Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Giulietta is an important name in the Alfa Romeo lexicon. The first one (1954-1963) brought Alfa Romeo into a price range accessible to ordinary mortals, but the car had idiosyncrasies such as twin camshafts that kept it above the then norm. It also had a well-located live rear axle and was a delight to drive, whether as a four-door sedan, a tidy wagon, or any of the dozens of coachbuilt sport models. The Giulietta Sprint coupe (examined in this column in January 2008) put Carrozzeria Bertone into the big time, and Pinin Farina's Giulietta Spider showed the world that a small sports car could do without clumsy side curtains and a leaky top and still be "pure."

The second Giulietta (1978-1985) was really a replacement for the similarly blunt and boxy Giulia sedan and was available with four engine sizes from 1.3 to 2.0 liters. Still on the brilliant rear-wheel-drive Alfetta platform, it had a de Dion rear axle and, to me, was the last really desirable Alfa sedan. Now, a quarter century later, there's another Giulietta, a pretty hatchback shape built on new Fiat Group C-segment front-wheel-drive architecture that is said to be lighter and stiffer than that of the preceding Alfa 147, and there's an all-new rear suspension system that is said to provide better handling while consuming less space. The new Giulietta's styling is clearly related to the Ferrari/Maserati-based Alfa 8C Competizione supercar - as is the entry-level Alfa MiTo - and it's all the better for it. Like the original 1955 car, the new Giulietta is at once delicate and feminine yet masculine and aggressive, the hallmark of great Italian performance-car designs for seven decades.

The unfortunate aspect of the styling is that it is a pastiche of several recent Alfas and is not new, innovative, or imaginative. The stiffening creases along the fenders and doors are less subtle and less artful versions of Walter de'Silva's 156 from the 1990s, the headlamps are like those on the 8C and the MiTo, and the shield grille in the center of the five-hole front-end composition looks pinched and lacks the slightly convex side curves that have been characteristic of production Alfas of the last fifty-odd years. It's all quite nice, this Giulietta, but as Yogi Berra put it long ago, it's "déjà vu all over again." To which I say, "Who needs it?" There really should have been some originality if this car is to save Alfa Romeo.

Five engines are available at launch, all of them turbocharged four-cylinders, two of them diesels. They range from 105 to 235 hp, and I suspect there will be more to come, as the weight - about 2900 pounds - is substantial for a relatively small car. I regret the tractive force being applied at the "wrong" end of the car but recognize that this Giulietta is probably a lot faster, and a lot easier to drive fast, than its namesake siblings. I can't wait to try it myself.

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FIAT should stay home, leave Chrysler alone or buy it for cash, giving back the taxpayer's money. Stealing Chrysler free and using it to sell their cars, designed for Europe, will not bring buyers to the showrooms. I would never consider buying a FIAT, after they failed miserably on all counts the last time they sold transportation hardware, they thought were cars. Due to the lack of daily service and repairs the machines hardly ever worked and people stopped buying them. Mine, a Fiat 124 Sports Convertible cought fire and burned to the ground. It was a blessing, after the insurance paid, I could buy a real car.

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