Alfa Romeo Giulietta review
It looks the same on the surface, but underneath Alfa has been hard at work on the Giulietta.
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe
Pics by Shane O' Donoghue

Published on December 23, 2014

Good: still gorgeous, vastly improved refinement, comfort and quality, good infotainment system, value for money.

Not so good: dynamically not as capable as the Focus, still some below-par cabin parts, driving position still needs work, rear space not great.

In many ways, this car doesn't matter. After all, Alfa Romeo has already announced that it's getting out of the front-drive, hatchback business in order to better take on the massed armies of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and a resurgent Jaguar. So, from the end of next year, Alfa will start making a new range of rear- and four-wheel drive saloons, SUVs and coupés that will bear no relation to the Fiat-based, front-drive cars it currently produces.

Which means that this updated Giulietta comes to the market knowing that its head is already on the chopping block, it's gorgeous, Italianate face turned towards the executioner, pleading for a sharp, clean blow...

So you might think that Alfa, knowing that this is effectively a car at a dead end, wouldn't bother much with making it any better. Just chuck in some nicer alloys and a new stereo, drop the price a bit and leave it ticking over until the superstar new saloons arrive.

Happily, that hasn't happened and while the Giulietta is still far from perfect, I'd say that Alfa's efforts have actually made it the most improved car I've driven all year.

Let's start with the improvement that the Giulietta really, desperately needed - better refinement. When last I drove a 1.6 diesel Giulietta, the constant clatter and drone actually gave me a headache, so it's very pleasing to see that this time around, things are far, far quieter. The engine itself is basically unchanged (save for some small tweaks that reduce its CO2 output a smidge) and power is the same at 105hp. But it is much, much quieter and sweeter to drive, pulling strongly through its six, slick-shifting manual gears and never rising above a gentle background rumble unless you really start to probe at the borders of the 4,500rpm redline.

Cabin comfort has also been kicked up a healthy notch. The previous Giulietta was saddled with some deeply uncomfortable, unsupportive seats, but they are much improved this time around, especially when swathed in the nice, ribbed leather of our test car. Things are not perfect yet - the Giulietta's pedal box, in common with most Fiat Group products, is far too small and leaves no space for your left foot to rest, but at least the seat now doesn't leave your thighs dangling in mid-air.

Cabin quality is mostly good, and the excellent uConnect touch-screen infotainment system, which now comes as standard across the Giulietta range, is a thing of simple beauty - so easy to operate it puts most rival systems in the shade.

A shame that there are still too many brittle, scratchy cabin plastics on view and under touch. The door cards in particular are a disaster, but the cabin is saved, to an extent, by the deeply dished, ever-handsome main dials, still labelled lasciviously in Italian.

The Giulietta can't quite keep up in the dynamic stakes though. The steering is just a bit too light, remote and false and while you can set the Giulietta up into a decent cornering rhythm, there's little tactile pleasure to be had. It's a good cruiser on the motorway though, comfy and nicely damped and the ride quality is, overall, pretty decent.

The DNA (Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather) switch is still the most enjoyable part of the car to operate to be honest - a chunky, chromed toggle switch that allows you to select the three operating modes for the engine and steering. To be fair, it's best left in D or the throttle response just gets too sluggish and on this model, unequipped with adaptive dampers, there's no penalty in ride quality (plus it helpfully pre-loads the brake system making the stoppers react that bit more sharply).

If we sound a bit lukewarm when it comes to the Giulietta, that's because it remains, at best, a tepid entry in the class. The likes of the Focus, Golf and Peugeot 308 show it the way home in dynamic and quality terms, but at least it is now class competitive and much better value than before, thanks to a price and equipment realignment. It is now good enough to at least be considered in the same company as the Ford, Volkswagen or Peugeot, whereas before it was at best an also-ran. Of course, it's also by far and away the best looking car in the whole class, so that will continue to amplify its appeal - it certainly does to us.

Most improved car of the year? Yes, certainly. As good as it should be? Sadly not. But a good signpost on the long and difficult road Alfa must travel to be a match for the German big boys? Definitely.


Tech Specs

Model testedAlfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6 JTDM-2 Progression
Price as tested€24,500 (Giulietta pricing starts at €22,500)
Engine1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmissionsix-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door hatchback
RivalsAudi A3, Volkswagen Golf, Volvo V40
CO2 emissions109g/km (Band A3, €190 per annum)
Combined economy65mpg (4.4 litres/100km)
Top speed185km/h
0-100km/h11.3 seconds
Power105hp at 4,000rpm
Torque320Nm at 1,750rpm
Rivals to the Giulietta