Alfa Romeo Giulietta review
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is one of the prettiest hatchbacks around. It’s fun to drive too but quality and practicality issues let it down
On its looks alone the Alfa Romeo Giulietta appears unbeatable, but you don’t need to scratch far beneath that stylish surface to uncover some serious compromises.
Those pretty lines and an energetic driving experience backed up particularly well by the strong line-up of turbo petrol engines count in the Giulietta’s favour. It’s hindered, however, by occasionally average ride quality and – more crucially for a car with such obvious sporting intentions - poorly judged drive mode settings for the D.N.A system that fail to satisfy the enthusiastic driver.
The overall picture for the Giulietta isn’t helped by a cramped interior with poor quality plastics in places and an awkward driving position. The reflections of owners we’ve surveyed over reliability and build quality don’t inspire much confidence – although residual values are holding up well.
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The car was facelift in 2016 with tweaks to equipment and the trim level range as well as mild revisions to the front end styling. Most significant was the addition of the Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system across the range with comprehensive smartphone integration.
Only available as a five-door, the Giulietta is as striking as you’d expect an Alfa Romeo to be, featuring neat design touches such as the firm’s famous triangular grille, hidden rear door handles and LED taillights. The latest models have a honeycomb grille and updated surrounds for the light clusters but the facelift left the winning exterior design largely unmolested.
As with many Alfa Romeo models, build quality is lacking and doesn’t match up to the standards set by the current Volkswagen Golf. It’s also not as well laid out inside as some of its more modern rivals, with limited space in the rear making the Giulietta feel cramped. Having first gone on sale back in 2010, the cabin is now starting to show its age, too despite the neat touchscreen control system that’s now fitted across the range.
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Trim levels include the entry-level Giulietta, then Super, Tecnica (targeted at fleet customers), Speciale and Veloce. It was Veloce which replaced the old Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) model. There are seven power units on offer in the mainstream Giulietta range: three petrol and three diesel. The petrols are all 1.4 MultiAir turbos, offering 119bhp, 148bhp and 168bhp – and the higher-powered version is also available with Alfa’s TCT twin-clutch automatic transmission. (If you really want to push the boat out the Veloce model comes with a 238bhp 1.7-litre petrol.)
Depending on trim level, Alfa offers a 119bhp 1.6 JTDm-2 MultiJet turbodiesel in manual or automatic, or a choice of 2.0-litre units, including a 148bhp engine and a more powerful 173bhp unit. Both the 119bhp and 173bhp units are available with the six-speed TCT gearbox in place of the standard manual.
You’ll have to pay more for a Giulietta than many of its rivals, but all models do get air conditioning, all-round electric windows, DAB radio and Bluetooth as standard.
Engines, performance and drive
The Giulietta's blend of comfort and performance is genuinely effective, with the Alfa proving to be at home on the motorway, uneven city streets and winding country roads. Noise is well controlled in the cabin and the car corners like a hot hatch resisting body roll well.
The Giulietta gets what Alfa calls its D.N.A switch. This alters the throttle response and steering weight between three driving modes: Dynamic, Natural and All-weather. Unfortunately, it feels like 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 Natural and All-weather settings.
The suspension on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta isn’t supple enough to soak up many of the worse bumps on UK roads, and together with questionable cabin ergonomics it means the Giulietta isn’t the most comfortable car to live with.
Twin-clutch (TCT) models also get the option of paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel for manual gear changes if you want a sportier drive. This is available on the most powerful 168bhp petrol and the 119bhp and 173bhp diesel engines. It’s a decent gearbox, shifting smoothly when cruising and quick to drop a few ratios if prompted to do so by the paddles but it’s up against some stiff competition from other twin-clutch autos on the market.
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The 173bhp diesel is relatively quick, with lots of low-down torque on offer and manages 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds. The more popular 1.6-litre 119bhp unit takes 10.2s to do the sprint or 10s if you stick with the manual gearbox and either way it feels reasonably lively without making much noise. The twin-clutch petrol car does its 0-62mph increment in 7.6 seconds, and delivers the same top speed as the punchiest diesel - around 135mph.
The 149bhp diesel with manual gears accelerates from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds and is our pick of the range, mixing price, performance and economy well. The only downside is that you can’t have the auto.
As for the petrol line-up, the 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol works better in Alfa’s smaller Mito as it can struggle with the comparative bulk of the Giulietta. It remains a charismatic unit though, and the most powerful 168bhp 1.4 version feels punchy and keen to rev.
This makes it one of the fruitiest-sounding hot hatchbacks around, but it's far from the most entertaining to drive. The dual-clutch gearbox isn't quite as snappy when driving quickly as those in the Veloce's main rivals, nor is it as smooth to shift when pootling through town.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Giulietta's engine range is reasonably economical but also offers decent performance. The 1.6-litre diesel is the cheapest option for day-to-day running costs, returning a healthy 74.3mpg on the combined test cycle and emitting 99g/km of CO2, meaning your road tax will be free.
Our pick of the range is the larger 2.0-litre turbodiesel though, which in 148bhp guise delivers a class-leading amount of torque from as low as 1,750rpm. But the same 2.0-litre also emits 110g/km of CO2, exceeding the 1.6 litre diesel unit, and offers a slightly worse 67.3mpg on the official test cycle. Both turbocharged diesels are fitted with fuel-saving stop-start technology as standard.
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The 1.4-litre petrol engine in its lowest powered 119bhp form returns 45.6mpg on the combined economy test cycle and emits 144g/km of CO2. Move up to the 148bhp variant and the figures are 51.4mpg and 127g/km, while the peculiarities of the test regime means the 168bhp model with manual gears is able to return the same claimed figures. Pick the 168bhp engine with TCT and you could see as much as 57.7mpg and 114g/km if the test figures are to be believed.
