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Preface: The Alfa Romeo Giulietta was the “rough basis” for the Dodge Dart, 2015 Chrysler 200, and Jeep Cherokee. The American cars were all greatly revised — lengthened, widened, repowered, retuned — but the Giulietta was their common point of origin.
by Jan Hvizdak
Alfa... unique, beautiful and ostentatious all in one. The reviewed car is an Alfa Romeo Giulietta with Distinctive trim; it has a 1.6 liter JTD-M2 diesel engine with 77 kW (103 hp) and 320 NM (236 lb-ft) peak torque, bought new in December 2011.
The standard features include automatic dual zone air conditioning, fog lamps, airbags, air conditioning vents on back seats, speed control, chrome all around the windows, electric windows, 16” wheels with 205x55 tires, and automatic Stop/Start.
I hope this review will not seem to be advertising. I wrote about both the pros and cons, and I tried to summarize objectively. My view may be affected because I still like my Alfa, and she still entertains me with her abilities on road.
The most important thing, the thing which makes this tender and innocent creature into a bedazzling and desirable car is the Alfa “DNA.” Alfa, as always, made an effort with the car's look, painting it in a metallic colour named “New Red Alfa.”
Before this Alfa, I had not driven an Italian car, and when I sat into Giulietta for the first time, I had difficulty sleeping that night. It was the feeling one gets only if he truly falls in love. Until then, I had been in Skodas, Volkswagens, BMWs, and Mercedes. I have nothing against German technology, but my heart never beat so intensely with them as with my new infatuation from Italy.
I came to Giulietta without any conscious plan, just as it should be when someone falls in love. From a 2005 Skoda Fabia, which I saw only as a means of transport from point A to point B (but I still left it to the next owner in the best possible condition), it was a great leap. From ordinary ride to a joy which envelops me every time I turn the key in the ignition and I touch the steering-wheel... from the necessity of having a car to pleasure from a new lively beauty. I haven't needed Giulietta, but I wanted her, because I fell in love. What was it like when I finally sat in my own Alfa is described lower, so I will rather start with my experiences with this car, with its pros, cons and characteristics.
Alfa has many pros and naming them without any poetic talent is really tough, so I wrote them down as a list. I hope the reader will understand.
My previous car needed an abnormally long distance to slow down or stop. It just braked according to its own will, so I learned to keep a reasonable distance between cars not because of the law, but because I never was in the mood to ram into someone's rear with my car's nose in case of some unexpected situation. Sadly, this problem with brakes does not apply only for the Fabia, but even for bigger, supposedly better, Octavia (I and II), even if it is true that they have a bit better braking characteristics. The car also felt unstable on a wet road and braking in 150 km/h speed was almost suicidal, because the back tires did as they pleased.
But with the Alfa, braking is a pleasure. I always can rely on the brakes, even while unexpectedly braking in corners. In the beginning, I had the feeling that better brakes even for Giulietta would not be such a bad idea. But after I got to know her soul better and we got used to each other I realized that at the time I overdid it with the speed in the curves and whichever brakes I would have, I still would have my nose behind the middle lane. Luckily I don't drive like a maniac and I never endanger other drivers. At the same time, I don't want to cause any harm to Alfa, even if those few mistakes didn't happen on a closed track, but I was sure nobody would appear ahead of me and I knew the road very well too.
Later I tried negative G-force when driving down an empty downhill road while braking from 100 – 120 km/h (62-74 mph) to zero. Alfa behaved very predictably and the only negative thing about the whole test was, that if I kept braking for 15 or 20 more minutes, I would get sick. If one does not exercise quite often, abrupt braking will not only cause the release of adrenalin into your blood system, but also the release of the content of your stomach. Still, Alfa likes braking. It is obvious that the constructors gave her a lot of endurance and she enjoys changing the rhythm of ride according to the driver.
Braking from speeds above 150 km/h (93 mph) is a bit time-consuming, but the car still doesn't get into a state where the driver would not be able to predict what is going to happen. Perhaps the most important thing is, that while braking at any speed, the car will not jump around nor turn into directions you don't want to go. The tires are, of course, very important. Winter tires will sit much better on cold and wet roads that the ones for summer (I have Michelin and Pirelli P7). Summer tires on a dry road will enable you to go through sharp curves 20 km/h (12 mph) faster than on a wet road with winter tires. You also have to take in mind, that the laws of physics work even on roads.
