Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.4 MultiAir Lusso

The Giulietta sees a more sensible approach from Alfa, but has any of the dynamic magic been lost?

There have been many false dawns at Alfa Romeo over the years, but the Giulietta is built on solid foundations.

In the past, new models have floundered when the ownership experience hasn’t lived up to the looks of the brand’s beautifully styled products.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Giulietta

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However, the Giulietta shouldn’t suffer the same fate, as Alfa has overhauled its dealer network and improved reliability. The question is, can it make the same impact as cars like the old 156 and Brera?

It doesn’t have the same jaw-dropping kerb appeal as other models in the line-up, but the newcomer doesn’t blend in with the family car crowd, either.

The famous shield grille floats inside a heart-shaped cut-out at the front, giving the Giulietta an unmistakable face. The bumper merges with the sculpted bonnet, while the intricate headlamps incorporate fashionable LED daytime running lights.

In profile, the Alfa is less dynamic, although the firm has employed its usual trick of concealing the rear door handles in the C-pillar (the Giulietta is a five-door only).

At the back, the tailgate badge doubles as the boot release, and its looping LED light clusters have a distinctive shape which gives the car a unique appearance after dark. The diffuser-style bumper and sharply creased bootlid also help to make the back end just as recognisable as the front.

Pull open the door to climb in, and you’ll be disappointed to discover the handle is made of plastic rather than metal. And inside, material quality isn’t a match for the high-grade plastics found in the Golf and Astra.

The unusual design sets the interior apart from those of rival models, though, with a row of retro-inspired rocker switches across the centre console and a pair of trademark circular dials ahead of the driver. While build is first rate, and the Alfa is on a par with the Astra for rear space, neither is as roomy or solid as the Golf. Our trio is closely matched on boot space, too, but none has seats that fold fully flat.

The heart of any Alfa Romeo is its engine, and the 1.4-litre MultiAir doesn’t disappoint. The free-revving unit is a real highlight, and with linear power delivery and an engaging soundtrack, it’s a great choice. Although the Giulietta’s six-speed gearbox doesn’t have the crispest shift and the oversized lever won’t suit all tastes, the transmission is positive.

We have to take issue with Alfa’s DNA system, though. We’ve criticised the set-up in the MiTo supermini, and we’re no more keen on it here, either. A switch on the console allows the driver to tune the throttle response, steering set-up and ESP stability package between Dynamic, Normal and All-weather modes.

But the package is flawed, as the steering feels too heavy and artificial in Dynamic, while engine responses are blunted considerably in the Normal setting. Ideally, you need to tailor the set-up to get the best out of it, yet this isn’t possible. That’s a pity because our Lusso-spec car proved to be smooth, comfortable and refined. It’s fast, too. Aided by the lowest kerbweight here, it covered 0-60mph in 8.1 seconds – that’s two-tenths quicker than the Golf.

Alfa enthusiasts will care more about how the Giulietta drives on twisty roads, though, and there’s more disappointment here as the chassis lacks sparkle and the front tyres surrender their grip too early. Enter a corner too fast and the nose will wash wide, yet lifting off the throttle does little to change the car’s attitude. It’s all very safe, but not especially exciting or rewarding.

The Alfa doesn’t excel where you expect it to, yet it shines in other areas, as it’s a greener and more cost-effective choice than its rivals. It is the only car on test to get stop-start technology, and as a result it emits 134g/km of CO2 to the Golf’s 145g/km and the Astra’s 159g/km. That translates into low company car tax bills, on top of the tempting price tag – the £19,495 Alfa costs over £1,500 less than the Vauxhall.

So the Giulietta doesn’t pull on the heart strings as strongly as Alfas past, but it makes sense when you engage your brain.

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Each and every new Alfa Romeo is eagerly anticipated. Does this one finally herald the dawn of a new era for the firm?

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