You'll come for the sultry good looks, but you'll stay for the excellent steering. The Giulietta's tiller has a natural, well-weighted, and precise feel that bests just about everything in the compact segment with the possible exception of the Ford Focus.
I wondered at first whether people would really notice the Giulietta. Although it's clearly a looker, it is not overtly different or retro, as is the case with the Fiat 500 or the Mini Cooper. Happily, American motorists can appreciate beauty. More than once, I observed people (several of them young, several of them female) gathering around it and appreciating its silky yet aggressive lines. Of course, there were more than a few whose eyes fixated on the badge and instantly appreciated the novelty of what they were seeing. Design editor Robert Cumberford recently noted that the Giulietta is too derivative of other Alfas, but that obviously doesn't bother the typical American.
The interior, in keeping with Italian tradition, is quite elegant and distinct, if also a bit quirky. The nicely bolstered seats would look at home in a BMW M car. There are, for instance, about half a dozen surface textures on the dash, the center console, and the doors. To go along with that are some ergonomic oversights that would mortify a Honda designer, like an armrest that gets in the way of the emergency brake when folded down.
It's hard to evaluate the navigation and infotainment system fully, since this test model clearly has not been set up at all for our market. The navigation, for instance, did not have any local maps. The LCD screen, which pops up from the dash, reads clearly but is not bright enough in strong sunlight. The controls, after a short learning period, seemed reasonably user-friendly. The USB port failed to recognize my iPhone, but it's possible that's also due to its foreign specification.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I had never driven an Alfa before this Giulietta came into town, so I was excited to say the least. When it rolled up, it immediately surprised me. The first shock was that Honeywell, who loaned us the car (and acquired the turbocharger maker Garrett in 1999), said that our Alfa was black -- but the stylish sedan is painted black cherry, candy-coated with gold flake. Parked on East Liberty Street, the car, even with its wild paint job, didn't turn heads until people saw the front grille and did a double take.
The fact that Alfa has been on hiatus from the States means that this car has a lot to live up to. If it didn't make a splash after coming across the pond, what's the point? Luckily, it does.
Driving the car in anything but dynamic mode is a sin. The suspension completely changes, the throttle is touchier, and the little four-door tries to give the GTI a run for its money. You also get a digital boost gauge and a throttle percentage gauge, along with a G-meter. While the car is not particularly fast or quick, the turbo makes it feel energetic. (Side note: If you want to fall in love with this car, mash the throttle in second gear, let the turbo spool, get off the throttle, and listen to the exhaust gases sing as they come through the turbo's bypass.)
What wasn't surprising was that this car still had some Italian quirks. If you move the driver's seat too far up, the attached armrest will keep you from operating the emergency brake. While occupants in the front get the luxury of power windows, peasants in the back have to manually roll down their glass. And, last but not least, a blind man could spend days inside the Alfa trying to figure out why so many different materials and textures were used for the interior.
In the end, this car met, and sometimes exceeded, every expectation (including the nonsensical Italian issues) I had. What an absolutely enjoyable car.
Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor
Round two with the Alfa started off just like round one did -- with a whole lot of highway driving. This time, I went from Dearborn, Michigan, to GingerMan Raceway, clear across the state. Riding shotgun was my boss, Joe DeMatio. Just a few miles into our trip, Joe decided to take a catnap, so I set the car to normal mode from dynamic (my default setting in the Alfa). The ride definitely softens up a bit, and the throttle becomes much less touchy. None of this mattered, though, because even if a meteor had collided with a truck driving next to us, Joe wouldn't have come out of his deep sleep. On the highway, this little Alfa would be about par for its class -- that is if it didn't turn so many heads. It's still an absolutely stunning little car.
Chris Nelson (again), Road Test Editor