It is quite difficult to make the tires squeak. While testing, I never felt unstable and I tried many curves, mainly those up the hill. The car doesn't lean to one side and you don't have the feeling that the front is having any tendencies to go to a different direction than the back side. The 77 kW engine is great on long serpentine roads up or down the hill, where the power is not the most important. My Alfa likes to give the maximum on roads just like these and thanks to ESP (electronic stability control) – it would be great if it could be turned off – the car will not get into an oversteer skid.
On a wet road, ESP can be a bit of a burden, because when you get into a skid, ESP unexpectedly slows down the tires with enough force to bang your head into the side doors. Especially if you are the front-seat passenger, because the driver holds onto the steering-wheel so his head will not fly around uncontrollably, which is why it is better to drive alone if you plan to race down a wet road with a brick on the gas pedal (or you can leave the brick in the trunk and only gently play with the gas).
We'll see how the stability changes when we switch to 225x45 tires (I plan to buy them the next spring) and how will the car react then to the unevenness of the roads, which is now on the edge. Alfa is a gentle creature which will enjoy the drive on an even road, but the chassis is quite rigid, so if you drive on classic Slovak roads, full of potholes, it will show in occasional noise from tires while driving through bumps and vibrations.
The precise gear shifting is another pro (except for the first gear, which is mentioned in cons). It is literally addictive to shift from the sixth to forth or to the third gear when you go to a 180° curve at speed about 140 km/h (87 mph) and you have to slow to 80 km/h (50 mph) on third gear. The gear stick offers some resistance, but it is acceptable.
I never tried to shift with only two fingers, and I don't even want to. I know that mostly in VW (and all its differently dressed up clones) the shifting is almost perfect and you really can shift with only a light touch of your fingers, but the gear stick in Alfa is sexy. It is just addictive to touch it not only gently, but also firmly.
The stability and shifting would be for nothing if the car didn't have any power, which brings us to performance in the D range. The engine gives only 77 kW (103 horsepower), but with that comes 320 NM (236 lb-ft) in the mentioned Dynamic (Sport) mode. It is not necessary to downshift while going uphill, you can go in the sixth gear while driving on a flat road at 110 km/h (68 mph) and on the hillside at 130 km/h (80 mph). Even while on a road with 8° incline, you can still use the sixth gear without any problem.
Once, on a similar hill during the early get-to-know rides, I accidentally shifted into the sixth gear (I wanted to shift into the fourth, so I would go through a curve swiftly) and the engine made it without any decrease of rpm. I know that if the incline would be higher, I would have to downshift. And it is also clear to me that 77 kW is not the most ideal for racing. But the car has its power curve so brilliantly balanced with the torque curve, that the driver has the feeling of greater power and it feels the best in curves, where, lets say, 180 kW would be needed only after the curve is passed. However let's keep the racing for closed tracks...
With the Alfa, I can enjoy the corners, peaceful passing through hills surrounded by autumn nature, beautiful outlooks from back-roads, but I also can give her the impulse to rev the engine into above 4,000 rpm faster than the blink of an eye.
The Dynamic mode in unbelievably addictive and the car behaves more aggressively. Alfa is suddenly sexy not only on the outside, but also because of the sensations she creates in the driver while he gently holds the steering wheel and intimately touches the gas pedal. It reacts to the slightest touch and the steering is much more open to challenges. It is pointless to hold the engine on rpm under 2,000 per minute if I want to enjoy the maximum; around 3,000 is optimal. From around 1,700 you can feel the turbo effect. Furthermore, when the driver activates the Dynamic mode by holding the switch, because of overtaking or just for the joy of the ride, the heart rate increases by both the driver and the beautiful Italian girl.
She is not only beautiful because of her driving characteristics, but also because of her body. The driver can get to know her the best when he washes her by hands – either from respect, or he can see it only as the best way to preserve the paint-job, but he can also see his car as a pet, or he can feel affection in the tight contact. The last one is very accurate for the Alfa. It is like tracing the curves of a beautiful women, it is like listening to world altering music. It doesn't matter if you clean the outside, or the inside of the car. After cleaning you always feel more relaxed than tired (especially if you leave it to do it to somebody else!!! [translator's comment]). The only downside of it is, that from time to time you will notice scratches, especially during winter. The dreaded small gravel used on the roads can damage even the paint on the discs. Luckily it will not peel off. Buy a scratch remover in the same colour as the car is from the Alfa Romeo dealer. It will not cover the scratches perfectly, but the scratch will look better than without any corrections.
