By on July 31, 2012

We decided to take a family vacation this summer in Italy, starting in Florence and driving into rural Tuscany to spend a mellow week in a rental villa near some friends. I reserved a “Ford Focus or equivalent” with Hertz and, after a thoroughly unpleasant hour in the queue (“not exactly” indeed), they handed me the keys to an Alfa Romeo Giulietta with a manual transmission, two liter turbo diesel. Forza Italia! I now had one week with the sort of car that American TTAC readers often like to grouse about their inability to buy at home.

First up, the snout. To my American eyes, modern Alfa Romeo cars are very striking. You’ll not mistake them for anything else… at least if you’re looking from the front. That upside-down-triangle grill is loud and proud. While the earlier Alfa 159 accompanied it with a thin headlight bar that gave the resulting car an angry, sharp, purposeful appeal, the Giulietta softens the grill with rounded headlights and front fascia. More than one native Italian we met took positive note of the car.

Enough about styling. How about practicality? The hatchback is big. It’s not as deep as the trunk in our Acura TL but it’s usefully taller, and definitely has more usable space than a VW Golf. All our bags fit comfortably back there with room to spare. Many of the little details of the Alfa are comparable to what you might find in a Golf: switchblade key, comfortable cloth seats with limited manual adjustments, baseball-sized shift knob, etc. Still, the Italians couldn’t help themselves with style over substance. My daughter, 7 years old, had to reach up as high as she could to open the back door, since they moved the handle up next to the C-pillar. My wife, five feet tall, had trouble reaching up to close the hatch when it was open. As the driver, I appreciated the tilt and telescoping wheel. I didn’t appreciate that the clock was in tiny lettering that my passengers couldn’t see.

Interior room is great. The backseat has plenty of space for real adults. The driving position has you sitting relatively high. You have a very good feel for your four corners, which is deeply necessary when navigating some of the smaller streets in old Italian cities and towns.

On to the driving! The diesel has all the benefits and drawbacks that you’d expect. The low redline means you’re shifting much earlier than your gasoline-trained instincts tell you. Likewise, you can run at a much lower RPM than any small gasoline engine would ever tolerate. The computer nags you to shift early, seemingly trying its best to keep the engine under 1200rpm. At a low engine speed like that, you can put your foot down and damn near nothing happens at all. The engine’s personality completely changes around 2000rpm, when the turbo spools up and you suddenly feel the power. Shift before the redline and you’re still in the power band and life’s good. This contrasts, for example, with the Hyundai Veloster (1.6 liter non-turbo, manual) that I test drove a few months ago for giggles. Wind the Veloster up to the redline, shift, and you’ve got nothing. The Giulietta does much better (as, I hope, does the Veloster Turbo). For what it’s worth, the Giulietta’s gear and clutch feel are nothing particularly special. There’s none of Honda’s awesome snickety-snick shifting, and the Giulietta’s clutch grab point is a bit nebulous.

The real standout feature of the Giulietta is its suspension. During our vacation, we ranged from cobblestone streets to zippy autostrada, from smooth twisty cutbacks to bumpy gravel side roads. The Giulietta’s suspension is all about trying to preserve some dignity when faced with punishing roads. Yes, you’ll feel it when driving over crap, but the Giulietta damps out a lot of the vibrations while still keeping things relatively tight. The few times I did some “spirited” driving through the twisties, the car felt comfortable and composed. Still, this is no racing car. Does the Giulietta have “passion and soul” and lovely growling exhaust notes as Top Gear’s James May notes of earlier Alfas?  Maybe the gasoline engines do, but for the diesel, no. It’s a nice car, but you won’t fall in love with it.

Deep down inside, I’m a gadget guy, and this is where the Giulietta let me down. The base-model stereo in our car had no aux input for my phone. According to the owner’s manual, you only get that ten-cent jack with the much pricier “Blu & Me” package. (And, at least on the Fiat 500 I once played with at a Texas dealership, Blu & Me doesn’t include Bluetooth A2DP for stereo music streaming. Boo, hiss!) This was probably the most obvious place where some Fiat Group beancounter blew it for everybody.

