Driving this little Alfa brought back sweet memories of summers past, when my family would drive up and down the hills of Tuscany in various Fiats, Alfa Romeos, and Lancias. Slipping behind the wheel of this Italian hatchback with its awkward ergonomics yet pleasing design reminded me of learning to drive a standard transmission on a Lancia Lybra station wagon. The Giulietta, like the Lybra, has a light clutch and an easy transmission that would give the most novice of drivers no problem in downtown Milan.
However, the Giulietta is not as simple as that. A small silver switch at the bottom of the center stack creates a second personality beyond that of your average Italian commuter; that "DNA" selector really does bring out another animal. DNA stands for Dynamic, Normal, and All-weather -- the three modes you can choose from to alter the chassis controls, throttle sensitivity, and overboost function. Normal and all-weather are fairly similar, with a retarded throttle response and slower steering. Flick the DNA switch to dynamic, though, and the Alfa's character changes immensely; no longer is it a run-of-the-mill hatchback, but an enthusiastic Italian runabout shouting for you to "Vai, vai, vai!" All of the car's responses are sharpened, and the infotainment screen mounted atop the center stack switches to show the throttle input percentage and boost psi. Acceleration is quick -- although the go pedal is touchy on takeoff -- and the steering is direct. The suspension is slightly too stiff for our roads, and I can't imagine how jittery it must be over the cobblestone surfaces of most Italian cities.
This is a car that the Fiat Group needs to sell here. It is not as small as I imagined it to be (it's about the same size as a Ford Focus hatchback), and with the right marketing campaign it could make for a fun, upscale alternative to many of the compacts out there. It has that certain something, an intangible passion, that you only find in an Italian car.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
A great part of the Giulietta's attraction is its novelty. Because Alfa Romeo has been absent from the U.S. market for a couple decades now, any time you see one it causes heads to turn. The Giulietta is no different, as people really do seem to notice it. While the Giulietta's basic hatchback shape isn't really that different from that of several other cars on the road, its distinctive front end, LED taillights, and unique wheels makes it stand out in traffic. The hidden handles for the rear doors also give it a sleeker appearance, with the look of a two-door rather than a four-door.
Inside the cabin, things are a little more generic. The upholstery and dash materials are decent but don't feel upscale in any way. The aluminum pedals are a nice touch, as is the aluminum shift knob, and red stitching adds a little color to the otherwise mostly black interior. The user interfaces were clearly not designed for the U.S. market, as I could barely decipher the purpose of half of the buttons.
The Giulietta's four-cylinder turbocharged engine seems like a solid piece, and its output of 168 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque puts it in the same ballpark as the Mazda 3 and the VW Golf, but it doesn't compare with those models' performance siblings, the GTI and the Mazdaspeed3. (There's a 235-hp, 1.7-liter Giulietta that likely would fare better against the GTI and the Mazdaspeed.)
In our March 2011 issue, Georg Kacher drove a Giulietta around the Italian countryside tracing Alfa's racing history. Afterwards, he declared that the Giulietta was a good car but not a great car, due in part to its unexceptional powertrain and less-than-perfect ergonomics. After spending a day with this Giulietta, I don't disagree with his conclusion.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor