Steve Sharpe gets behind the wheel of Alfa Romeo’s chic Giulietta hatchback
THE Alfa Romeo marque has never been one to suffer from a lack of image.
Alfa has a rich heritage of 100 years or so, in its early years a prestige motor and later a more affordable brand of individual car.
It’s Italian for a start, its name is a combination of number one and a famous lover, and even the badge features a sinuous snake and a bold red cross.
And then of course there’s the design.
After Alfa’s prestigious beginnings, in later years it became less high-end and more affordable, bringing out a series of models which enjoyed greater and lesser degrees of success.
This generation of Giulietta is the latest in a line of models that included the 147 it replaced a couple of years ago, which in turn replaced models like the 33, the 145 and the 146.
But through all this Alfa kept its Italian sense of individual style, until we now have this version.
It’s a car that is unmistakably Alfa Romeo, one that looks just a little different to the rest.
The most obvious illustration of this is the front end of the Guilietta.
That offset number plate works even though it shouldn’t; the way the bonnet slopes down to an almost vertical nose section, with the V-shaped grille accentuating the bonnet ridges that sweep towards the road; the teardrop-shaped headlight clusters now with daytime LED running lights; the rear light clusters which swirl with the same LEDs. And more.
The five-door only Guilietta has more of a look of a coupe thanks to the rear door handles being hidden in the corners of the rear windows.
In short it’s a beauty, even more so as it has a style of its own. It’s not trying to look like anything else.
Inside, too, there’s an unmistakable Alfa feel to things. A large part of the dash in my car was made up of body coloured metal. It’s optional, and it’s a feature which is becoming more and more familiar now.
It’s part of Alfa’s Italian sibling the 500’s look, and also can be found on the new wave of city cars like VW’s up!. And it looks great.
The lighting scheme is a vivid red, which contrasts with the dark interior, and the controls are set out clearly and easy to use. The console has a lovely cushioned feel to it, too.
But driving the Guilietta is a little like having a beautiful, characterful girlfriend with a style of her own and an individual streak .
Great to be seen out with but can be hard work and high maintenance.
Although the cabin looks great and classy, some of the plastics are hard and scratchy and let the side down, especially towards the bottom.
The driving position is pretty odd, too. To get the right amount of legroom for me meant I had to drive with my arms practically straight out ahead of me.
In the end I had to lower the steering wheel to the very lowest setting for the most comfortable driving position.
Legspace is a little limited in the driving seat, too. The brake on the automatic version I drove is tight up against the central section, and was a little uncomfortable to begin with.
Rear legroom and headroom isn’t that generous either, thanks to the sloping roofline.
The boot is a decent size though, although the high lip means hoisting heavy objects up and in.
There are a number of versions available, ranging from the 1.4 version through to the 2-litre hot hatch version, the less-than-virile sounding Cloverleaf.
The 1.4 engine Multi-air petrol version I drove was strong and versatile, with an impressive pull when the pedal was floored and good cruising speeds.
With 0-60mph figures on less than eight seconds it’s quick off the mark with a prod of the pedal.
The TCT automatic system on my car, which gives you the choice of automatic or a change to manual by way of paddles on the steering wheel, was slick as well.
The steering is quite solid but precise and the Guilietta handles effortlessly around corners and in town. It’s good fun.
But once again, Guilietta proves to be high maintenance.
There are three settings for the auto version I drove – Dynamic, normal and bad weather – but even in normal setting I found the going a bit jumpy, especially at low speeds when crawling along in traffic.
In dynamic mode you get a extra injection of power to your toe, but it’s practically impossible to drive smoothly without jerking your occupants around.
You do get impressive extra speed but it becomes tiring at lower speeds – you even manage to surge forward when your foot’s not on the accelerator.
It does make for a less than smooth ride, added to which I found the Alfa even more cantankerous and jumpy first thing in the morning. It really wasn’t keen when the weather was cold.
I think I’ll leave the girlfriend analogy alone there.
But the ride is firm but smooth, doing a fine job of soaking up potholes and ridges. The keen and eager engine has been hushed but does rise to a sweetly-pitched growl when pushed. There’s a little wind noise and road rumble but nothing too intrusive.
The range starts at £17,700 for the entry-level model rising to £22,500 for the top of the range cloverleaf.
That compares well to rivals like the Golf and there’s a fair amount of equipment as standard right from entry-level Turismo trim.
That comes with air-conditioning, front and rear electric windows and an engine stop-start system, but when you upgrade to Lusso spec you get the best things such as alloys, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls, parking sensors, Bluetooth, automatic wipers and headlights.
You get a sportier suspension in Veloce versions and that hi-spec Cloverleaf has an even sportier suspension set-up and a beefier look.
Sleek and with an unmistakable style, the Guilietta is a small family hatchback with a difference. If you can accept its faults and just relish its good points, you’ll certainly enjoy yourself.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol
Transmission: six-speed automatic TCT
Top speed: 135mph