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.
1 Tiny foglamp in a mostly blocked hole is inelegant and rings false.
2 Sides of the characteristic grille are a touch too stiff.
3 Tiny front license plate is an Italian peculiarity that all jurisdictions should adopt. It allows a much nicer front end than do plates equally sized front and rear.
4 Headlamp outline is inspired by the 8C Competizione, itself influenced by 1960s racers.
5 This character line pays homage to the sixty-year-old Villa d'Este Alfa Romeo by Touring, without the least sense of being retro. Very nice indeed.
6 This awkward little joggle at the top of the A-pillar is unfortunate, because it breaks the eye's flow over the graceful roof profile.
7 This crease, and that on the front fender, is a bit too pronounced.
8 Not really a diffuser, this detail nicely hides the fact that the rear end is a rather tall cliff.
9 These horizontal ribs, together with the sharp edges joining the taillights and running across the body below the hatch, help cut visual height.
10 This concave section below the lamps has become a fixture on many sedans, always in the interest of tricking the eye to reduce apparent height.
11 Notice how high the cutlines separating plastic fascias from sheetmetal panels are. This will allow low-cost face-lifting later in the car's life cycle.
12 Find the hidden door handle, a game started with the Alfa 156, dropped on the 159, and back with us on this car . . . and a few competitors.
13 The sweep of the side-glass profile is excellent, but it is spoiled by a paint separation at the top of the windshield. It's great in this view, though.
14 Now seemingly obligatory indentation gathers light; it also makes the tall sides seem less so and the car look longer.
15 Huge wheels and rubber-band tires may please the stylists, but they compromise ride comfort for what is, after all, a small family car. Nice blade design, though.
16 Available rear glass roof is nice but cuts into headroom.
17 Who would willingly sit in the center? It looks uncomfortable - and is. Most small European sedans pretend to be five-seat vehicles but really aren't.
18 For all their elaborate contours, the seats look - and are, no doubt - cheap. Economy-car seating may be OK in a Fiat, but not in an Alfa Romeo.
19 Steering wheel controls are nicely placed.
20 The ergonomics are dismal. Controls this far away from the driver's sight line are an incitement to driver mistakes.
21 This line of buttons can be operated by feel - much better.
22 Someday there may be a navigation screen that isn't as intrusive as the big rectangles that mar instrument panels on luxury and economy cars alike. At least here it disappears when not in use.