Once I figured out how to convert the onscreen menus to English, I saw a long list of adjustments, but no way to fix the things that were most annoying. Foremost, the car raises holy screaming hell if one of your passengers unbuckles before the car has come to a complete stop. Also annoying: the car insists on asking you to shift early and often. What you can do, however, is change the car from “normal” to “dynamic” mode. According to the owner’s manual, this increases max torque by 10%, which you’d never notice. However, it replaces the shift indicator light with the Alfa “DNA” logo. Yes indeed, 10% less guilt definitely improves driving dynamics.

Other gadgety features: the Giulietta will turn the engine off when waiting at a light. Once you push the clutch in, the engine starts back up all by itself. Despite this, if you were dumb enough to turn the key with the car in gear and the clutch engaged, the starter motor happily tries to drag the car along; the ignition doesn’t require you to have the clutch pedal down. (Yes, go ahead, ask me how I figured that out.) The Giulietta has a hill holding feature that works pretty well. It has a rear sonar parking assist to help you nudge your car as far back as it can go. The lights and wipers also have automatic modes. It even auto-restarts the engine if you stall it. (Yes, sigh.)

What about mileage? About half of our driving time was on the autostrada, half on local twisty roads. According to the trip computer, we averaged 5.8 l / 100 km (40.5 mpg). This is the same as the Giulietta’s official “city” mileage rating. (Wikipedia has all the stats.) The Giulietta’s official “combined” rating is 4.7 l / 100km (50 mpg). My freeway driving was pretty sedate, since I wasn’t keen to get ticketed by the autostrada’s ubiquitous speed cameras, so this means that mountain driving, with the turbo spooled up and driving with proper engine braking, is unsurprisingly detrimental to this car’s mileage. At the end of the trip, before I handed the car back, I spent roughly $100 filling the tank for 800 km of driving, with maybe a quarter of a tank left. (What great range!) To drive the same distance and style in my Acura TL, with it’s super-unleaded-mandatory V6, I would have expected to have averaged 20 mpg, yielding roughly the same dollar-cost-per-mile, assuming you’re comfortable with my comparing U.S. gasoline prices with a big V6 sedan against European diesel prices with a smaller turbo 4-cylinder car.

In Europe, the value proposition of the Giulietta is clear: high mileage and excellent interior space in a car that fits into smaller places while giving you decent amounts of “sport” and “style”. Today, in the U.S., the closest car you can buy to the Giulietta is the new Dodge Dart. It’s the same basic platform, but of course you can’t get the diesel or the hatchback. The big question: if cars like the Giulietta diesel or the comparable BMW 180d Sport were offered in the States, how well would they sell? Based on my week in the Giulietta, I’d imagine they could do quite well.


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56 Comments on “Review: 2012 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0-liter Turbo Diesel...”


  • avatar
    Viquitor

    Alfa Romeos are not quite a lot more than tarted-up Fiats. This Giulietta is just a Fiat Bravo with sexier sheetmetal.

    Still I want it bad. There’s something about Alfa Romeo that I can’t quite explain, that makes me want to have one and drive it for life.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    That is a great looking car. Nice review. With hatches losing their stigma as a poverty-spec penalty box, I wonder why Dodge will not sell a hatch version of the Dart. With the 1.6l turbo, a hatch Dart would be a great car.

    • 0 avatar
      mjz

      The Dodge Dart sedan will be built in China as the Fiat Viaggio. There is to be a hatch version of that car for sale in China/Europe, so it’s possible that we might get a hatch Dart, however, Sergio does not want Dodge and Chrysler to have similiar models, so Chrysler is supposed to get a version of the next Lancia Delta (built off the Dart platform) that will be hatchback only. That’s the new Chrysler 100.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    Beautiful car. Chrysler needs this in their line-up, don’t change a thing on the exterior except the badge. Chrysler 100 anyone?

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    I think it’s just me but I don’t find the front end styling of this car particularly appealing. The rest of the car is pretty striking, but the front end spacing on those headlights make it look a bit too derpy imo.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “Once I figured out how to convert the onscreen menus to English, I saw a long list of adjustments, but no way to fix the things that were most annoying. Foremost, the car raises holy screaming hell if one of your passengers unbuckles before the car has come to a complete stop.”

    Like the man who went to see the Doctor to complain his “arm hurts when I do this” so the Doctor says, “Don’t do that”. Easily fixed.

    My Saturn Astra XR does the same thing, it gets very angry when the front seats are occupato and no seat belt buckled.