When you buy such a car, people will look. It is not some ordinary car you see hundreds of time every day on the roads. I saw couples going by the car and examining it, people turning their heads, but the best was to see one small boy with his grandparents. He walked from car to car, examining the brands and discs he saw. And just as he spotted the Alfa Romeo sign, his whole face lid up and he couldn't hide his joy, which delighted me too. But of course I know he would react the same if he saw a Porsche, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Ferrari, or a Maserati, and my Alfa doesn't belong to the same category. Either way I am glad when I can brighten somebody's day only by owning something beautiful.
Let's move from the exterior to the interior and right to the controversial display. Some will see it as a downside, but I see it as an upside. It is simple and not some 32 bit graphic. Some will expect something better, but I don't seek in a car anything that reminds me of a home cinema, or a PC game graphic. I don't need some animation of floating clouds to feel the adrenaline in my blood, a spark in my eye and a smile on my face after I felt the autumn leafs under my slightly skidding tires in a corner I went trough with my Giulietta with the grace of the sound of guitars on a Pink Floyd concert. The graphic is simple, to the point and not distracting.
From driving characteristics and looks we slowly get to the details like consumption and warranty which are important too. Consumption from the day I bought the car is, according to the computer, 5.8 liters per 100 km (40.5 miles per gallon), and in the last months (spring and summer) it is on 5.6 l/100km (42 miles per gallon). The consumption according to the computer and refueling agreed when I tested them, so the computer numbers are reliable.
About 60% of my rides are outside of the city and the remaining 40% are in the city. When driving in the country I can go as low as 5 l/100 km (47 miles/gallon). It is no problem, while going up a long hill, to reach consumption 20 liters per 100 km (12 miles/gallon). But what Alfa demands from the wallet, she gives back in form of a smile on the drivers face. I bought the Alfa because of the mutual experience we can get, not to choke her on the forth gear while driving 50 km/h (31 mph) in the town! I think that when a car is bought by heart, it always ends like this and the owner will not let it suffer.
When driving under regular circumstances, the second gear is ideal until 40 km/h (25 mph), from the third to the forth it is good to shift somewhere between 65-70 km/h (40-43 mph), the car breathes the best on the fifth gear until 90 km/h (56 mph) and, as I mentioned before, sixth gear can be used above 110 km/h (68 mph). But it is entirely different in the Dynamic mode and you should act according to the pressure in the turbocharger – the data about the pressure in the turbo is not reachable until you switch into the Dynamic mode.
In the city cycle it is normal to be somewhere around 6,5 l/100 km (36 miles/gallon) and even less if you are not stuck in many traffic jams.
The reader could ask why did I choose a diesel – do I travel that much? To tell the truth, no. I make about 20 000 km (12,000 miles) a year, but I got the diesel for the price of a petrol Giulietta. The slowest petrol engine has about 11 kW more, but the torque is in the favor of the diesel. I have driven a 170 horsepower petrol Giulietta, and she has a lot nicer sound, but here we get to a collision between the sound and consumption. The consumption was at the time of purchase important, but I can imagine that today I could overlook a few extra liters if it could bring me more fun.
Regarding quality — if Alfas are faulty, why would they give 5 years warranty on them? And even if they were, I have five years of warranty! The car has zinc coatings under the paint, the engine is tested, warranty is in the price of the car, and our dealer has no problems with prompt fixes.
To not to jump into the negatives right away, I want to ease you into them by mentioning aspects which are both cons and pros. One of them is the driver's positioning. It took me quite a time to find the best seat position for me. If I'm remembering right, it was about a week. But this is not such a bad thing, because even a 7 feet tall man will fit into the driver's seat if you lower it to the maximum and it is harder to find the correct position because the seat and the steering wheel are so adjustable. But when you find the perfect position, it is always a pleasure to take a seat. And now lets move to the proper cons.
I haven't noticed this small defect on the first testing ride, but on the other hand if you learn to shift into the first gear the right way, you always get it in. It all started few days after I bought the car when I stood on a red light. When it was my turn to go, I thought I had the car in the first gear so I eased my foot from the clutch, but instead of movement I only got the screeching noise you get when the gear is not in the right place. What can I say? While driving my old Fabia I simply got used to the fact that no matter how I shift into the first gear, it always falls into place. With time I learned how to shift according to my Alfa and now if my hand slips, I immediately know I have to do it again and properly this time. It needs a bit of a practice and to know how it feels when it is shifted correctly. But there were times when I was so frustrated I thought about starting on the second gear. After I talked about this with few people, I discovered that this fault is not unique just for the Italian and French cars. Luckily I use the first gear only during the start so I don't mind that much.
