I’ve been renting cars for long enough now to know that even when you see “Model Guaranteed” then it is just as likely that when you turn up, you will find that you don’t actually get that specific model as you will. Unless rental car companies hold cars back, potentially for several days, the vaguaries of their business mean that it is quite difficult to guarantee availability of a specific car, as all it takes is a car to be returned late, or in a state where it cannot go right back out for a new rental to scupper the plans. So, earlier in the year, when I was reserving a car for a weekend trip based out of Zurich, when I selected a car class which “guaranteed” an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, it was not that great a surprise that this was not what I got. A BMW 2 Series Active Tourer was provided as a sort of alternative. For this trip, to Barcelona, I selected a class which “guaranteed” a BMW 1 Series, and hey, instead I got an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Rent enough cars and you probably will eventually get the car you were trying to secure in the first place, but you need to understand that it might not happen at the first attempt.
I was pleased to get this Giulietta, of course, as it was a car with which I had been hoping to renew my acquaintance earlier in the year. Although the Giulietta has been on sale since 2010, I’ve only managed to get behind the wheel of one example since that time, a top of the range TBi Cloverleaf around the end of 2011. I have to confess to being a little disappointed by it, feeling that what should have been a potent if rather subtle looking hot hatch did not come across as that. Whilst the style and appearance were unquestionably on point, being class leading, the dynamics just did not quite impress as much as they should have done. Everything I had read suggested that some of the less potent models in the range were more likely to appeal, and certainly it was these versions that were provided to the press for their detailed launch reviews, and they were then favourably impressed. Their view seem to have changed since then, largely as a result of the fact that the car has changed very little, and anything that is not brand new tends to lose their favour. There have been changes, but all have been quite subtle, with visual changes requiring a particularly keen eye to spot, and mechanical alterations being equally limited in scope. Trim versions have been shuffled a number of times, with the a significant update in 2014 and another set announced at the 2016 Geneva Show. The car that I received was, by rental car standards, quite elderly, having been on fleet for around 18 months, during which time it had amassed over 40,000km. There were a few battle scars both outside and in, too. It was, however, an example of the facelift that was premiered at the 2016 Geneva Show going on sale almost immediately afterwards.
The test car came with the 1.6 JTDm diesel and was coupled to a six speed automatic gearbox. Whilst dyed in the wool Alfisti may grimace at the thought of both of these, the reality is that this is an increasingly popular combination of features for cars of this class. And both turned out to work quite well. This engine was an upgrade from the original unit that powered the first of these 940-Series Giuliettas, the changes being made in 2014 with more power, better economy and lower emissions all being features. Using second-generation MultiJet technology with a variable-geometry turbo charger, this engine produces 120 bhp at 3,750 rpm and an impressive 320 Nm of torque from just 1,7450 rpm and, when paired with Alfa Romeo’s quick-shifting and smooth ALFA TCT transmission, it can be used as a full automatic (with its responsiveness and shift patterns adjusted via the three-mode Alfa D.N.A. drive selector, along with the power steering assistance, ESC and Q2 electronic differential settings and throttle and brake responsiveness) or as a full manual, either by slotting the gear selector into its sequential gate or by using the standard steering wheel paddle shifters. This engine and transmission combination has a top speed of 121mph and can accelerate from 0 to 62mph in 10.2 seconds, while its official combined cycle fuel-economy and emissions figures matches those of the manual version, returning 74.3 MPG (3.8 l/100 km) and producing just 99 g/km of CO2. I drove the test Giulietta a total of 280km over the weekend and it needed 14.5 litres to refuel it, which computes to 55 mpg, a decent result. The engine certainly was smooth, and from inside the car, it was quiet, with little of the characteristic diesel sound evident at all, though if you opened the window, you could hear it rather more clearly, suggesting that the sound-proofing was doing its job. The Giulietta went well, with plenty of torque available from as low as 2000 rpm and continuing up to 4000 rpm, so whenever you put your foot down there was ample acceleration available. The gearbox was effective, too, always seemingly being in the right ratio and changing gears almost imperceptibly. I left the car in the N model most of the time, but if you pressed the D option on the DNA controller, you could instantly feel the difference, as the car felt that much more urgent, and indeed in this mode maximum toque increases from 207 lb/ft to 23 lb/ft, as well as changing the upshift points in the gearbox, One issue with the manual gearbox cars is that the pedals seem very close together but that is less of an issue here, with only the two pedals. Unlike the right hand drive cars which lacked a footrest there is ample space for somewhere to rest your left foot here.
