First Drive: 2011 Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Alfa's Benedetto said that they had spent a great deal of effort on the MacPherson strut front suspension system to assure that there would be no parasitic inputs to affect the steering geometry, and that has definitely paid off in precision and agreeable feel. The overall ratio of the electrically assisted rack is the quickest of any model in the group, and can be varied between quite light for around-town driving and less assistance for spirited driving. On every model there is a DNA - for dynamic, normal and all-weather - "manettino" slide switch on the console that allowing three overall chassis settings. The steering boost, suspension damping, throttle response, differential setting, stability control and shift-point indicators all change, and the difference is manifest.

The accurate front-end geometry really pays off for the highest-power Quadrifoglio model, which gets the power to the ground without the violent torque steer that so often spoils front-wheel-drive performance cars. It's a bit difficult to see what purpose the Quadrifoglio serves, since the normal models are more than fast enough to cause trouble with the constabulary, but it is a lively vehicle well enough corralled by electronic overseers to keep owners on the pavement, shiny side up. The regular models are quite sufficient in their abilities, especially since the buyer can choose between two distinct chassis, comfort and sport, not to mention several trim levels for each chassis and powertrain.

Something relatively new for Alfa Romeo is an astonishingly comfortable ride, even in the sport chassis cars switched into the DNA dynamic mode. And also notable was the complete absence of wind noise in all of the cars we drove. There was just a hint of the Italian tradition in the first Quattrofoglio we wanted to drive on the high-speed circuit. Its mirrors could not be adjusted, the electrons not making the trip from the control switch to the actuating motors. The crew chief just shrugged and indicated another car.

Alfa Romeo celebrates 100 years of existence this spring. It lost its independence in the Great Depression of the Thirties, when it was taken over by the Italian government, and has been a part of the Fiat Group since 1986. There have been moments when its continuity was seriously threatened, but this Giulietta holds the promise of bringing true salvation to the hallowed marque.

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