Like many Curbivores and car enthusiasts, I have a strong fondness for Alfa Romeo, for having perhaps the greatest motorsport heritage of any accessible brand, a history of distinctive and some truly great (and some less so) cars, and that enchanting spirit of Italy – sunshine, great architecture and style, wonderful pasta and Chianti. Modern Alfas offer access (or ownership if you like) to all that heritage, as well as some fundamentally-sound semi-premium cars with a sporting emphasis and a touch of exclusivity. If you read my recent blog post about trying to choose a new car, you can probably see where this is going.
I have bought an Alfa Romeo. Among the reasons were all those in the first paragraph – the style, the history, the association with Italy and Italian lifestyle, the competence of the car and the effective scarcity of the car, allowing to me to have that something different that I wanted, and which can stand as an enthusiast’s choice. You can add value for money as well, and just liking it.
From my earlier post, you will recall that I was car hunting, and that it became clear that the next car needed to have an emotional aspect to it, otherwise it wasn’t going to replace the Fiesta and I was going to continue feeling like I needed a slightly larger car. I had an itch, and I needed to scratch it. The final act came in a rather unexpected way.
Alfa Romeo sell fewer than 5000 cars a year in the UK; Ford sell 8-10,000 Fiestas a month. You can therefore easily discern that Ford have a lot more dealers, and Alfa very few. Unbeknown to me, a new one had opened near our home, sharing space with Fiat and Jeep and hidden behind a major line of other brands on the same site. I was looking round the used car lot on the major multi-brand site and saw a Giulietta close up for the first time. It wasn’t the right car, specification wise, but it set the brain juices flowing. At around the same time, a 2015 Giulietta had appeared in the car park at work, and my colleague, a former BMW owner, reported being impressed.
A short walk round the corner from the used car lot took me to the Fiat and Jeep agent, now also doing Alfa Romeo. Nothing was immediately apparent on the very crowded and cramped forecourt, so I wandered in.
“Have you a Giulietta I can look at please?” “Yes, just here” pointing to a Giulia. “No, the smaller one, the hatchback”. “Oh, sorry, just there” pointing to a Mito (a Fiat Punto derivative, as the Audi A1 is derived from a VW Polo). “Er no, that’s a Mito, isn’t it?”. #thatsnothowaudidoit.
Another voice pipes up to say there’s one outside. We walk outside and just about manage to open the door of a tightly parked red hatchback, with a higher than preferred price on the windscreen. After a brief conversation, we exchange e-mails addresses and offer to keep in touch.
A week later, my wife and I looked at a Giulietta at another dealer, who seemingly decided that we were just window shopping and therefore didn’t warrant too much of his time. In the meantime, the dealer’s website had confirmed that the red car I had seen was just under one year old, had covered just 78 miles(!) and was being offered for little more than 60% of the list price, making it within budget, just. But we liked the car we saw, and I made an appointment to properly view and drive the red car. Somehow, it was starting to call me.
Specification wise, it was close to what I wanted – a 1.6 litre turbo diesel (I do at least 20,000 miles a year, so diesel makes a default case on economics), a relatively modest but complete specification, with a six speed gearbox, digital radio and Bluetooth with the Uconnect system, voice activation, alloy wheels, Alfa’s DNA mode selector, Alfa embossed headrests and Alfa red paintwork. I have no need for a Brougham. An Alfa, though, is a different matter.
In Europe, the Giulietta is FCA’s competitor to the (plusher) VW Golfs, Audi A3, BMW 1 series hatch and Mercedes-Benz A class, whilst also being a better value (or lower price if you wish) proposition than the premium brand German cars. FCA has the Fiat Tipo range to compete directly with the plainer VW Golfs, Renault Megane and Ford Focus, though again value is a major part of the proposition.
Giulietta is a name with history within Alfa Romeo. The 1955 car was the first compact saloon built by Alfa Romeo after the war, as the company reset itself as a maker of accessible, if premium, cars, rather than the rarefied high-end luxury and sports car. The company still actively campaigned in Formula 1, sports car and touring car racing, and won the inaugural Formula 1 Driver’s Championships in 1950 and 1951, and has never lost that sports car maker’s reputation and image.