The other driving dynamics were good. The steering is good with plenty of feel, and the Giulietta holds the road well, and goes round corners with a sense of gusto, making it fun to drive. The test car came on 205/55 R16 alloys, the smallest size of three that are available on the various different versions of the Giulietta. Even with the sport-tuned suspension, the car rode smoothly, coping with the various roads surfaces with aplomb. The brakes seemed well up to par, with a nice progressive feel to the pedal, and it was possible to bring the Giulietta to a stop quite smoothly, with the gearbox responding accordingly. You still get a nice conventional pull-up handbrake fitted between the seats, though with the auto gearbox this is less of a benefit than it would be with a manual car. I had no significant concerns with visibility. There’s a good view out of the car and the mirrors helped to judge what was alongside or behind the car.
As well as a stylish exterior, Alfa have made an effort with the interior, too, which looks good and is ergonomically sound, even if the materials are not quite up to the standards set by the VW Golf or Audi A3. There’s a nod to the marque’s heritage with separate and deeply recessed dials which are mounted in a dash which sports a grained texture insert to provide some visual interest beyond the main black moulding. The wheel has a leather wrap, as does the gearknob and there are leather casings on the doors. Between the two main dials are smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature and below these is a digital display area with a variety of trip computer data points presented. You cycle between the various different menus from the right hand column stalk. There are two main column stalks, for indicators, lights and wipers and a shorter stubbier one on the left for cruise control. The steering wheel boss has the audio repeater buttons on it. In the centre of the dash is the uConnect infotainment screen. By modern standards, it is on the small side, at just 5.5″ in this version (a slightly larger one is available in higher spec Giulietta models). The screen is touch sensitive, but there are plenty of buttons surrounding it for commonly used functions as well. Below the unit are three rotary controls for the dual zone climate control. In the centre console, the DNA knob can be found in the centre console in front of the gearlever. There is still a conventional ignition key.
There is manual adjustment for the seat and steering column. This latter telescopes in/out as well as up and down. The seat will move in all the ways you expect, with a bar underneath the cushion for fore-aft movement, and levers on the side for backrest rake and seat height. The seat in the test car was upholstered in a nice type of cloth and proved very comfortable. Those in the back may or may not find the same. Space is adequate, but not as generous as you will find some of the car’s rivals. I found enough headroom, even though the roofline does slope down gently towards the rear of the car, and unless the front seats are set well back then leg and knee room is sufficient. There is a noticeable central tunnel though it is quite narrow, so a middle seat occupant would not find this an undue restriction, but the car is simply not that wide, so three large adults across the rear seat would be quite tight. Alfa probably recognise this, as in this trim version, there are only two rear heardrests.
Whilst not as large as you will find in some rivals, the boot is a good size, a nice regular shape, with plenty of depth under the rear parcel shelf, and a couple of separated cubbies on either side of the boot. There is a space-saver spare under the boot floor, which fits in a tight well, meaning that there is no additional underfloor stowage space. If you need more room, then you need to drop the rear seat backrests. These are asymmetrically split and simply drop down onto the rear seat cushions. The resulting load area is not level as the folded down backrests are higher than the boot floor and they also slope upwards slightly towards the front of the car. Inside the cabin, there is a generously sized glovebox, a small cubby on the dash top, another one in the central swivelling armrest and bins on the doors. Those in the rear get bins on the doors and pockets on the back of the front seats.
