First drive: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa has seemingly decided that selling cars to people who make decisions with their hearts alone is not enough, and is now trying to appeal to those that pick their vehicles with their heads as well.
The introduction of the clever and impressively efficient MultiAir engines have taken the brand a long way towards this goal, but the new Giulietta shows that the company is letting this sensible ethos creep into the rest of its departments as well.
However, it is not going to forgo lightly the passion that has got it where it is today. But this two-pronged approach to making the car has left it slightly confused.
This is best seen in the two quickest of the five engines that will be available from launch – the 168bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir that is expected to account for a large chunk of Giulietta sales, and the 232bhp 1.7-litre Cloverleaf that takes the role of VW Golf GTI baiter.
The tussle between head and heart is won by the latter in the case of the more sensible 1.4-litre engined model. It is the same highly impressive unit that sits in the Mito, where it powers the hot hatch Cloverleaf version, but here it takes on a more restrained role. Start stop technology and long gearing ratios show that Alfa is very focussed on the eco credentials of the Giulietta, and for the large part they are successful, especially if the 48.7mpg figure proves attainable over long-term use.
However, they also blunt some of the fun of the engine that is available in the Giulietta's smaller sibling, the Mito. The long gearing ratio means it is tricky or impossible to pull away in anything but first, necessitating more shifting of gears than is otherwise preferable, and the stop start system is prone to frustrating traits – not allowing the engine to restart of its own accord should you undo your seatbelt to reach out of the window for example. It is impressively smooth once underway though, and these irritations are ones with which one can most likely learn to live.
Sadly, the head seems to have won the battle on the Cloverleaf version, with it not quite seeming as fast as its 232bhp and 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds would imply. This is due largely to the lack of outrageous styling touches that would suit a clearly powerful car. A little more in the way of sports seats and details in the cabin would accompany the good looking alloys and striking lines on the outside.
Overall the Cloverleaf feels like a road-focussed car that goes quickly, albeit in a highly competent manner, and one of the strangest, but perhaps most telling quirks it has is the hazard lights that come on under hard braking. An admirable and sometimes useful safety feature on the lesser models in the range, but a strange addition to a car that may well be bought by people wishing to take it to the occasional track day. Should you do so, and ignore the hazard lights, then you'll find the Cloverleaf a rewarding drive, with the electronic differential and 'Dynamic' setting making the car very settled and responsive through tight and quick corners alike.
Alfa's DNA system, with 'Dynamic', 'Normal' and 'All Weather' modes has shown its flaws in the past, and is unable to disguise them in this car either. Having three modes seems excessive, with the 'All Weather' mode largely irrelevant as it kills the power and doesn't increase comfort to a level that makes it worthwhile. Limiting the options to two would make it less complicated.