The first Giulietta, known as the Tipo 750, was a conventional front engine, rear drive four door saloon, conservatively styled by Bertone in a way that showed similarities to contemporary Fiat and Morris styling. It is not easy to identify a clear competitor now, other than the Lancia Appia, perhaps an MG Magnette or a Fiat 1500 would be closest, or maybe think of a more compact Jaguar Mk1. This Giulietta is also well remembered as the basis for the wonderful Giulietta Sprint Speciale and Sprint Zagato coupes.
In 1977, the name came back for the Giulietta Tipo 116, which was based closely on the 1972 Alfetta saloon but with a short tall rear boot. The wheelbase, glasshouse and doors were practically identical. The best match for this car would be an early BMW 3 series or Audi 80, though elements of the car were older, so perhaps the Triumph Dolomite could also be reference.
Power came from 1.6 litre and 1.8 litre, and later 2.0 litre, twin cam engines, though a 1.3 litre was also offered in Italy to beat the tax man. There were no coupes this time, but there was an estate version, built in small numbers.
The current car is exclusively a five door hatchback, with a range of transversely mounted four cylinder engines – 1.4 litre and 1.75 litre turbo charged petrol and 1.6 litre and 2.0 litre turbo diesels. Gearboxes are 6 speed manual or TCT twin plate automatic with steering column control. Suspension is by MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear, with all round disc brakes. With a wheelbase of 104 inches and a length of 171 inches, it is matches the Golf externally, but is perhaps a little more compact internally, especially in the rear seats.
Styling is by Afla’s Centro Stile, and is deliberately and gloriously evocative of classic Alfas, complete with the prominent shield grille and off-centre number plate. The styling, to me, tries to offer a long bonnet, cab rearwards stance, perhaps to evoke a rear drive impression, and there is a small penalty for this in the interior space. But this is an Alfa Romeo, not a car trying to beat the Golf in a rationality contest.
The platform, known as C-Evo, was also used for the 2012 Dodge Dart and 2015 Chrysler 200, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee and the Fiat Viaggio and Ottima in China. The Giulietta is the only European use though. It has been on the market since 2010, and was (very) gently tweaked in 2016.
The model code JTDm-2 denotes a second generation Fiat multijet common rail diesel (JTD comes from Jetronic Turbo Diesel) and the engine is shared with Opel/Vauxhall (badged as Ecotec), as well as across the FCA range. It is in fact the same engine used in the Jeep Renegade I hired last spring. The capacity is 1598cc, with 16v and twin overhead cams; power is 120 bhp at 3750 rpm and torque is 240lbft at 1750rpm, and Alfa claims 121 mph.
After the test drive, which went well considering the salesman had never sat in a Giulietta before (!), we started talking prices. Inevitably, a Fiesta with 145,000 miles on it at less than seven years old wasn’t the most valuable asset to trade with, but we inched towards a deal. Reversing sensors came into it, as well as some other dealer inducements, and the deal that will probably be the closest I’ll ever do to buying a brand new car was done. Delivery was set for 2 weeks away, to allow time for final vehicle preparation and the usual diary issues.
First impressions of ownership have been very encouraging. Mileage is now 2300 miles and fuel mileage has, on shorter runs and in the current very cold snap, been very close to what the Fiesta would have achieved, and on longer runs is matching or beating it, whilst offering significantly more space and a comfortable if quite firm ride, and cruising at a higher speed and with more refinement. The car revs well for a diesel and offers a fairly satisfying growl as it does so. It may not be a classic twin cam Alfa noise, but it’s not unattractive, and performance is certainly not lacking for everyday purposes. On the evidence so far, the 2.0 litre version would seem to be a nice to have, not a must.
The interior is, to me at least, attractive and different to many other cars. There are curves and sweeps in the dash and console, and although my car is trimmed in a calm and tasteful range of greys and stainless accents, it still manages to have an Italian flair, and retains the essence of the classic Alfa twin dial binnacle, and seeing Alfa Romeo in that curved script on the dash always helps start a cold day.
It seems long way from the awkwardness of an Alfetta GTV from the 1970s, but is not trying to be anything other than an Alfa
The greyscale palette may sound dull, but it adds to an understated and unflashy style, and you can have bright red leather seats, dash and door cards if you want. You can dress in a well-tailored, fashionable suit or a colourful, elaborate Carabinieri uniform, and you will still be very Italian.