The top-of-the-range Veloce with its 237bhp 1.7-litre petrol engine returns 41.5mpg and 157g/km.
Most of the Giulietta range falls into insurance groups 23-25, although the lower-powered entry-level cars start at group 16 and the hot Veloce is group 31.
Decent demand for the Giulietta on the used market means it’s not the depreciation liability of old-school Alfa Romeos. In fact our experts reckon you’ll see up between 42-45 per cent of your investment returned after three years/36,000 miles – unless you go for the relatively pricey Veloce when the percentage could fall into the high 30s. You’ll get more money back on a Volkswagen Golf GTi.
Interior, design and technology
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta was facelifted in 2016, refreshed with a tweaked front bumper and a new grille. Different alloy wheels, extra colour choices and a slightly updated interior also helped improve the car’s appeal, and there’s no doubt it’s one of the most stylish hatchbacks on the market.
In fact the Giulietta has very 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 really help the Alfa to stand out.
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The Giulietta Veloce hot hatch serves as the flagship of the range with its large alloy wheels, leather and alcantara interior and red brake calipers, plus lowered suspension, larger exhaust outlets, sports seats and Veloce badges.
The interior mirrors the Giulietta’s exterior, with a heavy focus placed on style. There’s a good balance between simplicity and head-turning design elements that add extra appeal, meaning the cabin is easy to use day-to-day, but still feels special.
However, the interior isn’t ultimately as pleasing as the exterior. Alfa has addressed some of the old car’s flaws, with sturdier seat bolsters, better quality leather on the steering wheel and anti-scratch paint finishes added, but the Giulietta just isn’t up to VW group levels of quality. The plastics used on the door inserts and lower down on the dash are of a poor quality.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
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The entry-level car comes with a six-speaker audio set-up with DAB radio, Bluetooth, CD player, voice recognition and smartphone connectivity – all accessed via Alfa’s Uconnect 5 inch colour touchscreen system. It’s a good-looking screen with a clear menu sysetm that should prove easy to get to grips with. You need to pay £1,050 or upgrade to Tecnica trim to get sat-nav with voice recognition and the more impressive 6.5” screen.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Interior space wasn't Alfa's highest priority when it was designing the Giulietta, and it shows. Alfa Romeos are built for style, not practicality.
Visibility out of the back is poor because of the tiny rear window and thick Golf-like C pillars and the limited rear view makes parking problematic, though this can be helped on higher spec models, which feature parking sensors. The stylised writing on the sporting dials can also be hard to read at a glance.
The pedals are positioned a little too close together and there's no space to rest your left foot, while the steering wheel is also too far away, resulting in a less than perfect driving position.
Also, the dashboard layout is muddled and can be difficult to use while on the move – plus the optional sat-nav unit is small and some times hard to read. Oddment space is at a premium too, as there's a tiny storage compartment in the central armrest and only an average-size glove compartment.
The Giulietta gives a little away in terms of length and width to rivals like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. It’s 4,351mm long and 1,798 wide so its dimensions are closer to premium brand alternatives like the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class which tend to focus less on practicality.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Despite the Giulietta’s five-door layout there's a surprising lack of passenger space and legroom is tight. Rear passengers may also have an uncomfortable time thanks to the reduced headroom that’s a result of the coupe-like styling and swooping roofline. Kids will be OK, as there are Isofix mounting points to accommodate their chairs and access to the rear bench via the rear doors is good.
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Matters don’t improve in the front for adults, unfortunately, because as well as the awkward driving position there’s a cramped feeling cabin.
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You get 350 litres of boot space in the Giulietta which is not great – it’s more than the Ford Focus offers but smaller than the VW Golf’s load bay. There’s also a high load lip that makes putting heavy or bulky items in the luggage bay pretty difficult. Even if you fold down the standard-fit 60:40 split-folding back seats, the boot doesn’t expand that much and the space isn’t that practical. You do get a space-saver spare wheel on all trim levels though, which is better than a can of gunk.
Reliability and Safety
Alfa Romeo recorded a below average performance in our Driver Power survey in 2016, ranking in 23rd position out of 32 manufacturers. It seems that Italian brand’s reputation for questionable reliability is still alive and well, with build quality and running costs also called into question by the results. Alfa finished fourth from bottom when readers were polled on reliability alone.
The Giulietta model itself was included in the 150 cars we surveyed in 2016, ranking a middling 94th overall. While there are some high-quality materials used in the cabin, some of the fit and finish is a bit shoddy, with the odd rough and cheap panel. Still, there have been no major recalls or significant problems reported for the Giulietta as yet.
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If there are question marks over reliability, there are none when it comes to safety, as the Giulietta's credentials are top notch. The car secured the maximum five-star rating and an impressive 97 per cent for adult occupants in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, so it's as safe as the best cars in the sector. Child occupant safety was rated at 85 per cent, although pedestrian safety was down on the class best at 63 per cent. By way of comparison, the VW Golf scored 94 per cent, 89 per cent and 65 per cent, while the Mercedes A-Class scored 93 per cent, 81 per cent and 67 per cent in the respective categories.
The Giulietta comes with Alfa Romeo’s standard three-year, unlimited mileage warranty. That’s similar to the Mercedes A Class and BMW 1 Series, but better than the cover offered with cars like the VW Golf and SEAT Leon, which have a 60,000-mile warranty cap.
Major services are required at 36,000 miles or every two years, but the Alfa also needs interim inspections annually or at 18,000 miles.