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Alfa Romeo Giulietta Distinctive

 

The just-upgraded Alfa Romeo Giulietta seems to offer true Italian flair for Corolla money. Surely there’s a catch?

Base price: $44,990.

Powertrain and performance: 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four, 125kW/250Nm, 6-speed automated twin-clutch transmission (TCT), front-drive, Combined economy 5.2 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 4351mm long, 1465mm high, luggage capacity 350 litres, fuel tank 60 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels.

We like: High style, engaging engine and chassis, new Uconnect infotainment system.

We don’t like: Twin-clutch transmission lacks finesse, average interior packaging.

How it rates: 8/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? The Alfa Romeo Giulietta has undergone its first major model upgrade since its introduction in 2010.

The Giulietta series two (as Alfa Romeo likes to call it) has a different front grille, new alloy wheel designs, new seats and the Uconnect infotainment system from sister brand Chrysler.

Giulietta is available in just two models in New Zealand: the Distinctive (as tested here) and the flagship go-faster QV.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? You’d expect an Alfa Romeo to offer some dynamic flair. In the case of the Giulietta, it’s fair to say that it’s not as enthusiast-oriented as you might want, but still possesses a certain something compared with mainstream rivals like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.

The 1.4-litre Multiair engine has sparkle and it’s certainly economical when combined with the TCT (twin clutch transmission) automated manual gearbox, with Combined economy of just 5.2 litres per 100km.

But the driving experience is muddied somewhat by that TCT and Alfa’s DNA system: a switch that allows you to put the powertrain into Dynamic, Natural (read normal) or All-weather modes.

The TCT uses similar technology to Volkswagen’s DSG or Ford’s PowerShift gearboxes, but it’s not as smooth as either in urban running. It can be quite jerky and low speed and you’ll often hear a clunking from underneath the car as the clutches do their thing in very slow running. It’s much better at speed and you get steering wheel-mounted paddles, but it simply doesn’t shift with the alacrity of DSG. To be fair, not many transmissions do.

And DNA? It’s like you get two extremes when you what you really want is something in the middle. Natural mode is smoother but the engine feels sluggish and the gearbox lazy. Dynamic (which also liberates the Q2 electronic locking differential) brings a more sporting flavor but it’s almost too harsh unless you’re going flat-out on a backroad, with abrupt throttle takeup and a reluctance from the TCT to change up on anything but wide throttle openings.

As with so many Alfas of the past, you get the impression that the Giulietta is a car you need to spend time with to learn its habits.

Thankfully, the chassis is more readily accessible: it turns into corners with enthusiasm, tracks through bumpy corners with assurance and puts its power down efficiently with the aid of the Q2 system at the front wheels.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? There’s a nice feel to the Giulietta’s cabin, with a toned-down version of the classic Alfa hooded-instrument dashboard and flowing shapes everywhere.

This is a minor facelift, but there’s been some good work in the comfort and convenience areas. The Giulietta has a new design of front seat and has thankfully ditched the confusing and ugly (Fiat) Blue&Me infotainment system in favour of the wonderfully intuitive and elegant (Chrysler) Uconnect setup, complete with touch-screen in the centre console.

Get past the dramatic styling and romantic name and you have to remember this is still supposed to be a practical family hatchback. Alfa has maintained the coupe-like look with hidden rear doorhandles (they’re up by the window) and rear-seat visibility suffers a bit from the fashionably high waistline, but overall it’s still capable of serving as an everyday car. Albeit one that seems to impress the heck out of the folks down at the supermarket.

The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat for load-through. Just as well, because the boot is merely adequate: at 350 litres it’s outdone by some next-size-down superminis.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? Who wouldn’t want to drive an Alfa Romeo? Especially when you can have one for Toyota Corolla money.

In truth, there are plenty of reasons not to choose the Giulietta Distinctive. The TCT lacks finesse, the DNA system needs some calibration work and the car is not as well packaged as more modern rivals.

But there’s still a lot of romance around the Alfa name and the Giulietta is still a feel-good car on the road. Luckily, buying a car doesn’t have to be an entirely rational experience. It’s hard not to like the Giulietta.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Audio: CD, iPod compatible
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Cruise control: Yes
  • Driver footrest: Yes
  • Head-up display: No
  • Heated/ventilated seats: No
  • Keyless entry/start: No
  • Lane guidance: No
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Parking radar: Front and rear
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: No
  • Rear ventilation outlets: No
  • Remote audio controls: Yes
  • Satellite navigation: No
  • Seat height adjustment: Yes
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
  • Steering reach adjustment: Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Trip computer: Yes

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