The Alfa Romeo Giulietta has its flaws, but its dynamic capabilities and stylish looks are enough to keep it in contention

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The Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s lineage is strong: Alfa Romeo’s 100 years have produced some truly magnificent cars, many pre-war when it was a high-end, blue-blooded marque.

Even the post-war period, when Alfa Romeo became a mid-market premium brand, saw some triumphs too. The company turned more affordable still with the standard-setting 1971 Alfasud, the Giulietta’s lineal ancestor that would be succeeded by the 33 (the highest selling Alfa ever), the 145/146 and the 147.

The Giulietta represents a better class of Alfa Romeo, and it's vastly better than the Mito.

The Giulietta name made its debut in 1954, on an exquisitely pretty coupé that was a precursor to the ’55 Giulietta saloon. The Giulietta is a vital model for Alfa Romeo, whose annual global sales had sunk to little more than 100,000 units before the Alfa Romeo Mito supermini’s arrival, a financially unviable number.

And the Giulietta’s so-called Compact platform is equally crucial to Fiat Auto as a whole, as it is providing the basis for mid-market Fiat, Lancia, Chrysler, Dodge cars and numerous spin-off models. So it needs to be good. 
The Giulietta – and most of those siblings – will compete in the biggest segment in Europe and, if it succeeds, form the bedrock of Alfa’s business.

In contrast to the 147 that it replaced, the Giulietta is available as a five-door only, with a choice of four petrol engines and three diesels. A 118bhp 1.4-litre petrol starts the range, followed by an 148bhp unit followed by the excellent 1.4-litre 168bhp MultiAir model and the 238bhp 1750 TBi Veloce, previously known as the Cloverleaf.

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The common-rail diesel option – pioneered by Fiat – can be had in 118bhp 1.6-litre and 148bhp or 173bhp 2.0-litre forms. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on all models, except on the highest powered petrol and diesel models and the Cloverleaf Giulietta, which are fitted with Alfa's dual-clutch automatic transmission, badged 'TCT'. 

A variety of trim levels are offered, which were changed in 2016 when the Giulietta was facelifted and ahead of the Alfa Romeo Giulia's launch: entry-level Giulietta, Super, Speciale, Tecnica and range-topping Veloce.



Alfa Romeo Giulietta rear

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s new platform is modular, allowing flexibility in both body style and mechanical hardware.

Its conception has majored on weight efficiency and safety, the latter a weakness, at least in NCAP terms, of the outgoing 147, which scored three stars when it should have made four.

The Alfa Romeo is a sleek and stylish hatchback

Fiat has been building Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Fiat cars from the same platforms since the 1980s, but the crucial difference this time is that instead of engineering a platform for a Fiat and attempting to shift it upmarket for Alfa Romeo and Lancia with add-ons, it has developed a premium class platform for Alfa that can be cost and content-adjusted to suit the pockets of more budget-oriented Fiat buyers.

Design is at least as important to an Alfa’s make-up as its engines, and the Giulietta’s look could only have come from the Milanese brand. It’s not quite as delicately pretty a car as the 147 that it replaces, but its more solid presence – both visually and literally – lends it a quietly stylish confidence. The same sharp appearance has been evolved slightly to appear on the Alfa Romeo Giulia and will also appear on the soon-to-arrive Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

Alfa maintains its liking for the jaunty offset front numberplate, while the bonnet’s vee-sculpture, the shapely headlights and lower grille all draw inspiration from the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, as well as models from Alfa’s history, a tradition that will continue with its forthcoming models.

Design highlights include a quartet of LED daytime running lights are vertically arranged within the front clusters. The rear door handles are integrated into the window frame, an arrangement pioneered by the 156 that helps this five-door resemble a three-door. Red LEDs in the tail-lamps form a pleasingly distinctive shape that’s not dissimilar to a music note flipped on to its side.

There are twin exhausts even for the diesel Giulietta and both are functional. The Alfa badge on the boot also doubles as a convenient keyless electric tailgate release.


Alfa Romeo Giulietta interior

A sizeable silvered dashboard insert is the most striking feature of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s interior, unless it’s ordered with red or tan leather, which make a stronger visual impact. The Giulietta’s instruments are presented in a hooded binnacle that’s been an Alfa Romeo feature for decades.

A high quality soft-feel moulding snakes its way around the dashboard’s outer edge, though much of the assembly is hard-feel plastic. But, overall, the Giulietta’s cabin still looks classy, lifted by piano wood or aluminium-effect decor around the gearlever console and door armrests.