The basic ergonomics are as good as other mainstream cars, although there is a hint of long arm, short leg driving position of older Alfas, and Fiats. The reach and rake adjustable steering wheel takes care of most of that and I find that I am holding the leather trimmed wheel in a better way than I used to, keeping my hands at a quarter to three. The door cards are matching leather (I suspect the Corinthian variant) for another different but premium touch. The whole interior offers a touch and feel experience very close to VW (generally accepted as the benchmark in Europe), as do things like the exterior door handles.
Except for the boot, where there is no handle, presumably because it would spoil the visual impression of the rear of the car. Italians? You got to love them.
Driving, so far, has been great. There’s abundant grip and traction, decent refinement when you need it and the diesel engine gives the usual diesel shove without intruding aurally. Handling seems well balanced, without feeling as if a heavy diesel engine is hanging over the front wheels. The electrically powered steering is relatively quickly geared, with just 2.2 turns lock to lock and the steering weight is solid with little if any dead area at the centre.
I have to still fully explore the Alfa DNA mode selector. DNA stands for Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather, and essentially the system varies throttle response, steering effort, and damper and brake settings. In Dynamic mode, it also enables the electric Q2 “differential”, with the already impressive traction reportedly maintained in wet conditions, working by controlling the front brakes independently, and the effect can be clearly felt. All-Weather trims back the throttle response and softens the dampers for better traction in adverse conditions.
There are also features that are a little, well, Italian. The car is an entry level model, so makes do without automated wipers and lights, for example, and the wiper stalk action is to twist the end of the stalk, rather than click it around the arc.
The bonnet release has been moved to the driver’s side footwell, which is unusual on a native left hand drive vehicle, and the bonnet has self supporting struts. The accelerator and brake positioning is excellent, with the pedals almost level and side by side, but there is no space to the side of the clutch pedal for your left foot. You quickly get used to it though.
There are some unusual but neat features too – discrete seat belt warning lights visible to all for all five seats for example, and a rear ashtray. It’s a long time since I saw one of those, or storage pockets in the rear doors. The fuel gauge, temperature gauge and rev counter are labelled with diesel, acqua and giri, rather than international symbols. There are cup holders in the centre console that do not seem to impede the gear changing arm, though you do not drink in my car; you may, however, share your chocolate.
Servicing and maintenance are sorted. It is not my intention to use the main dealer, except for any warranty tasks, but the local specialist who cares only for Alfas, and has line ups like this outside his workshop. Prices are significantly cheaper even with original parts and when the dealer says ”the specialists are probably best” your mind is made up……#DoAudiSayThat.
That itch has been scratched, so far very successfully despite the dealer’s amateur level issues. If Alfa Romeo are truly intent on significantly growing sales by competing with Audi, BMW, MINI or Jaguar, then dealer performance on this level will need attention. An enthusiast like me may (reluctantly) accept it, for the value of money such as I got, but how many of those buying new at list prices would become repeat customers or champion the brand?
Forty years ago, I tried to persuade my Dad, unsuccessfully, to buy a Giulietta (when I thought the name was pronounced Gwee-lee-etta, rather than with a soft J) instead of the Chrysler Alpine he did buy. I guess that’s how long the itch has been there, and I’m enjoying scratching it.
But a driver’s handbook would be useful.
Marvelous, Roger, congratulations on your first Alfa! I don’t know if I can think of a car that while at once so similar (red, hatchback, diesel) is so different from your Fiesta. The dashboard has a tremendous amount of style in the less is more vein of things and outwardly the Alfa-ness is very readily apparent as well.
I think I could spend a day at your new mechanics if ever needed and who needs a waiting lounge with that forecourt to pore over!
May it treat you as well as you will undoubtedly treat it, I hope you have many happy years with it.
Since you bought it at an Alfa Dealer you should have made them order you an owner’s manual and include it as part of the deal. I did that once on a late model Ford and the Ford store. I’m sure you can still go back there an order one but of course it will be on your dime now.
You can also download a pdf version, at least that’s an option Fiat used with the 500 Abarth back in 2012. Beautiful car, BTW!!!
A worthy successor to your Fiesta! And you’ve kept the red theme going quite nicely.
With the power difference between this and the Fiesta (wasn’t it like 65 or 70 hp?) I’m sure the driving experience is much better and hearing the fuel usage penalty is negligible is great news.
Besides, you can’t go wrong with a car having Corinthian leather, can you? 🙂
the Fiesta was 70bhp, so the difference is marked. Very 🙂
And I like the Corinthian leather!
