We’d normally suggest you take anything the trio of presenters on Top Gear say with a pinch of salt – but they do hit the nail on the head sometimes.
While we’d not go as far as saying you can’t be a true petrolhead if you’ve not owned an Alfa Romeo, there’s certainly something special about the brand.
That also applies to the MiTo and the car you see here, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. While neither tops its class in carwow scores, they’re objectively much better than Alfa Romeos of old. And if you’re in the market for a family car like the Volkswagen Golf, the Giulietta might have come up on your radar.
It’s a heart versus head decision. Do you go for the stylish Alfa with its zingy engines and cossetting cabin? Or the straight-laced Golf with its reputation for reliability and vast range of engines? The end decision is yours, but we’ve compiled this head-to-head guide to help you choose.
The Giulietta isn’t perfect. Some may find the styling, with its traditional heart-shaped Alfa Romeo grille and high-set headlights, a little ‘beaky’. The flowing curves also make some of the lower trim-level cars look a little heavy on their wheels.
But it’s different, and we like different. Where you might specify the Golf in black, or silver, the Giulietta is at its best in classier shades – metallic reds, blues, and pearl whites. The crease along the car’s belt-line is accentuated by such shades, Alfa’s multi-spoke alloy wheels look great and touches like looped LED rear lights and chrome lines around the windows give the Giulietta an air of sophistication.
The Golf, to state the obvious, is much more Germanic. Straight lines and toned-down styling is the order of the day, harking back to a shape that has only evolved, rather than transformed, from the very first Golf from 1974. Like the Porsche 911 though, constant tweaking has resulted in quite a handsome form, even if it doesn’t tug at the heart strings like the Alfa.
There’s also more variation with the VW, depending on the model you choose. The ultra-frugal Bluemotion looks high-tech, while the GTI hits just the right sporting notes. At the top, the Golf R has a real dose of aggression, and even base-spec models look chunky and expensive.
Interior and practicality
This is an area in which Alfa Romeo has made great strides. Step inside the Giulietta’s cabin and you’re confronted with a comfortable, relatively spacious environment with few of Alfa’s old quirks, such as compromised driving positions or incomprehensible ergonomics.
Alfa has made plenty of effort with the design – always a strong point for the Italian marque. Dials are recessed in hooded binnacles, the three-spoke steering wheel looks suitably sporty, seats are nicely sculpted and there’s a real sense of occasion, something missing from many in the class. There are still some criticisms of plastics quality though, some testers find the footwells a little cramped and ultimately, it isn’t as spacious or easy to see out of as the Golf.
The VW’s uncomplicated, boxy form pays dividends inside. It has a perfectly respectable 380-litre boot, space for four adults (five at a pinch) and the upright windows mean plenty of light in the cabin. It’s also as well screwed-together as any VW and you’ll struggle to find cheap-feeling plastics – everything is squashy and soft-touch.
Is it fair to call the Golf’s cabin a little boring? Perhaps – it certainly lacks the drama of the Alfa. But that can be fixed, to a degree at least, if you choose one of the sportier options. GTIs, GTDs and GTEs all feature traditional VW tartan seat facings, metallic accents and bolstered front seats. And R models are as luxurious as you’d expect from the top-end Golf.
At launch, the Giulietta was lauded for its dynamics. It took a bit step up over the Alfa 147 that preceded it in terms of composure, refinement and ride quality, and even took bites out of some of the class leaders as far as fun was concerned.
More mature it may be, but time has wearied it a little. It still handles neatly and rides well, but not to the degree that some rivals, Golf included, now attain. That’s where the lack of “sparkle” quoted by some testers starts to rear its head. While Alfas of the past were objectively compromised, they often made up for it in brio. Even the top-end Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde misses out in this respect.
Not that the Golf is infused with charm and zing, but it’s so ruthlessly competent in most areas that many buyers will appreciate it regardless. Testers find the car’s ride, handling, steering, braking and other dynamic factors hard to fault.
