Regular Curbivores will remember that in February 2018 I bought an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a car that was probably the closest I’ll ever get to a brand new car. I’ve covered 41890 miles since I collected the car, with 110 miles and 11 months on the clock. So, how have the last two years gone?
First, a quick recap. I was looking for a new car and recognised that it needed to an emotional as well, or perhaps instead of, being a rational purchase. Disregard the Alfa badge and you can make a rational case for the Giulietta, just as you can for many cars. This car became available in one of those “Where do I sign before you realise what you’ve offered me?” moments you occasionally get in car buying, and was undeniably an emotionally led choice with a dose (maybe quite small dose and always “as well”) of rationality around it. But for me, as a lifelong Curbivore and Alfa fan, the emotional pull easily wins out. I’d finally succeeded, sort of, in my campaign to get my Dad to buy an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, back in the late 1970s. He didn’t succumb, but bought the first of three Chrysler Alpines instead.
But first impressions and reactions count, and a rich red Alfa certainly gets those in a way no car I’ve ever owned has done, including the MX-5. Alfa’s official colour name is Rosso Alfa and while other manufacturers charge you extra for cars that are not white, Alfa charges more cars that are not Rosso Alfa. You hear a call of “Nice Alfa!” as you park up, you start chatting to people in car parks about Alfas, you meet people at work (there are close to 3000 of us, with six Giuliettas at the latest count, four of them red) you wouldn’t normally encounter, like finance guys. Somehow, you sense that doesn’t happen with a Corolla or a Qashqai.
But what’s it like to drive and own, day to day? Driving is, to me, fully competitive with the likely competition, helped by having a scorpion on the steering wheel. My car is the 1.6 litre 120bhp diesel, so a modest powertrain by some standards but more than fully capable in day to day life, and of being satisfying if you open it up.
This is enhanced by moving the DNA (Dynamic, Normal, All-Weather) selector to D, and see the chequered flag graphic come up. The throttle response is very noticeably sharper, the brakes are sharper too and the Q2 differential keeps things pretty tidy. There’s always plenty of grip and traction with the 236ibft of torque, if not a lot of steering feel.
The ride is absolutely fine. No car rides Britain’s crumbling roads terribly well, this side of a Jaguar XJ or a Citroen C6, but the Giulietta feels well planted, level and, really short, deep bumps aside, as good as you could reasonably expect from a compact car with a fairly sporting set up. It’s not Citroen soft, but it doesn’t roll like a Citroen either.
It cruises well – at an indicated 80 mph or so (much faster in the UK in traffic is not worth the hassle) it is effectively as quiet as you could reasonably expect, and wind noise is commendably low. Open the throttle, and the engine gives a pretty decent Alfa snarl from inside, though outside it’s no doubt more diesel-y.
There are some features that could only be Italian, like the driving position. The steering wheel is arguably a little bigger and little higher than ideal, though it does adjust for rake and reach. The pedals are all pretty much in a line across and at the same distance from the driver (compared with so many cars having the throttle pedal pushed well forward), so heel and toe changes are easy if you want to try. A bit more room for the driver’s left foot (RHD) would be nice, but you soon get used to it.
And then there’s the touches only Alfa could do. The gauges are labelled in Italian, so the coolant temperature gauge says Acqua, if the engine was a petrol one the fuel gauge would say Benzina but, as the Italian for diesel is diesel, it says Diesel. The calibration on the speedometer is slightly unusual, as 0-20 covers twice the arc length as 20-40 and higher, although the rev counter is impeccably clear. The wipers go faster when you go past 120km/h (around 70 mph), and the rear wiper (when on) sweeps on each alternate sweep of the windscreen wipers. Incidentally, the rear wiper is vital, for the rear window collects dust like no other car I’ve owned. The lights all go out when you turn the car off, and you cannot drive on parking lights only, or turn off and leave the lights on without deliberately setting the parking lights.
There’s a set of three buttons just to the right of instruments, the purpose of which at first puzzles. They control, through a menu system, the instrument light dimming, headlamp adjustment for load and a speed warning, which pops a dashboard warning up if you exceed your chosen speed. You can’t really see these buttons, and therefore end up doing it by feel, if you actually use them.
The only significant demerit about the interior is the lack of oddment storage. There is a large glovebox, and reasonable door bins, and little else. Effectively, there is nowhere to stash CDs, but Bluetooth and the USB port resolves that simply enough. The voice control on the audio is a bit of novelty, to be honest, as button pressing is easy enough. The hands free and voice control for a mobile phone works well.
My car has effectively an entry level specification, so lacks some of the features some are used to. No GPS, no auto-lights or wipers, no reversing camera or parking aid, conventional heating and air-conditioning control and fabric covered, manually adjusted seats. To be frank, I am quite happy not having these – these tasks are neither not onerous, infrequent, or, in the case of GPS, a good portable unit with a lifetime update licence is arguably better than a smaller screen on a smartphone, with considerable data usage and the risk of loss of 4G signal or being locked into a manufacturer’s licence update scheme.
This may be a modern, contemporary hatchback, but it is clear that it has the Alfa spirit, history and charisma. You sense that when you settle in – Alfa Romeo is there before you in badge or script form in four places visible ahead to the driver, and is embossed tastefully on the headrests and door sill plates.
There have been three scheduled services, which I have had completed by our local, and nationally respected, Alfa Romeo specialist. Just a few miles from home, on the way to work, interesting loan cars and a forecourt to die for, as well as more competitive pricing than the mail dealer the car came from, where the workshop handles a range including Nissan and Jeep. Nothing untoward has come out of these services, and the car is on its original tyres and brake pads still.
There have been interventions have not been the car’s fault. In a moment of sunshine induced brain fade, I managed to fill it with petrol rather than diesel. The RAC towed me and drained the tank, and put me right.
A car park scrape on the rear bumper valence was repaired on the driveway by the local mobile franchisee, and it seems a nice job. An earlier repair job on a damaged rear bumper turned into a bit of saga as the reversing sensors were clearly confused during the repair (not by the damage) and it took several trips back to get that fixed. The basic repair took far too long as well.
Fuel economy has been very satisfying – the car has averaged around 52mpg (Imperial) over the last two years. This is fully comparable with my previous car, a 1.4 litre Fiesta TDCi, but it cruises more quickly, is quieter, more comfortable and more spacious. Vehicle tax in the UK is actually zero. This is based on emissions (in a complicated and ever changing way) so I still have to pay a tax each year, albeit the actual sum is zero.
And now the part you’ve been waiting for. Failures, breakdowns, bits dropping off and episodes of escaping steam and smoke.
Annoyingly, the flip cover on the console 12V power outlet got broken off its hinge by a clumsy removal of the GPS power plug. The tyre pressure monitoring system gave a false alarm once (on the way to a job interview….). The start-stop occasionally expresses displeasure at the parking lights having been used.
None. Nessuna. Zilch. Zero. Null. None at all. Proprio nessuna.
So, can an Alfa be a daily car, without compromising from the expectations set out by its contemporaries? Yes, it can, and you don’t need to compromise. It has a full range of abilities, is as practical and capable as any other, and has proven perfectly able to cope with modern life, and even better, me. I’m not sure a 1979 Giulietta would have coped as well though.
It’s been over a fair amount of the UK, into central London to pay the central area congestion charge and to France, to get a speeding ticket.
Have I enjoyed it? Am I enjoying it? Do I intend to carry on enjoying it?
Let’s just say that I understand Golf drivers don’t wave at each other.