  • avatar
    NN

    I liked, no, loved, the 159 much more than this. However, this still have some of the Alfa Romeo cool. If they put a Chrysler badge on it it would be no good. To be a success in the US, an Alfa would have to be an Alfa, and play up the Italian thing bigtime. Just sell them in the existing Fiat dealers, that’ll do well enough.

    The problem would be that they would have to make it in Mexico or charge $35k for this car, which no one here in the US would pay when we can buy larger, more reliable Camry’s in the mid 20′s.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “which no one here in the US would pay when we can buy larger, more reliable Camry’s in the mid 20′s.”

      Not everyone considers reliability to be the be all end all of car buying.

    • 0 avatar
      mjz

      The plan is to sell the next generation Giulietta in North America through the Fiat/Alfa Romeo dealer network. This current version will not be sold here, but is the basis for the Dodge Dart sedan and Chysler 100 (next Lancia Delta) hatchback.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Funny, I had this exact same car when I was in Italy a month ago. I was really excited to try it out, as I’ve always been a big fan of the styling of Alfas and wanted to see if the performance matched up.

    It didn’t.

    What you called a standout, I thought was the worst part of the car…..the suspension. Sure, it was fine over cobblestones, but any time the pace picked up, the car felt floaty and unsure of itself. It wasn’t quite Jeep like, but it felt like an American boat compared to any other Euro rental I’ve had.

    I thought the interior was rather cheap and plasticky, and poorly designed in terms of ergonomics. It was the worst of both worlds….it didn’t look great and wasn’t functional.

    The manual transmission was ok at best, if a little spongy. I didn’t even feel a hint of sport.

    I was really looking forward to driving the Giuliettea, but the car was a total disappointment. It wasn’t terrible, but it was barely average. The best thing about is still the exterior styling. I went into it thinking it would be a great experience, and by the end I didn’t even want to drive. It was downright boring compared to the Audi a3 Diesel I had last year in Spain.

    • 0 avatar
      iainthornton

      That’s been the biggest criticism of the Giulietta, by all accounts.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      I rented an Alfa 159 in Tuscany a few years ago. Based on your account, the 159 is (was!) substantially better on open roads, but then it was built on the GM/Fiat premium platform rather than a Fiat Brava one. Interior was OK, but certainly nothing you’d expect from a car that is supposed to compete with Audi and BMW. I certainly preferred the 159 front-end styling but I may well be in the minority on that one.

      Anyway, the 159 is now dead and buried, and neither the MiTo nor the Giulietta is showing signs of dragging the marque out of its doldrums.

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        The Giugiaro-styled 159 is definitely a better looking car. Personally, it was probably my favorite looking sedan of the last decade. In a world where every car looks the same, it’s nice to see someone still has an original though.

        The Giulietta looks best from the back. It has a very nice stance. It’s no 159, but it’s still a good looking car from many angles (as long as you’re not on the inside).

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      The older Alfa 147 drove really amazingly good, with its double wishbone front suspension and the helical Torsen LSD the more powerful diesels had as standard equipment in the last few model years.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Mkay, lets get this straight, once and for all, ALL Italian cars (maybe not Lamborghini since it’s now an German car) have horribly cheap interiors. If you find one that doesn’t you should visit your local priest and order an exorcism as somebody obviously made a deal with the devil. Also, if the car runs as it should and doesn’t rust in the fist week of ownership you should probably hedge your bet with a visit to your neighborhood pagan temple.
      Zee Germans beats the living crap out of the Italians in every possible metric except maybe being Italian (and the for-mentioned Lamborghini brings this claim into doubt).

  • avatar
    ajla

    Needs a low-displacemnt V6.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      No, not at all. No Alfa in recent memory has been better with the V6 then with the twin spark, unless you have a fetish for early 90′s FWD Audis with V6 engines as the alfa gains the same soggy feel with the 6. On the other hand the BMW 1600 straight six might be a good choice.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        What do you consider “recent memory”? I’ll admit my experience with Alfas is limited but I’ve always heard great things about their V6 engine.

        And it’s not like you can get a TS on the Giulietta anyway.

        Maybe I should write “needs a Alfa Romeo engine” instead.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        Oh, I’d say since the 90′s, I’ve never driven or been driven in a V6 164 so I’m not sure about that one, otherwise I’d say that the V6 put to much weight too far upfront, the 156 was especially horrible.

