Sexy Italian’s a dark horse in the hatch scene
Romance is a very hard emotion to deal with when it peters out. We’ve all been there, mostly at the end of a phone, to be told it’s over. And that’s the feeling you get when you look at the Alfa Romeo brand.
Here is an Italian car manufacturer that makes drop-dead gorgeous motors that are admired by everyone, including rivals. So where did it all go wrong?
Well, there are a number of reasons people lost the passion for Alfas. Germany was producing excellent cars, Korea was making great value-cars, and the slow turnover of new cars and the over reliance of using the parts bin from parent group Fiat turned buyers off the sexy Italian.
To survive, and reignite the passion for the Alfa brand, the Italians needed to look at new product and technology, without losing the appeal of the Alfa badge. So, from the end of 2015, Alfa will start making a new range of saloons, SUVs and coupes in both rear- and four-wheel drive derivatives.
The fear then is that current Alfas, like my recent test car, the Giulietta, will be put on the chopping block well before their time. But I absolutely loved it and I’d say there’s still a good shelf life left for this desirable hatch.
There is no mistaking that the Giulietta is gorgeous, even though the look hasn’t changed since it was launched back in 2010 – no complaints here. Last year Alfa tweaked the mechanicals and it is now a much better car to drive with running costs that put many superminis to shame.
There’s something different about an Alfa, and you really have to own one to enjoy its unique personality. They look different and feel different, and this is why my affection grew for the Giulietta. It was a break from the norm and I was sad to see her go.
Updated in 2014, the facelift has seen new lights, grille and bumpers, but the design isn’t radically different. What is much improved is the updated engine and running gear.
My test car was powered by the 1.6JTDm-2 (105bhp) diesel engine. The diesel it replaced was loud and unrefined, and this new-and-improved version is much, much better.
For a 1.6 with only 105bhp and a 60-litre tank, I was amazed at the fuel economy. Alfa claims you can get 4.0 litres per 100km on a long journey, but even though I didn’t reach the fours, I was happy with my 5.2 litres per 100km, eking out almost 900km to a full tank of diesel.
And performance also is surprising sprightly, especially when you choose dynamic mode. A chunky chrome DNA (Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather) switch sits at the bottom of the centre console and this allows you to transform the Giulietta from a normal cruising car to a sharper driving machine.
It handles very well also and it put a smile on my face when I got on to the back roads. There’s enough performance to give you a sporty drive and the grip is equally satisfying. I would have liked the steering to be a little bit more weighty, as it feels a little light. Another issue I had with the little Alfa, and this is a problem with many of the Fiat family, is the pedal box is far too small, with no resting place for your left foot.
Inside the Giulietta, the cabin feels well made and a lot more refined than other products in the Fiat line-up. There is plenty of equipment, with a neat touch-screen info-tainment system smack in the middle of the dash. My Exclusive model had a long list of goodies, including 17-inch alloys, cruise control, rear parking sensors and leather interior with sports steering wheel, and the all-important space-saver spare wheel.
Until the new products from Alfa finally reach us, the Alfa range, including the Mito, Giulietta and 4C are targeting a small market. They are all fine, but I was particularly taken by the Giulietta. It is a different feel to the normal small hatches and oozes Italian style. It has improved significantly, and may just add a few more customers to the Alfa brand.