Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf review
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf is a stylish five-door performance hatch that adds high quality to typical Italian design flair
The Cloverleaf is the high-performance version of the gorgeuous Alfa Romeo Giulietta family hatch. Pitched against rivals like the Audi A3, Renaultsport Megane and VW Golf GTI, it packs a 235bhp turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol engine into an elegant five-door body. But performance and handling are not quite on a par with its most accomplished rivals, leaving the Cloverleaf feeling more like a fast upmarket hatchback than an out-and-out hot hatch. It's definitely a car for style-conscious buyers who like to be different, even if that means they're not behind the wheel of the class leader.
Our choice: Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1750 TBi Cloverleaf
Italian cars can always be counted on to turn heads, and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta doesn't disappoint. The quirky, elongated rear light clusters are the most obvious feature, but other touches like the hidden rear door handles, handsome curving window line, bright silver wing mirrors and neat front end combine to make this the most elegant family hatch you can buy. It looks best in red, of course, and the Cloverleaf model's dark grey alloys add a final touch of class. Inside, it's just as impressive, with bold shrouded dials and smoothly integrated air vents pushing the Alfa ahead of humdrum rivals like the VW Golf in the cabin style stakes.
Front-wheel-drive performance cars have been getting better and better in recent years – not that long ago, 235bhp going to the front wheels would have been a recipe for handling disaster. Yet the Alfa handles its power reasonably well, with good turn-in, not much body roll and fairly responsive steering. Disappointingly, though, it doesn't feel quite as fast as its power figure would suggest and the overall driving experience is nowhere near as exciting as a Renaultsport Megane. It's a quiet and refined cruiser, although the lack of a footrest next to the clutch pedal becomes irritating on long journeys.
Alfa Romeo quality has come on in leaps and bound since the dark days of the eighties and nineties. That old reputation is proving hard to shake, however. There have been no recalls for the Giulietta yet, but some aspects of interior quality are disappointing, with cheap, Fiat-sourced plastics appearing in places. The Giulietta has not yet appeared in our Driver Power survey, but its smaller sibling the MiTo was ranked 41st overall in the 2012 Top 100. The Cloverleaf scores well for safety, with standard ESP and twin airbags, plus a maximum five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP.
The Giulietta Cloverleaf is only available as a five-door, so compares favourably with rivals when it comes to practicality. There's plenty of room in the back for adult occupants and the 344-litre boot is only slightly smaller than that of a VW Golf. Comfortable sculpted sports seats keep driver and passenger in place during spirited driving, and there's a decent amoung of cup-holders and storage cubbies dotted around the cabin. Overall, the Giulietta is proof that eye-catching looks and heart-stirring performance need not come at the expense of day-to-day practicality. So Auris and Focus owners looking for something interesting can buy with confidence.
Alfa Romeo claims the Giulietta Cloverleaf's turbocharged engine offers the performance of a 3.0-litre with the fuel economy of a 1.8-litre. It will return a claimed 37mpg in mixed urban/motorway driving, while 177g/km CO2 emissions put it in tax band I, which is one slot higher than the more powerful Ford Focus ST. Those attracted to the Giulietta for its style and practicality will be better off in the more economical diesel or 1.4-litre turbo petrol versions of the car.