Don’t get chocolate on those seats! From what I’ve heard, you’ve already had a classic Alfa experience (for the UK anyway), a clueless main dealer. I’d love to know what you got for the Fiesta.
Congratulations! Though as an (older) American I have trouble with the idea of a 1600 cc Giulietta (shouldn’t that be a Giulia?), let alone a Diesel. I owned two Alfa’s in the distant past, both 2 liter powered, a 1974 Spyder and a 1975 Alfetta sedan. By the way, is Giulietta a contender for one of the oldest model names still used for a similar (class-wise) vehicle? I guess the Fiat 500 (and at the opposite end of the spectrum, the Suburban) are other contenders.
Edit: Earlier, I had commented that I replaced my 1978 Fiesta with a Civic. I just realized that the Fiesta in turn had replaced my Alfetta. Interesting cycles …
I remember watching some BBC series, a detective/mystery, where the main character owned one of these. As talks of Alfa returning to the US were underway I had hopes this would be their “entry level” car. Unfortunately, it has been decided that the US will not receive any FWD Alfas.
BTW, isn’t this actually more competitive with the Focus, at least in size?
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is a C-segment (compact, in the US) hatchback. Just like the VW Golf, Ford Focus, Renault Megane, Peugeot 308, Citroën C4, DS 4, Fiat Tipo, Volvo V40, Audi A3, BMW 1-series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and Opel Astra.
Plus a bunch of Japanese and South-Korean offerings.
Johannes, I always enjoy your input like this. It really helps us to place some of these lesser-known (to us) European cars in the correct context.
Cool car my cousin in the UK commutes in a chipped diesel Alfa he loves them and has owned several.
Much as I adore red cars, and much as I’d love an Alfa, I’m just not brave (or rich) enough to live with Italian electronics. If there was an Alfa specialist remotely near then it might be a different story, but even out local Honda dealer functions better if you can tell him which component needs replacing….
240 lb/ft in a car that size is more than enough to drive like a hooligan, but I used to hear nasty stories about the Fiat diesel, relating to the relationship between the water pump and cambelt – and a 30k change interval being recommended.
Happy motoring !
( And your local Alfa specialist has a Montreal on his lot ! Heaven.)
240 is a pretty impressive output from just 1.6L! Nearly 10 years ago we had a diesel Focus hire car in the UK and at first I assumed it was the same 2.0TD we got in Australia (with 240 lb-ft), but it was actually the 1.6 – 160 lb-ft. Got along well enough even if it could have done with more power at times.
There are a few Giuliettas running around here, something like 8000 sold since 2010. Hopefully with an independent garage looking after it, yours will serve you well Roger! Was the low mileage just because it had been sitting unsold?
There’s a back story about it being a demonstrator for the dealer and being kept back for the opening of the new branch etc. Dealer is the first owner on the records.
Well played sir! Congratulations…out of the box thinking after all. Enjoy the top-tier FPT diesel.
Is there a better definition of the automotive equivalent of a beautiful and lusty, but demanding, Italian mistress than Alfa Romeo?
I love your local specialist’s sign: Alfa Romeo Milano. The workshop.
Says it all!
Great choice, looks like a lot of fun. A car from a marque with a rich and fascinating history.
Never owned an Alfa, but I’ve always had an eye out for one. I had a friend who owed one, and he would always talk enthusiastically about it… even a mundane drive in to work seemed to be an opportunity for a mini Grand Prix of some sort.
In any case, enjoy your new car!
CC effect in play: I saw two Giuliettas this morning.
Here in Australia, they’re perhaps even more of a niche offering. Alfa Romeo was also placed with Fiat at Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealers but I noticed a few months ago – probably coinciding with the launch of the Giulia – that Alfa left the rather shabby suburban dealership. I believe Brisbane’s northside Alfa dealer is now located at the Maserati dealership in an inner-city neighbourhood full of luxury car dealerships.
The delay of the Giulia and Stelvio meant Alfa was only selling the MiTo and Giulietta for a while here (and the much pricer 4C), yet they still couldn’t manage much in the way of sales. It didn’t help the MiTo was often more expensive than the Giulietta. I’ll admit I haven’t paid much attention to the Giulietta… If it had been styled like a 159, or had RWD like a Giulia, it would have been a very different story. But from what I’ve read, it’s a nice, broadly competent compact with some Italian flair. Enough for me to take the plunge? Probably not, but that’s because I imagine parts cost more here than they would in the UK and I’m still a little wary of FCA’s reliability, even if they’ve come along way (along with almost everybody else) since the 1970s and 1980s.