Finding a comfortable driving position in the Alfa could prove problematic for some

As you’d expect, there’s a four-way adjustable wheel and a driver’s seat height adjuster, yet despite this the Giulietta imposes more than a hint of the long-arm, short-leg posture that has troubled many a driver of Italian cars in the past.

Some will end up lowering the wheel to the point where it makes the already less-than-clear speedo even harder to read (the revcounter, by contrast, is a model of legibility).

The seat has no tilt function and lumbar adjustment isn’t standard (it’s a cheap option), which is mean on a car of this calibre. More annoying is a centre console that allows little room for your left foot. However, it is possible to get comfortable, despite these moans.

The cabin is reasonably spacious front and rear, and the back seat provides decent support – if not the class best. However, the tapered rear end and narrowing windowline means rear seat headroom isn’t great, while it’s also dark in the back and a little oppressive. A full-length glass sunroof brightens things considerably, but it’s a costly option.

The boot is bigger than the 147’s and provides a bag hook, power socket and recesses to store bottles. In-cabin dumping ground includes four door bins with can holders, a couple of console trays and a rubber-floored and lidded tray in the dash (where the optional sat-nav would live).

Equipment levels are acceptable. Entry-level Giulietta models get 16in alloys, rear spoiler, all-round electric windows, and heated and electrically adjustable wing mirrors. While inside there is air conditioning, multi functional leather clad steering wheel, and a 5.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with DAB radio, Bluetooth, Alfa Romeo Connected Services and smartphone integration.

Upgrade to the Super trim and you will find luxuries such as cruise control, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and a cooled glovebox, while upgrading to the Tecnica models get you a few more sporty touches, while the Speciale gets you multiple sportier details and trim pieces, a part Alcantara interior, sat nav, front parking sensors, Brembo brakes, and automatic wipers and lights.

The range-topping Veloce model gets the 238bhp 1.75-litre petrol engine, paddle shifters, a leather and Alcantara upholstery, 18in alloy wheels, bigger air intake and a lowered sports suspension.



Alfa Romeo Giulietta side profile

In order to ensure maximum appeal, the firm has wisely taken the decision to offer up a variety of diesel and petrol engines for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

The entry-level 1.4 puts a good case for itself forward and it gives the Giulietta a fair amount of poke. The 1.4-litre Multiair petrol turbo is impressive, with the seemingly impossible combination of strong power and torque, lively performance and extremely frugal Euro 5 emissions standards.

The Alfa's engines are gratifyingly powerful for their displacement

If you’re looking for a focused hot-hatch then you’ll be mildly disappointed by the Cloverleaf. If you’re looking for a useful, rapid family hatch that feels a bit special and also has the power and poise to be entertaining as required then this could well be the answer to your car-buying prayers.

Alfa Romeo cars are all about go, and the more powerful version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s 2.0 JTDm engine doesn’t disappoint, with 236lb ft of torque from 1500rpm (and 258lb ft at 1750rpm in overboost) producing instant, solid shove almost regardless of engine speed. Performance is effortless over roads of all kinds, infusing this Giulietta with just the kind of zest that you’d expect from an Alfa.

The lower powered 2.0 JTDm unit sacrifices quite a large helping of power and torque for modest economy savings, although company car drivers will like the lower running costs. The 1.6 JTDm engine is perhaps the most appealing in the range, delivering perky performance and appealing running costs.

On all versions, triggering the dynamics via the DNA lever sharpens throttle response to such an extent that you must be delicate not to provoke surging jerks, and there’s often a driveline thump when you release the pedal. Though less crude than the Alfa Romeo Mito’s DNA management, the result is a system best left in Normal if you value fluent progress, even if it makes the engine feel slightly strangled.

When it’s warm, the gearchange is smoothly satisfying, but from cold both first and second resist selection, a rare flaw these days and one that occasionally surfaces at other times. The stop-start, which kills the engine just before the car halts (good), causes a bit too much tremor on shutdown and start-up. The high-compression, transversely arranged engine is the partial cause (the power unit rocks more), but other diesel front-drivers stop and start less obtrusively.

The Giulietta is also available with a dual-clutch transmission on the more powerful petrol and diesel models. Called TCT, it paired very well with the 168bhp diesel, providing slick and smooth changes. Unfortunately, it was less successful with the equivalent MultiAir petrol, making it feel sluggish. In both installations, our initial reservations about the stop-start system remained.


