Alfa Romeo Giulietta review
Distinctive styling and strong petrol engines set the Alfa Romeo Giulietta apart from the pack
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is the Italian brand's answer to the Volkswagen Golf, so it's a sensible family hatchback given an injection of style and some neat interior design touches. It's only available as a five-door and the rear door handles are hidden in the window frames to give the appeareance of a coupe. The Giulietta marks another big step forwards in terms of interior build quality for the brand, too. Each of the four trim levels are well equipped, and the MultiAir turbocharged petrol engines are both powerful and efficient. It's far from perfect, though, with a compromised driving position, dull dynamics and some questionable interior fit and finish and its also one of the least practical hatches on the market for carrying passenegers, with a cramped cabin in the back and huge blind spots thanks to its thick pillars. Facelifted in 2014 and given a tweaked front bumper, different alloy wheels and colour choices and higher quality interior trim, the current Alfa Romeo Giulietta also gets a new 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine with strong performance and competitive fuel consumption.
Our choice: Giulietta 2.0 JTDm Multijet 150 5dr
The Giulietta has few competitors in the style stakes. Rivals like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf are far more conservative, and well finished details like the eye-catching front and rear LED lights and hidden rear door handles all help it stand out. Every version get Alfa's D.N.A drive select system as standard, and every version gets attractive alloy wheels. The 2014 facelift includes new colours, a chromed grille, matte grey fog light surrounds, but otherwise the changes are quite hard to spot. It's just as stylish inside too, with a curved dash that sweeps away from the driver, and a row of retro rocker switches for the electric windows. Build quality feels pleasingly robust, but the Giulietta's interior can't compete with the class best. For 2014 new trims in the doors, higher quality leather on the steering wheel and more supportive seats do improve things, and the optional 6.5-inch touchscreen sat-nav and infotainment system does a decent job of hauling the Giulietta back into contention with the class leaders. However cheap items like the seat adjusters, plastic gearknob and the indicators still have no place on a supposedly premium family car.
There are three different engines to choose from: one petrol and two diesels. The 1.6-litre diesel is the slowest in the range, taking 11.3 seconds to go from 0-62mph. The 2.0-litre diesel is offered with either 148bhp or 168bhp and is more lively but can be quite noisy at high revs, lacking the refinement and raspy character of the smoother 1.4-litre petrol turbo. The off-set pedals make it difficult to get comfortable behind the wheel, though, and despite having a reasonable amount of grip, the steering offers almost no feedback to the driver. The D.N.A switch, which alters the throttle response and steering weight between three driving modes - dynamic, normal and all-weather - is a gimmick and fails to provide a satisfying compromise between aggression and comfort, with too much weight in Dynamic mode and slack throttle response in the 'normal' driving mode.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is one of the safest cars in its class, scoring a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests – it was also awarded an impressive 97 per cent for adult protection. All models get six airbags and ESP as standard. This model was meant to mark the end of the brand's patchy reliability record, and so far no major mechanical problems have been reported. Alfa Romeo finished 23rd overall in the 2012 Driver Power survey, which shows progress. That said, the fit and finish of some of the interior components raises concerns that it won't be as reliable as a Volkswagen Golf or Honda Civic for example. The new Multijet diesel engine is the only model worth close attention in the UK, but even that is likely to feel out of date fairly soon in this fast moving segment.
Interior space wasn't Alfa's highest priority whwn it was designing the Giulietta, and it shows. With an class average 350 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place, the boot is adequate. But despite the five-door layout, there's a surprising lack of passenger space on the rear bench and leg room is tight. The small back window restricts visibility when parking, while the high-loading lip can catch on larger objects being lifted into the boot. It's a similar story up front: there aren't many cubbies for loose items and the pedals are offset from the driver. The facelifted model did add a couple of small storage bins on the top of the dash, but there is a long list of rivals that are better suited to being used as versatile family transport.
Every engine available offers a good balance of performance and economy. The most efficient is the 2.0-litre diesel, which returns 67.3mpg and an emissions figure of 110g/km - nearly as good as the 148bhp SEAT Leon. The turbocharged petrols both come with stop-start systems as standard. The lower-powered version - which does without Alfa's efficient MultiAir valve technology - is the least economical, managing just 44.1mpg and 149g/km, which means that company car drivers, especially, would be best to avoid it. Mid-range Lusso versions offer the best balance of equipment, with Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control and cruise control all included, while top-spec Veloce models get sporty extras like side sills, aluminium kick plates and sports suspension as standard. Standard equipment is fairly genenrous across the trim levels - but options like the textured leather seats and sat-nav touchscreen are fairly pricy nonetheless.