2011 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce
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
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
This turbocharged 1.4-liter engine packs a lot of usable power. I was actually surprised to learn that the Giulietta has less than 170 hp; it sure doesn't feel like it from behind the wheel, especially once the turbo spools up (lag is definitely detectable). The engine is matched well to the six-speed manual transmission, which has long but silky-smooth shift throws that feel great after a short adjustment period. The shift knob is wonderfully wrought, too, as is the entire interior, in fact, particularly the large piece of aluminum trim on the dashboard.
This Alfa really likes to be tossed into corners -- I hugely regret that I wasn't able to put it through its paces at GingerMan Raceway like some of my colleagues. I was very happy to watch others drive it, though: the Giulietta is absolutely gorgeous. I've admired this car from afar for the last year or more, and I'm not disappointed one bit now that I've driven one. OK, some of the controls would take some getting used to, and the dash lights unexpectedly and annoyingly flipped to full-bright several times due to some electrical gremlin, but those are minor complaints. I wish this car were available in the States.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I have been looking forward to driving the Giulietta ever since laying out the story of Kacher's drive through Northern Italy. And that anticipation only grew when I began seeing test cars prowling around my small town near Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Grounds.
I love the Alfa's athletic, yet tastefully sculpted exterior and looking into the sleek black interior added to the desire to jump in this car and drive it somewhere -- fast. The wheels are gorgeous and the distinctive nose and slick taillights set the car apart from the typical four-door hatches offered here. Stylish details abound both inside and outside and even under the hood of the Giulietta. The dash is nicely sculpted and well laid out and the materials all look appropriate and add to the sporting demeanor. Using the stereo and navigating the onscreen menus is a challenge, but as others have noted, this car is not set up for the U.S. market. That point was driven home again when I noticed the "Benzina" was close to empty.
The Alfa badge -- one of the all-time great automotive logos -- appears on the car often, as does the script "Alfa Romeo". A plus-sized badge on the deck lid doubles as a hidden trunk release. When you look down and notice all four pedals (there's a nice, big dead pedal) are finished in brushed metal and rubber and each sports the cross-and-serpent, one does start to think maybe enough is enough.
I suffered through a few miles of lagging throttle response and generally disappointing dynamics before I realized the car needs to be switched into "Dynamic" mode to be truly enjoyed. Flipping that switch is akin to rattling a jaguar's cage. All of a sudden every aspect of driving the Giulietta comes to life. Steering and suspension muscles flex and tighten, and the throttle takes on a whole new feel. This is the car I was expecting!
The powertrain is more Miata than Mazdaspeed -- but that's not a complaint. This car is plenty quick enough to toss into corners and have a good time with, but it's not going to win too many stoplight drag races.
Overall I give the Giulietta pretty high marks. It's certainly a fun -- but not quite "hot" -- hatch. My only question is whether this car could succeed in the U.S. market in the $30,000-plus price range. In the $20Ks this car is a player. At $34,000 there are lots of more established and familiar cars that better the Alfa in everything but Italian flair.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
2011 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce
Base price: $24,250 (est. )
Price as tested: $34,500 (est.)
1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine
6-speed manual transmission
Dark brushed aluminum inserts
Leather-wrapped steering wheel & shift knob w/red stitching
Dual zone climate control
Aluminum sport pedals
Aluminum kick plates
Immobilizer and alarm system
Blue & Me
Media player w/USB
DNA (dynamic, normal, all-weather drive modes)
Space saver spare tire
Options on this vehicle (approximate prices, converted from euros):
18-inch 5-hole alloy wheels - $875
Exclusive paint w/satin effect mirrors - $2525
Sport leather upholstery, front & rear armrests, rear third head restraint, heated front seats - $3800
Satellite navigation - $1750
BOSE sound system - $1150
Key options not on vehicle (approximate prices, converted from euros):
Cloverleaf model (Base price $28,400)
Veloce features plus...
Dark tinted windows
Red brake calipers
Lowered sport suspension
18-in. spoke alloy wheels w/dark titanium finish
1.4L turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 168 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb weight: N/A
Wheels/tires: 18-inch alloys
Competitors: Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed 3