Alfa Romeo Giulietta cornering

Alfas should be about handling and ride just as much as performance, and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s distant Alfasud ancestor delivered the kind of handling that topped the class for years. But none of the Sud’s successors have got close to it. The Giulietta, however, promises to change all that with its new platform and suspension hardware.

This is backed up with plenty of electronic hardware – including the electronic Q2 differential, which emulates the mechanical version by braking individual wheels – and Vehicle Dynamic Control, Alfa Romeo’s take on ESP. This system cannot be turned off, instead providing All-weather, Normal and Dynamic programmes that switch throttle maps, alter steering effort and modify the thresholds at which the VDC intervenes to contain a slide.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta has excellent roadholding, and maintains good balance and grip right to the limit

But this is not what you notice first about the Giulietta’s manners if you’re used to current Alfas. Instead, it’s the ride quality, the wheels enduring ripples with a cushioned pliancy lost when the 33 came along. Better still, it’s right up there with the Volkswagen Golf andthe new Ford Focus in terms of bump absorption.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is very well composed and if it feels less eager to bury its nose into an apex than some, upping the pace soon uncovers a benign, willing, grippy and entertaining chassis that can easily be steered with the throttle in Dynamic.

The steering’s better than many for an electrically assisted set-up too, even if its resistance is less liquid than that of Ford Focus. It firms up in Dynamic, but feels more sensitive, at moderate speeds, in Normal mode.

Strong brakes complete the pleasing dynamic repertoire. The Cloverleaf, now the Veloce, isn’t the sharp, focused hot hatch we were expecting, but provides rapid progress with a degree of comfort we’ve not been used to from recent hot Alfas.

As with performance, the best compromise in ride and handling within the Giulietta range is the 168bhp MultiAir version. Reducing the weight over the front axle gives the petrol car an advantage on turn-in over the diesel whilst maintaining its good levels of damping control.


Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Alfa’s three-year/unlimited mileage warranty on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta is broadly competitive. More important is Alfa’s improving dealer network and service back-up, which reached a nadir a few years back but is now fast improving – as is the company’s standing in customer satisfaction surveys.

The quality of the cars themselves is advancing, too, but the company still has much to prove – hence prices that are quite keen for a product at the premium end of the mainstream. This vast improvement has seen Alfa's return to the saloon segment met with much anticipation rather than trepidation.

The quality of Alfa Romeo's cars is advancing, but the company still has a lot to prove

Alfa's petrol engines are impressively frugal, especially the 1.4 MultiAir, while they also pack quite a punch, too. The entry-level 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine manages to break the 100g/km mark, while the slightly more powerful 2.0-litre JTDm’s manages 110g/km, while the range-topping diesel manages a commendable 113g/km.

Its forecast residual values are acceptable too, although predictably not up to Volkswagen Golf levels. More tangible is the excellent fuel consumption in the real world: for example, during testing, the higher-powered 2.0 JTDm achieved 40.4mpg.

Admittedly that's some way short of the official 60.1mpg average, but a decent result given the type of driving we did. Sensible CO2 emissions would also make the Alfa a viable option for company car drivers looking for something a little more interesting.



Alfa Romeo Giulietta rear quarter

No question, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta is a better class of Alfa Romeo, and vastly more convincing than the Alfa Romeo Mito. Its competitiveness stems from the excellence of a platform that delivers on chassis dynamics, packaging, safety and also refinement (road noise apart).

Unusually by the standards of recent Alfas, the Giulietta rides well. Even the hottest Veloce version (we use the term hottest loosely – it’s not exactly scorching in terms of performance or handling) rides comfortably.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta has some flaws, but it also has a dynamic verve that few rivals can match

Handling is entertaining, if not class leading. This is an Alfa that rewards the average driver, but won’t thrill enthusiasts. Let’s just call it a good all-rounder – not a bad place to be if Alfa was aiming at the Volkswagen Golf. The Alfa’s engines are decent too, delivering strong performance and good economy. You’ll have plenty of fun and still smile when you see the fuel gauge.

Prices are competitive and equipment levels in the mid-spec Super models are pretty good. You’ll also be impressed by the quality of fixtures and fittings inside the car.

Flaws include a lack of room in the driver’s footwell and a compromised driving position, a back seat that isn’t the most inviting in the class, plus road noise that can be wearing and a number of other irritations you simply won’t find in most rivals.

However, these issues aren’t enough to eliminate the Giulietta, especially when they’re countered by dynamic verve that few competitors can muster.

Factor in style, exclusivity and glamour and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta becomes the company’s most competitive model for years, at least until the Alfa Romeo Giulia finally arrives.


Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta First drives