO2, weight 1290kg
Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Review by Matt Hubbard