Viva Italia: Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Paul Barshon

The challenging hill-climb starts right after Fornovo di Taro. Ferrari introduced the 599GTB Fiorano to the international press on this road, and they lost a car on the first day on one of the hairpins overlooking the valley. Although the Multiair engine fitted to the Giulietta whips up 170 hp, the maximum torque delivered by the turbocharged 1.4-liter unit is a relatively modest 184 lb-ft. Although a new dual-clutch transmission will soon be available, the test car was equipped with the six-speed manual. It's a quick and slick box with sufficiently aggressive spacing for tight corners, short uphill sprints, and more relaxed third-gear S-curves. Torrential rain and occasional miniature landslides didn't bother the Giulietta one bit, but attacking The Big Hill in 1920 must have been hard work for Giuseppe Campari and his Alfa 40/60HP. That car's worm-and-roller steering required more than four turns from lock-to-lock, its braking performance depended largely on the arm muscles of the passenger, and its four-speed gearbox needed a sixth sense of effort and timing to coordinate its unsynchronized cogs.

High up in Poggio, where the fog seldom lifts between November and February, the crowd would cheer their heroes to the provisional finish line next to the Albergo di Berceto. Young Enzo Ferrari drove his first road race here, and in the 1960s, the Fornovo to Monte Cassio section of SS62 was a venue of the European Hill Climb Championship. The current event features a wide range of vehicles, from vintage racers to sports cars from the '60s and '70s, such as Ferrari Daytonas, Lancia Fulvias, and Maserati 3500/5000GTs. The Giulietta felt at home on the roller-coaster turf, thanks to its keen handling, responsive brakes, and decent ride comfort. Less impressive were the artificial steering, the legs-akimbo driving position, and the confusing ergonomics.

Until mid-2009, Alfa contemplated bringing the Giulietta to North America after the face-lift in spring 2014, but this plan is currently being revised. The latest word is that Alfa will now prioritize the all-new Giulia that replaces the 159 (in 2012), the five-door MiTo subcompact (in 2013), a BMW-X1-sized crossover based on the C-platform (also 2013), a bigger SUV derived from the C/D components set (in 2014), and a new rear-wheel-drive roadster and coupe designed along the lines of the iconic Duetto and the first-generation GTV. Also on its way is a modular plug-in hybrid system that will be introduced top-down, starting with the next-generation Maseratis. The only new Alfas that may not cross the Atlantic are the Giulia Sportwagon and the Giulietta replacement. All U.S.-bound platforms are being developed in Europe.

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