Low-end Golf models use slightly less sophisticated suspension than their more expensive counterparts, and correspondingly lack their mix of ride and handling talents. But they’re not bad even so – and when you do spend the extra dosh, on a GTI for example, you have a car that’s as fun to drive as it is refined on a motorway cruise. It’s a compelling combination. It’s also worth noting that testers hugely prefer VW’s hot hatchback to the Alfa equivalent.
If you like choice, but not an excess of it, the Giulietta could be the car for you. It offers just four engines, and all do the job they’re asked with verve. The two diesels, 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre JTDM-2 units, are both economical on paper and in the real world, and perform well.
The petrols are good too. The 1.4 TB MultiAir is powerful and responsive, frugal (at up to 55mpg) and refined at a cruise. The Quadrifoglio Verde (previously known as the Cloverleaf) has recently been updated with the engine from Alfa Romeo’s 4C sports car, and is pretty brisk – 62mph arrives in 6 seconds. It’s also relatively frugal at just over 40mpg, though some reviewers are concerned it’s not quite as aurally-pleasing as it should be.
VW buyers get a huge range of engine options, though some are worth your attention more than others. Of the petrols, the 1.4 TSI gets the highest review scores on carwow. It’s very refined, performs well and with VW’s ‘ACT’ cylinder deactivation technology, it has diesel-like economy of 58mpg combined. The 1.2 TSI isn’t as brisk but is also praised for its refinement and sporty engine note.
Diesels are always a popular option in the Golf and like-for-like, outpace Alfa’s options for economy. At its most efficient, in the 1.6 TDI-equipped Bluemotion, the Golf officially returns over 88 mpg (though a figure in the 60s is more realstic). Yet opt for the 2.0 TDI – the Golf’s highest-rated engine – and you’ll mix near-70mpg economy with a 0-62mph time as low as 7.5 seconds.
Value for money and running costs
Unfortunately for the Alfa, it’s another win for the Golf here. Not that the Giulietta is bad – it touts impressive real-world economy, inexpensive yearly tax bills (the cheapest 1.6 JTDM-2 models will cost you 20 a year) and a Golf-matching 3-year warranty.
Giuliettas are also furnished with plenty of equipment these days, now the sparsely-equipped Turismo models have disappeared off price lists. Standard kit includes climate control, an electronic differential and, apart from the Cloverleaf model, stop/start as standard. Entry-level Progression models get a five-inch colour-touchscreen as standard too, with DAB, USB and aux-in inputs, and Bluetooth.
Basic Golfs get a touchscreen too, and all models get electronic handbrakes, start-stop, an electronic differential, and air conditioning (climate control is available on higher levels). A basic Golf 1.2 S lacks the entry-level Giulietta’s alloy wheels and it’s not as quick either – but Giuliettas do start at around 1,300 more (18,240 versus 16,795 for the Golf) and Alfa’s smallest engine is the 1.4 TB.
Golfs are typically less to insure, like-for-like, and thanks to superior economy figures, won’t cost as much to tax each year either. Low CO2 ratings also bring down the company car tax rates, and if you really want to stick it to the taxman then the Golf range offers something Alfa cannot: Electric and plug-in hybrid models, on the way soon.
Objectively, the Volkswagen Golf should be your family car of choice here. It has the higher carwow score (8.8 out of ten, next to the Alfa’s 7.1) because it’s better to drive, more refined, rides better, costs less to run, has a more spacious interior, better sporting variants and more choice throughout the range. In a head-over-heart decision, it’s the obvious victor. If you fancy one of these fine Volkswagen vehicles go to our Golf Deals.
And yet… heart-over-head buyers could be forgiven for opting for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. It’s not as good a car as the Golf by any stretch of the imagination and misses out on that Alfa magic of old – a little more pizazz wouldn’t go amiss. But it’s still a decent car, and should prove frugal in day-to-day use. If that isn’t enough, just think of that bright red Alfa parked on a street dominated by uniform silver Volkswagens, and you may just be swayed…