By Wong Wei Kong
In one corner stood the challenger, Alfa Romeo's new Giulietta in red. In the other sat the brooding old stager in black, the 147 that I have owned for over six years and the model which the Giulietta has replaced.
And that's how it is with every new Alfa. It's never just about going up against a VW, a Ford or an Opel. A new Alfa will always be judged against the cars that went before it, against what an Alfa Romeo is supposed to be.
The Giulietta certainly stands out with its looks. The traditional Alfa grille sits in front, framed by large, LED-lined headlights.
Curves accentuate the side profile, and hidden handles for the rear doors provide a design link with the old 147 and 156.
But, and its a big "but", the Giulietta looks like an upsized Alfa MiTo, and those who don't like the unresolved looks of the smaller car won't lust for the Giulietta either. It isn't clear too that the Giulietta's design will age as well as the decade-old 147, and against the older car with its wide stance, the Giulietta looks almost delicately poised. Bigger wheels, a bodykit and a lowered stance will be a must for those looking for a harder look.
The technical specifications are impressive. The 1.4 litre Multiair petrol turbo offers a combination of strong power and torque (170bhp at 5500rpm and 250Nm at 2500 rpm) as well as good performance (218km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in 7.7 sec).
It is frugal, and safe, with a Euro NCAP 5-star rating. It comes with a 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, and there's also the switchable DNA system, first seen on the MiTo, which allows drivers to choose between Dynamic, Natural (or Normal) and All-weather modes. The car is well-equipped and offers decent space.
On the road, however, things aren't so clear-cut. The ride, the Achilles heel of the 147, is supple in the Giulietta. Performance can be found easily, and there's little drama at corners, with lots of grip.
The driving experience is smooth and refined, though there is a tad of turbo lag. Road noise is effectively filtered out.
The driving position, however, is awkward, with the steering wheel too far away even with all the adjustment options. The centre airbag housing is a little too big relative to the steering wheel, which in quick corners, means gripping it instead of the ring of the wheel.
But something else's missing too. The Giulietta is quick and capable, but it lacks the oompf associated with past Alfas. In Normal mode, everything's pretty, well, normal, all that you'll expect of a modern hatchback. Things get better in Dynamic mode, but it still doesn't rouse you much.
|Price:$149,800 (with COE)
Engine: 1,368cc turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Max Power: 170 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Max Torque: 250 Nm @ 2,500 rpm
0-100kmh: 7.7 secs
Top speed: 218 kmh
CO2 emissions: 121 g/km
Distributor: EuroAutomobile 64742200
If the old 147 had pursued sportiness at the expense of everything else, the Giulietta has probably swung the other way. Don't get me wrong. The Giulietta is a good car. It ticks most of the right boxes, and does all that a grown-up hatch is expected to do. Its interior bits aren't likely to fall off, or melt under the tropical sun either. In many respects, it is a much better car than the 147, and a worthy rival to its competitors from other marques while boasting a sporty heritage.
But what makes an Alfa special aren't things like build quality, refinement or fuel economy.
Character, a crackling drive and a soulful engine are the things that make Alfa drivers love their cars, literally, to bits. On those counts, the Giulietta is probably less than what an Alfa should be. That, though, probably won't matter for most customers.
This article was first published in The Business Times.