        The demise of the TS is a shame, unfortunately I’ve not driven the new Alfa turbos and might be something of a boring old sod.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      All recent Alfas with a V6 have been powered by a GM V6 engine.
      The Alfa V6 died with the 156/Alfa GT

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Why doesn’t Sergio come out and say Chrysler-Fiat/RAM is committed to making the best vehicles possible? Fiats, Dodges, Alfas, Lancias, Chrsylers, and Rams all at one dealership. Let Chrysler-Fiat/RAM say this is the best we have in this segment for each vehicle. Globalization is necessary there days.

  • avatar
    Loser

    When ever I see one of these it makes me think had the Edsel line survived this is what a new one would look like.

  • avatar
    sudden1

    Alright, I’ll admit it. I read the entire review, but nobody was home after the first paragraph. The idea of driving an Alfa, any Alfa, in Tuscany on a family vacation…Wait. What? See, it happened again. (An excellent, objective, review, by the way.)

  • avatar
    Morea

    If the handling is mediocre that’s not a good sign.

    As the old advertising line goes: “For economy, opulence, speed, muscle, or just getting from one place to another, there are many choices. For handling there’s Alfa Romeo”.

    I would guess that all the Alfa chassis designers have been let go and moonlighting Fiat engineers are doing the suspension work. Tsk, tsk.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s incorrect to say the handling is mediocre. It’s instead a delicate balancing act between damping out lots of noise (which makes the ride smoother) and damping out too much noise (making the experience dull and uncommunicative). For sure, the Giulietta doesn’t feel at all like a sports car, with the usual tight suspension that communicates the road to you. It’s not supposed to feel that way. It feels like a car you can comfortably drive for hours, over all kinds of different roads, and not rattle your filings, while still having just enough “sport” to get the job done if you need to.

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        “It feels like a car you can comfortably drive for hours, over all kinds of different roads, and not rattle your filings, while still having just enough “sport” to get the job done if you need to.”

        I drove this car for two weeks, and while it was comfortable, mine didn’t have any sport whatsoever. Personally, I think there are similar European cars that do ride better while still feeling more confident/fun on the road. In my case, I drove a Skoda Octavia right after my Giulietta that felt just as smooth, but more planted on the road. My v50 at home is by no means a sports car, but it too has a solid combination of ride/handling. An Audi A3 beats them all.

  • avatar

    Reading the above posts one has to believe that the perfect car could be made by Italian designers, German Engineers and be put together by Americans. Just saying..

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      I don’t quite get why the car shouldn’t put together by the Japanese, fit and finish isn’t exactly where the Americans shine. Well I don’t get it except for the rather bad memory of the last time the Germans, Japanese and Italians stood in the same corner.

  • avatar
    spasticnapjerk

    I need an accurate review of the front-end styling of this car. Where is Farago when you need him?

  • avatar
    Dsemaj

    A BMW 180d? I’d love to drive a 1 series with an 8 litre diesel! Imagine the torque!

  • avatar
    sching

    I had a very similar experience renting a Giuletta in Sardinia and driving it through that island as well as Corsica last year.

    I had (if I recall correctly) the 1.8 litre 105hp turbo-diesel, so despite the diesel’s torque, I ended up shifting a LOT, especially on all of the winding moutain roads on both islands. On uphill switchback corners, second and even first gear were often required.

    Having said that, the car managed to keep out of its own way and was able to keep up, despite the “I too should be an F1 driver” style of nearly every driver in Italy.

    And I agree – the car is no sports car, but it rode much better and much quieter than my Mazda 3 MPS (Mazdaspeed 3) does.

    I also totally agree about that silly vertical C-pillar-located rear door handle. I was always using the wrong hand/wrong orientation to try to open the door.

    Did you actually notice much of a difference changing “modes” with the little chrome toggle switches in the centre console?

  • avatar
    oldyak

    I keep hoping the New Fiat building our local dealership has been touting for a YEAR now will have a Fiat crest on one side and a Alfa Romeo on the other.
    I want a MITO!!!

  • avatar
    GTAm

    I’m surprised that the switching from “N” to “A” on the DNA selector did not have much of an impact on you. I’ve driven two Petrol 170bhp Multiair cars and the transformation is very noticable. The throttle response becomes more responsive, steering becomes more weighty and you definitely feel more urge. Maybe the higher torque on the diesels masks this somewhat?

  • avatar
    shaker

    How many km were on the car? Could be that a rental, driven on roads that (in some cases) were built by the Roman Empire and recently re-paved, might have a “tired” suspension?

