I’ve always loved Alfa Romeo, unashamedly so, but the new breed, under management of FIAT presented something interesting, classic artful Italian design, with great engines shared between the two brands, and a fairly affordable price tag; would there be a catch when I tested the Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.4T Distinctive, one of my favourite modern hatches?
Well to start with, I’d already driven the Quadrifoglio Verde range topper once before, so my expectations were already set high, extremely high. This lower spec. model didn’t disappoint though, right from the onset in deep red, with chrome handles and 17-inch sports alloys; this was an impressive looking machine! It felt solid too, every time I opened and closed the doors and boot, a solid thud alerted me to the fact that it was a lot more solid than the FIAT cousin’s that share versions of the same engine found up front in this.
But perhaps one of the best parts of the Alfa was the interior, and this followed on from a long line of impressive, artful interiors, with leather padded door panels, soft touch plastics, fantastically comfortable cloth seats, and a brushed aluminium ball-shaped gear knob (which I couldn’t help but caress every time I changed gears). There was a flaw though, one fault that irritated me every time I got on the highway, no foot rest next to the clutch! But having said that, the rest of the interior made up for it and then some, and I could forgive living without it. The boot was huge after all, and the interior space was more than ample for my 6 foot frame, plus passengers. Not to mention the switchgear on the centre panel, clearly air-craft inspired, that made me smile every time I operated them.
Would the drive live up to the looks though? This is an ever present question with Italian cars, renowned for breathtaking style, but often having flawed dynamics. The answer was “yes”; the Giulietta was simply brilliant to live with for a week, for no other reason than the sheer simple brilliance of the driving experience. With a 1.4-litre turbo-charged engine up front pushing 125kW and 250Nm through the front wheels, power was no issue, mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox that just worked in every way it was supposed to. Clutch take was perfectly metered, and power delivery was always smooth and efficient throughout the rev range. The turbo-petrol multi-air engine was an absolute cracker, sounding raw and excited under heavy acceleration, yet refined and suave under cruising conditions, even at speed; yet at a moments notice, the force-fed engine was more than ready to respond with minimal lag.
Driving an Alfa is always an enlightening experience as to how simple driving pleasure can be, partially due to the Alfa Romeo “DNA Drive Select System”. Easily one of the best on-the-fly transition systems available, the switch changed throttle response, braking strength, and ESP settings to accommodate any and every situation thrown at it. When in Dynamic mode, the Giulietta became an animal, accelerating from standstill to 100km/h in 7.8 seconds smoothly and efficiently before rocketing up to a top speed of 218km/h. Braking is instant and sharp, and actually takes some getting used to at low speeds, but on the fly it makes driving effortless, combined with the instant acceleration of a MultiAir turbo motor. The electronically assisted dual pinion power steering setup was fast and accurate, and was surprisingly communicational, something which I’ve often struggled with in other electronic setups. Great suspension however was a huge aid to this, offering flat cornering and lightening quick transitions from left to right and vice versa.
But while the Alfa offered such sporty characteristics, in Normal mode it was an absolute gentleman, gliding effortlessly along in comfort and with ease. The suspension never felt too solid, but gave enough feedback as to the road surface below, and not once was I left isolated from the experience at hand. It was quite efficient too, offering fuel consumption figures of 8.8l/100km on a combined cycle over 640Km, thanks in part to stop/start technology, a huge help in traffic. For 125kW worth of power, ready at the tap of the throttle, the consumption figures were truly impressive, although a cruise control function would’ve helped out a little more on trips between Pretoria and Bedfordview every day.
One week with the Giulietta simply wasn’t enough; my crush was only developing more and more. But after those 7 days, there was one thing I noted, despite the Alfa badging, the beautiful design, the high quality finishes etc, certain bits of switchgear and just the overall feel of the Alfa made it feel like I was driving an expensive Fiat, which technically, I was. But I got to thinking, not everyone wants to buy a Golf, or a Focus, and they all pretty much feel the same; this was a pure driving experience, one that excited me every morning when I opened the garage door. If this is what an expensive Fiat feels like, then I’d drive an expensive Fiat, and I’d be happy doing so every day of my life!
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125kW @ 5500RPM
250Nm @ 2500RPM
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Author: Roger Biermann