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Alfa Romeo Giulietta Exclusive 2.0 170cv review - first look

Tom Morgan
23 Nov 2014
Price when reviewed 
24,810
inc VAT

We put Alfa Romeo's sporty Giulietta through its paces to see if the technology can keep up with the good looks

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Specifications

The Giulietta hatchback is Alfa Romeo’s direct competitor to the VW Golf - more expensive than Ford’s Focus or a Seat Leon, it’s undeniably one of the best looking cars in its price bracket, but it’s also fair to say you pay a premium for the Alfa badge.

We’ve been putting the JTDM 2.0 Exclusive model through its paces in order to help you decide whether it’s worth the cash, and if so what options you should consider once at the dealership.

As ever, our sister title Auto Express has all the details on the driving experience, practicality and performance figures - read their full review here, or read on for the low-down on all the tech toys

With an off-centre number plate and signature heart-shaped grille at the front, the Giulietta can divide opinions in terms of styling but we think it looks great - it stands out from other hatchbacks, particularly if you opt for brighter colours like trademark Alfa red or the pearl blue seen here. It’s sleeker than the VW Golf and more refined than the rest of the competition.

It might look a little long for its class, but the Giulietta is actually the same length as the Golf - which makes the expansive interior even more surprising. Alfa has really stepped up its game in recent years in terms of cabin quality, with recessed dash dials, sculpted seats and a three-spoke steering wheel that feels particularly sporty.

We’ve heard some users complain that the footwells are a little cramped, and although we agree other hatchbacks have more leg room, we had no trouble throughout our week with the car.

In terms of other creature comforts, you also get dual-zone climate control, which got down to temperature in less than two minutes; on a hot day you won't be waiting long for the cool relief of air conditioning.

Let me entertain you

The Giulietta comes with a 5in Uconnect infotainment system as standard, which can be bumped up to a 6.5in screen with extra features as an added extra. The basic model is no slouch, though; it includes DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and USB and 3.5mm auxiliary inputs. We used an iPhone, connected over both USB and Bluetooth, but the system will play nicely with Android devices too. Bluetooth paring will import your contacts to the car, but A USB cable will pull data directly from your handset.

The sound system seems tuned for radio and spoken word at the default settings, with a dominant mid-range and clear vocals. However, if you're more into rock and electronic music, a quick trip into the settings will give the system a welcome boost at the low and high end. This boosts bass, producing a noticeable thump when playing dubstep or drum & bass, but not so much that the fittings rattle or anyone outside will notice. There's also a user EQ for more fine-tune tweaking.

Clear audio at roughly one third maximum volume, event at motorway speeds; there's plenty of headroom for cranking up the volume, or boosting the bass from the speaker drivers installed as standard. If you want more sound power, you'll have to invest in the optional Bose speaker package, which costs roughly £800 and unfortunately wasn't installed in our loan vehicle.

The Exclusive model also includes voice control, which lets you change radio station, interact with the navigation system, make calls or select specific artists, albums or playlists from a connected smartphone. It's not particularly responsive, however, taking several seconds to activate, process our requests and make the relevant selections. This was particularly prominent when controlling music, and seemed partially caused by our 128Gb iPhone, which had over 60Gb of music on it. The system was more responsive when it was paired with a smaller capacity device.

You can also play music files from a USB flash drive or SD card, using the slots just in front of the gear stick. These are placed for quick access, but aren't particularly neat; we would have preferred to have them hidden in the glove box. There's nowhere obvious to put your phone when tethered, either - we had to wedge it in place to avoid the cable flopping over the gear stick.

Over the course of the week we used the sat-nav system thoroughly, and for the most part it worked brilliantly; the spoken directions are piped directly to the front right speaker and the radio is turned down so the driver can clearly hear it, and are triggered a sensible distance before you would need to turn.

Junctions, turns and motorway lane changes are all shown visually on the touchscreen as well as read aloud, so you don't need to panic when approaching a busy intersection that you're in the right lane. It also displays the current speed limit, which is very useful when driving on unfamiliar roads.

Unfortunately, the car did lose GPS signal once, leaving it confused as to where we were and repeating wrong directions. We were in a relatively urban area and the map database is up to date, so it's not clear what the issue was; thankfully it only happened the once, and within 20 minutes it had recovered and put us back on track.

It's in your DNA

Alfa's DNA driving system lets the driver choose between three different driving settings; Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather. This adjusts the engine, brake, steering, suspension and gearbox behaviour, with the switch in easy reach in front of the gear stick for changes on the fly. As you would expect, Normal puts the engine, brakes, suspension and gearbox into their default settings, which lean towards economic driving.

In Dynamic mode, the engine feels much more responsive, reacting to the smallest press on the accelerator. The LCD display in the instrument panel switches from showing the time and date to showing a graphical representation of the turbocharger pressure, which builds as you reach the redline. Naturally the engine is more thirsty in this mode, but if that’s the price of fun we’ll happily pay it; the Giulietta is brilliant to drive in Dynamic mode, digging into corners with more force and putting down its power more effectively.

Unfortunately we had a dry week during our time with the car, so we weren’t truly able to put the All-Weather mode through its paces.

Safety first

The Giulietta was awarded a five star Euro NCAP rating and includes electronic stability control, Dynamic Steering Torque, and a Q2 electronic differential as standard, but there's always room for a few extra safety features. Parking sensors on both the front and back of the car should mean low-speed collisions when parking shouldn't be an issue.

The sensors use audio cues and show a visual diagram on the instrument panel to help you avoid any bumps or scrapes. It's manually engaged with a button next to the gear stick, and is loud enough to be heard over the sound of the radio. The minimum distances are still fairly conservative, so you can back right into a space and still have room to open the boot. There’s no video feed, however, so you’re still mostly reliant on your parking abilities.

There’s no automatic reverse parking system, however, which is available on the similarly priced Golf.

I'm just cruising

Cruise control isn’t nearly as popular here in the UK as it is in America, but we have no idea why; it makes motorway driving an absolute breeze, even in a manual like our loaner car. The cruise control system is on a third stalk underneath the indicator stalk, which is less convenient than buttons on the steering wheel. Once you’re used to the position, toggling it on and off becomes second nature, although it’s an inferior system to the adaptive cruise control available on some VW Golfs. It won’t slow down if another car cuts into your lane, and won’t speed up again if they leave it.

Another useful bit of automation is stop/start. All Giulietta models now include start/stop functionality as standard, which helps reduce CO2 emissions when stuck in traffic. It works perfectly in city driving conditions, cutting out the engine as soon as the clutch is lifted when in neutral and starting up as soon as you dip the clutch again - it was always ready before we’d selected a gear.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a practical hatchback that also stands out from the usual crowd of VW, Ford and Vauxhalls seen on the school run, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta could be the ideal candidate. It's a cut above the competition in terms of looks, and it mostly matches the exterior class with interior fittings and tech extras. The Exlcusive model we saw has all the kit we would expect given the price, and apart from a few minor niggles with the infotainment system everything 

You have to really love the design to overlook some of the competition, though. It’s not as spacious as the Golf and costs more too. There’s also no electric or hybrid option, and although the choice of traditional engines is fairly comprehensive, it marks a definite hole in the line-up. Finally, there are a few tech toys missing from the options list that we've seen on other cars. By the time you add those on, the alternative costs about the same as the Giulietta. 

Even so, we loved the DNA system and exterior styling is second to none. You might end up paying more for it, but you certainly won't be disappointed if you do.

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