Congratulations on a great purchase though. I love the underdog/left-field choice and the Giulietta is a good car!
2 Giuliettas? You mean due Giuliette!
Again, we miss out in the U.S. That is a beautiful car and a diesel with a stick makes it even better.
Now that’s a car (with gasoline engine) that I would happily trade my Fiat 500c Abarth in on. Since we don’t get them in the States, I’ll take comfort in having it’s second cousin parked next to mine: The wife’s Dodge Dart GT.
I’d like to see something like this here in the U.S. Gasoline with a manual transmission. Fewer regulations here now. So, I am thinking that this might be something the factory would consider binging here. We have the Guilia – it’s pretty. No proper clutch is a deal killer.though. Not seriously interested just yet. Maybe the time will be right later.
Congrats on a distinctive new car.
It may stay distinctive too. A year ago Alfa honcho Reid Bigland pretty much said Afla is now a Jaguar wannabe and the Guilietta doesn’t fit that market positioning.
The Alfa Romeo MiTo and Giulietta hatchbacks are at risk of being scrapped, with Alfa saying the two hatchbacks aren’t on the same level as its recently introduced Giulia sedan and Stelvio crossover.
Bigland said at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show. “The new Alfa is defined by the 4C, Stelvio and Giulia. That’s what we’re focusing on. The Giulietta and MiTo are two very good cars but they’re not at that same level of Giulia and Stelvio – and the benchmark we have set at Alfa is much more consistent with the Giulia and Stelvio.”
But last February, Bigland was demoted and replaced as head of Alfa and Maserati by Tim Kuniskis.
Fiat Chrysler exec who led Dodge Demon launch to oversee Alfa Romeo, Maserati
Marchionne is due to announce his last “five year plan” for FCA on June 1. It is sure to set media tongues to waggling.
As one who doesn’t really love cars seen in every intersection I love your choice. And doesn’t an Alfa simply have to be red?
I am quite unfamiliar with these but you have presented an appealing car. I suspect that I join you in hoping that this car has retained the best parts of traditional Italian cars while leaving the worst parts behind.
Beautiful car, shame about the big license plate on the front.
An interesting and fun choice Roger! And one that, embarrassingly, I’d forgotten existed even thought it was sold here… But a great-looking car inside and out, and offering that elusive ’emotion’ lacking from many others. Great too that it offers daily mystery – vis-à-vis no handbook 😉 Hope it provides you with years of enjoyable motoring!
How does one open the bootlid, if there’s no handle or even, so far as I can see from the photo, a keyhole? Do you unlatch it with the plipper or from inside, or do you just accept that you’ll have to set your groceries on the back seat?
The boot is plipped open from the key, the latch releases and it lifts a 1/4″ or so. Place your fingers under the lower between it and the bumper and lift.
Alternatively, it can be released by pressing the whole of the Alfa romeo emblem on the panel, and them lifted.
Inside, the seats will fold – gone are the days of an Alfa hatchback without folding seats (GTV – looking at you)
Ahh, that makes sense. I wondered if perhaps the emblem did double duty — a nice touch here, although electronics reliability being what it is, I might still end up wishing for a proper keyhole.
So it’s like Golf! Boot badge doubles as handle.
The Golf also has the bonnet release on the driver’s side in the UK, and a gas strut for the bonnet, and pockets on the rear doors, so Alfa have clearly been paying attention. But the Seat Leon – a Golf in a more stylish body, with a slightly less plush interior materials but the same mechanicals and build quality – leaves the bonnet release in the passenger (left hand) footwell, and omits the gas strut. And, while it has a manual, you need a magnifying glass to read it.
Wipers operated by twisting the end of the stalk? My River 214 had that (courtesy of Honda) in 1990!
And It seems the rumour mill is right. Our kid’s Alfa is red, slightly.
An Alfa typifies the emotional rather than rational choice–and that’s a good thing in this case. You haven’t strayed from the compact 5-door segment, but you’ve gotten yourself a car with personality and style far ahead of most of the competition. I wish we had this option (along with many of the others you mentioned in your last installment.)
Plus, getting a car with less than 100 miles on it for 60% of original list is a smoking value. Depreciation is indeed your friend. Hope you enjoy it!
You sum it all up very well!