On the steep banking, third gear and a speed of at least 70 mph are needed to generate the centrifugal forces that save the Giulietta from toppling down to the hard shoulder. Even with the engine revving hard and the little Alfa quickly gaining momentum, we recommend dry palms, a steady line, and one hand firmly planted on the passenger seat to swoosh along the slippery slabs of motor racing history. The approach road is too short and the runout area isn't smooth enough to go really fast, but even at modest velocities, the crazy angle, the steep climb to the top lane, and the uncommonly high holding forces make you feel like a panda-eyed track hero wearing perforated gloves, thick goggles, and a visorless helmet. The Giulietta, too, was not immune to the alien mix of vertigo and high anxiety-after five runs, the stability control system gave up and the ABS warning light came on, then there was a fluid-level problem, and eventually the engine computer switched to limp-home mode. Two coffees later, however, everything was good to go.
The last leg of the journey led us back to Arese, on the west side of Milan, just off the busy highway. Sure enough, it started to rain again as we sat crouched in our cloth-and-leather-trimmed seats, counting the miles and intermittently checking the dials, which were lit in bright red, and the navigation screen, which had developed a life of its own. The start/stop system never quite recovered from the topsy-turvy Monza experience, and there was a whiff of super unleaded pervading the cabin, which may explain why the Multiair engine failed to be quite as economical as advertised. It's a good car, the Alfa Giulietta, but it's not a really great car. Even the faster Quadri-foglio Verde model, which squeezes 235 hp out of its 1.7-liter four-cylinder, isn't in the same league as Europe's very best hot hatches. What Alfa needs to put itself back on the map is a truly exciting automobile, a product that will invigorate the brand image, a sporty car with flair and panache.
"Among other things, we are working on a new Alfa sports car," reveals Harald Wester, CEO of Alfa Romeo and chief technology officer of the Fiat Group. "We have what it takes to develop a true halo model, which would be rear-wheel drive, breathtaking to look at, and dynamically best-in-class. This car will help Alfa forge a credible link to its glorious past. After all, history is not something you can buy. History needs to be earned. In principle, we all agree that Alfa Romeo must return to motor racing. But we need to be careful with our investment strategy. That's why I prefer to wait until 2013, when the new rules are out, so that we can start from scratch with a focused motorsports program." Since it's known that Wester doesn't believe in touring-car racing, it will be interesting to see where, how, and in what class the cloverleaf brand is going to race. While chances for a Parma-Poggio comeback are understandably slim, Monza would be a fantastic opening act for an Italian legend reinventing itself on the racetrack.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
BASE PRICE: approx. $30,000, in Italy
ENGINE: 1.4L turbocharged I-4
HORSEPOWER: 170 hp @ 5500 rpm
TORQUE: 184 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
WEIGHT: 2889 lb