The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is a small family hatchback with the emphasis on style, but it’s not the most practical or best to drive
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is a stylish and sporty small family car that is an alternative to hatchbacks such as the VW Golf, Ford Focus and even more upmarket cars like the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class.
Its distinctive looks are certainly among its strong points and, in general, the Giulietta’s interior is also everything you’d expect from an Alfa: it’s eye-catching and well laid out.
However, some parts are a little way off the class best. The build quality, for example, is one area where it lags behind the likes of the Golf and Focus, not to mention the more upmarket BMW 1 Series and Audi A3.
Likewise, when you compare it to these alternatives, the Alfa looks a little poor when it comes to interior space. On top of that, some people will find the driving position awkward, in spite of the amount of adjustment on the driver’s seat and steering wheel. Likewise, the touchscreen infotainment system isn’t that easy to use, although the dashboard is fairly well laid out otherwise.
It’s not great in the rear, either. The plunging roofline means the headroom isn’t great and there’s not an awful lot of legroom, either. Look at the boot, too, and it’s a similar story: although the space is reasonable compared with what the alternatives offer, the high loading lip makes the space much harder to use. And, although the rear seat backs fold down, they don’t sit completely flat.
To make matters worse, storage spaces are in short supply in the rest of the cabin. The door pockets are fairly small, and there aren’t any specific spaces on the dash to store a mobile phone – a 21st century requirement rivals cater for.
Even on the road, the Giulietta flatters to deceive. It’s less exciting than the looks might suggest – and that’s despite the fact that every Giulietta comes with Alfa’s DNA system, which allows the driver to select from three driving modes, which roughly correspond to Dynamic, Natural and All-Weather. Depending on which mode you select, the responsiveness of the engine, the weighting of the steering and the level of intervention of the electrical driver assists are altered. Some people will find it all a little gimmicky, and whichever driving mode you choose, the ride remains firm. Dynamic is far too uncomfortable on city streets and, overall, the Ford Focus provides a much better balance between driver thrills and comfort.
This must be one of the most frustrating cars on the market. Why, oh why, can’t it be even half as good as it looks?
On the other hand, the Giulietta is a fairly decent car to drive enthusiastically down twisty roads. That firm suspension means there’s little in the way of body roll and the steering is direct and fast, giving the car a sense of agility.
There’s only a small range of engines to choose from, but the cheaper 1.4-litre petrol unit is the one to go for. It offers a decent blend of performance and economy – and sounds good, too. If economy is your priority, though, choose the 1.6-litre diesel.
Whatever the engine, the Giulietta comes with a whole suite of electronic driver aids that complement the six airbags and active anti-whiplash head restraints. The Giulietta scored a full five stars when it was tested by Euro NCAP back in 2010, but it’s important to note that the test is far tougher these days.
Standard equipment is generous across the range and even the entry level model – just called Giulietta – gets a five-inch touchscreen with DAB (digital) radio, Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows, alloy wheels and air conditioning.
Beyond that, Sport adds larger alloy wheels, cruise control, rear parking sensors and front foglights. Then, the range-topping Super has dual-zone climate control, unique cloth upholstery and sports dials.
Overall, then, the Giulietta is something of a flawed gem. For all its good equipment and top safety rating, it’s not as comfortable on longer journeys as some of the alternatives and, although it feels quite sporty to drive, it’s not as impressive as you might expect. Still, at the end of the journey you get to look back at what you’ve just parked with some degree of satisfaction…