First Look: Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has finally laid out his plan to integrate Fiat and Chrysler and bring Alfa Romeo back to the United States (see sidebar). The new Alfa Giulietta, just now going on sale in Europe, will be one of the models headed stateside (but not before an update in 2014). The car is also a harbinger of a whole series of promising front-wheel-drive cars yet to come from the combined Fiat/Chrysler team.

We've now had the opportunity to drive several examples of the new Giulietta on the road and on a test track. Without question, whether in terms of dynamics or standard equipment, this third-generation Giulietta is the best front-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo ever.

Matteo Benedetto, the engineer in charge of the program, explained that emphasis was placed on weight reduction, modularity, and crash safety and in making the Giulietta's modular "Compact" platform almost infinitely expandable and ideal for forthcoming Chryslers, Dodges, Fiats, and Lancias. The Giulietta, which is larger than a Volkswagen Golf, is intended to displace the Golf as the C-segment benchmark. All Giulietta engines are turbocharged and all but one have standard start/stop systems, which reduce emissions by up to ten percent. The conventional twin-cam, 1.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder produces 118 hp, while the 1.4-liter Multiair version uses variable inlet valve timing and lift, helping increase horsepower to 168. A 232-hp, 1.7-liter four-cylinder is also available. Two common-rail diesels make 103 and 168 hp, respectively. We tried both 168-hp engines on public roads. There's far more torque from the diesel, but it comes at the expense of an unpleasant sound track and a heavier front end. We preferred the lively gasoline engine.

Next year, a dual-clutch six-speed gearbox with Fiat Group's proprietary electrohydraulic controls will be available for drivers who want an automatic transmission. Later, there will be all-wheel-drive variants. The aluminum-intensive MacPherson-strut front suspension is optimized to eliminate extraneous steering movements. It really pays off for the top-of-the-line 1750-cc Quadrifoglio that we tried on the track, as its 232 hp get to the ground without the violent torque steer that so often spoils front-wheel-drive performance cars. Buyers can choose between two distinct chassis calibrations - comfort and sport - all with a comfortable ride, even in sport-chassis cars in the selectable dynamic mode.

Alfa has embraced electronics to a surprisingly high degree. All Giuliettas have a console-mounted manettino switch for the "DNA" - dynamic, normal, and all-weather - chassis settings. Steering assist, suspension damping, throttle response, differential setting, stability control, and transmission shift points all change perceptibly. Upmarket options include dual-zone automatic climate control and a variety of audio and navigation systems. The bigger front disc brakes from the Quadrifoglio are an across-the-board, stand-alone option.

Alfa Romeo will celebrate 100 years of existence in late June, and with the Chrysler connection, it now has a viable way back into the U.S. Given the qualities of this car, that's really good news.

The plan for Alfa Romeo in the United States:

  1. Launch with the Giulia sedan (mid-size 159 replacement) and wagon in late 2012.
  2. Also due in 2012 is a compact SUV, based on the Giulietta and built in the States (along with a Jeep version to replace the Compass/Patriot).
  3. A four-door hatchback variant of the MiTo subcompact starts production in 2013.
  4. A mid-size SUV, paired with the next-generation Jeep Liberty, arrives in 2014.
  5. After an update,the Giulietta (finally!) comes to the U.S. in 2014.

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