    • 0 avatar

      The car was practically brand new. it had maybe 1600km on the clock when I got it. I’m really surprised at all this controversy over the suspension. The suspension worked great. It just wasn’t engineered to be a sports car suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        GTAm

        “I’m really surprised at all this controversy over the suspension. The suspension worked great. It just wasn’t engineered to be a sports car suspension.”

        @Dan Wallach

        Not sure what spec your car was but being a rental, it must have been what equates to “Turismo” in the UK. This is the lowest spec. The highest spec “Veloce” comes with lowered and stiffened “sports” suspension. Makes quite a difference when cornering. Not sure if sports sus is an option on all grades but I guess it should be if you go by previous models.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I like the styling of this car’s exterior but find the interior pretty bland. The last modern Alfa I drove was a 147… And that was on a track where the suspension and F1-style paddle shifter worked. I understand that the semiauto gearbox wasn’t so nice to live with for normal street driving.

    In any case, I loved the 147, but that was 12 years ago so that was before we had other good competition available in the US so it seemed a total revelation to me. I would like to try this Gulietta here against current competition to see how it lives up to my memories undoubtedly clouded by the fact that I was also driven around the Balocco test track in the 147 by a factory test driver who also happened to be a beautiful Italian woman… Anyway, I digress.

    A few questions based on the article and other comments here:

    Is the rental-spec diesel different in suspension tuning to what would be available to retail enthusiasts? Is this like comparing a base Golf then complaining that it doesn’t handle like a GTI?

    Why would this car have to sell for $35k in the US? Isn’t it a competitor to a Golf in Europe? That would point to low to mid $20s in decent spec, no? A Golf TDi is about $25k in the US but a base gasoline Golf is about $19k.

    I keep wondering what a modern version of a Ghia would be like… A Golf with Italian styling would be an interesting model to revisit, no?

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      It’s indeed priced close to the Golf, not to premium cars like Audi or BMW. Which, I think, tells a lot about how well Fiat has managed the Alfa Romeo brand over the last few decades.

  • avatar
    Magnusmaster

    “Other gadgety features: the Giulietta will turn the engine off when waiting at a light. Once you push the clutch in, the engine starts back up all by itself.”

    A friend of my father rented a Seat Ibiza in Europe which had this feature. It greatly reduces fuel consumption, but it makes you think the car is broken at first. I’ve heard igniting the engine usually burns as much fuel as keeping the engine running for a minute, but it seems the Europeans managed to solve this (or that was a myth) Too bad this feature isn’t on South American cars.

    “I’m a gadget guy, and this is where the Giulietta let me down. The base-model stereo in our car had no aux input for my phone. According to the owner’s manual, you only get that ten-cent jack with the much pricier “Blu & Me” package.”

    At least they didn’t skimp on airbags. Here in South America even the cheapest Fiat Uno has a radio with aux input, USB ports and Bluetooth. Of course, they charge extra for airbags, the structure bends like a chinese car and the interior has some of the cheapest plastics on Earth. Funny how Europe has totally inverted priorities.

  • avatar

    Just out of curiosity, were you staying at a little agriturismo in Vicchio, about halfway between Florence and Siena? Some of the backgrounds look VERY familiar!

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Just out of curiousity, is the shift knob the exact same piece used in the new Dodge Dart? Sweet.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Want there a long range “plan” released about a year ago saying we were supposed to get this as a Chrysler something or other?

    Am I completely off base to say I want a Mito?

  • avatar
    grizzly1

    I am very confused. I am European,Scottish and drive an Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0 turbo diesel Veloce. I have owned several Alfa Romeo’s over the years.
    Firstly Alfa Romeo Giulietta is not built on a Fiat Bravo chassis. The DNA if used correctly increases the performance of the car dramatically, to the extent the car lowers and the power will push you back into the seat on acceleration, obviously you were not in the correct gear at time of use. Most european cars have stop start function to meet emission requirements. all manual (stick shift) vehicles will lunge forward if you turn the ignition when a gear is selected, this is not good.
    WHY do Americans always want to change products to make it their own. Alfa Romeo is iconic, thorough bred, passionate, has heart and beauty. Chrysler has none of this and never will. Sales of Chrysler in Europe are minimal, for this reason. American cars in general do not sell well in Europe in general, handling/power is well below the expected.
    This review is the most uninformed review I have ever read.


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