Following the 2016 refresh, there are now five trim levels: Giulietta, Giulietta Super, Giulietta Tecnica, Giulietta Speciale and Giulietta Veloce. The entry-level Giulietta now benefits from burnished headlamp surrounds, satin-finish door handles and new oblique tailpipes, while inside there are new grey and black fabric seats with Alfa Romeo logo on the head restraints, new matte black dashboard insert and luxury floor mats. The refreshed style elements are accompanied by a comprehensive standard equipment list which includes a leather steering wheel with audio remote controls, air conditioning, five-inch Uconnect LIVE with DAB plus USB and Bluetooth connectivity, luxury floor mats, Alfa D.N.A. selector, six airbags, 16-inch ‘Turbine’ alloy wheels, electric windows all round (one-touch in the front) and steering-wheel paddle shifters on TCT-equipped models. The engines available in this trim level are the 120 bhp 1.4-litre Turbo Petrol and 120 bhp 1.6-litre JTDM-2turbo diesel, 120 bhp (manual or ALFA TCT), 150 bhp 1.4-litre Turbo Petrol and 150 bhp 2.0-litre JTDM-2turbo diesel. The Giulietta Super trim level adds dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, a front armrest, new 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, rear parking sensors, rear air vents and upgraded seat upholstery and while the engine range comprises the 120hp 1.6-litre JTDM-2turbo diesel (manual or Alfa TCT), 150 bhp 1.4-litre Turbo Petrol, 150 bhp 2.0-litre JTDM-2turbo diesel, 170hp 1.4-litre Turbo Petrol ALFA TCT and 175 bhp 2.0-litre JTDM-2turbo diesel TCT. A new Lusso pack can be added to the Super model to enhance the elegant look of the car and includes a 17-inch alloy wheel upgrade, sports leather upholstery, a rear armrest with third rear headrest, aluminium kick plates, electric lumbar support on both front seats, a height adjustable passenger seat and the 6.5-inch Uconnect Live system with voice-operated satellite navigation and 3D mapping. The new Giulietta Tecnica replaces the fleet-oriented Business Edition and again includes the 6.5-inch Uconnect infotainment system with navigation as standard (albeit with more features), along with the Visibility Pack (automatic lights and wipers, electro-chromatic rear view mirror and electrically folding door mirrors), electric lumbar support on both front seats, a height adjustable passenger seat, front and rear parking sensors and a no-cost choice of pastel and metallic paint finishes. The Giulietta Speciale offers customers the option of combining the sporty look and feel of the high performance Veloce version with a broad selection of engines. Standard equipment includes a sports suspension; sports bumpers with red Alfa profile; classic, five-hole, 18-inch alloy wheels; Brembo brakes with red, four-piston callipers; new carbon-look headlamp surrounds; an anthracite finish on the mirror caps, door handles, grille and fog light surrounds and the 6.5-inch Uconnect LIVE system with navigation. Fabric and Alcantara sports seats, aluminium pedals, a flat-bottom sports steering wheel with red stitching and the carbon-look dashboard surrounds and door panels complete the comprehensive Speciale package and engine choices include the 150hp 1.4-litre Turbo Petrol, 150hp 2.0-litre JTDM-2turbo diesel, 170hp 1.4-litre Turbo Petrol ALFATCT and 175hp 2.0-litre JTDM-2turbo diesel ALFA TCT. Finally, also debuting on the facelifted Giulietta is Alfa Performance, a new service specifically created to enhance the driving experience. Using an array of digital gauges and instruments, drivers can control the main parameters of the car, measure their performance using special timers and see driving statistics on their smartphone, in addition to receiving real-time driving tips. The service is available on Uconnect 6.5” Radio Nav Live.
The press may have started to denigrate the Giulietta, bemoaning its age, but I think this is unfair. To my eyes, this is still by some margin the best looking car in the class. It is nicely finished inside and in this version, it drives well. Whilst that Cloverleaf may have disappointed me somewhat in 2011, in mid-spec diesel guise, I found the car far more compelling. Standards are very high in this most competitive of classes these days, and few cars have serious weaknesses these days, so choosing between them will largely come down to personal choice, and whether the buyer is happy with the financial deal that they can secure. This latter may be where the Alfa falls down compared to the volume brands, but for those for whom this is not the critical factor, then I think this car still has plenty to recommend it. One day, perhaps, I will get to sample the BMW 1 Series which I had booked for this trip. It has to be one of the Giulietta’s most obvious rivals, and whilst it still does not convince me with its looks, it may score more highly from behind the wheel. But even if it does, then you certainly should not dismiss this Alfa.