While driving on roads resemble more some training track for battle tanks, it was only a matter of time until something would start to squeak. I think that Giulietta is handling it with grace. It took 3 months until some squeaking noise from the dashboard occurred. Also there was some noise from the driver's seat and from the inner of the doors. The Skoda had the same problem and so would any other car, maybe except a Citroën or those big off-roads. I would lie if I said it is not a problem, because the sound annoys. So I read something about it on the internet and discovered that the squeaking driver's seat can be very easily repaired just by oiling the car seat rails. So we stopped at the authorized Alfa Romeo service and after few minutes the noise from the seat was history. Everything was handled as warranty, so I haven't paid a dime. They even told me that the other noises from the dashboard can be fixed easily and as warranty too, but they would have to take the whole dashboard down so it would take more time.
The noise from the dashboard and doors will be handled, but it is not so horrible I have the need to fix it immediately. The driver's seat was the worst. I'm quite satisfied with the car and some noise from time to time is not such a big deal, especially if now it is only from time to time. You won't take your partner to couple's therapy every time you disagree with her on something either. Alfa simply doesn't like bad roads. And to get back to my previous vehicles, it took Fabia 4 weeks to start crying about them so I always felt like I was in a tractor when driving on bad roads.
But what is really annoying is the too wide B-pillar. It affects my view in some situations on roads, especially in those when you're going onto the highway and you are expecting cars from different angles than 90° and when you can't see them clearly in the side-mirrors. In this case it is the best to slow down or even stop and make sure the road is clear. I got used to this flaw and now I try to watch the main road ahead of time, but slowing down is always the best course. I don't have the need to endanger myself, or other people on roads. And of course I understand that the wider pillar gives more protection in collisions.
Finally, there is the inability to shut down the stability control. I know that some things are essential and I also respect that the manufacturer has the right to decide about these things. And I also know that stability control is a good thing on the roads and most of the drivers will never need to shut it down for a simple reason – their lives and health are more to them than the drive on the edge without electronics.
If I should sum up all the pros and cons into some meaningful conclusion, I probably would say that I would buy Alfa again. I would choose the automatic 2.0 diesel if it was available for a reasonable price. Otherwise I would take the Giulietta QV even without any special features. I personally think that a car radio is something I could easily live without because the sound of the engine and tires is very pleasurable. And I immediately know if something is happening. I would choose more power only so Alfa would have more temperament.
The car has been in for service a few times in its first 30,000 km. Once because of the already mentioned oiling of the car seat rails. The second time was because of the noise coming from the wheels; they cleaned the brakes (under warranty) and the noise stopped. But it returned after a while, when the brakes were not used with enough force. Strong brakes can have their disadvantages if you don't use all their potential; since only a slight press can stop the car in an ordinary traffic and then the self-cleaning of the brakes will not work, you have to clean them by yourself.
On various forums, I read about the effects of gentle braking. Sometimes the brake discs have to be ground to take off a layer of buildup, but in my case cleaning was enough. If you have a car which makes people turn around and stare, you definitely don't want the stares to be because of a horrid noise. To prevent this noise it is also good to go on longer trips outside of the city where you have to brake from higher speeds than in a city traffic.
The expected costs of planned service stops of Alfa are lower than it was with my previous car. It is somewhere around 130€ a year and the service stops are every two years or 30,000 km.
The cruise control malfunctioned two times. The car just started to slow down by itself and I didn't know what it was. I was afraid that the brakes are overheating or something, but in the end it was my fault. I left the cruise control on all the time, which is not advised and after switching it off and on the problem disappears.
While the Spring check they discovered that the air conditioning cooling unit broke during the winter. First, the replacement part didn't arrive on time, and then there was a wrong part but in the right package. Since it took some time, they offered us a substitute vehicle - an older Fiat Punto Van with large windows, no tachometer, manual windows, and the DNA switch replaced by a LPG switch. I'm not complaining, it was for a day only and my wife liked the little Punto, even if I would take the Quattroporte they had there much more and not only as a substitute vehicle, and they at least haven't left me without any transportation.
In March, we had a bit of a disagreement with the shifting stick. It was not really happy about my shifting skills so I accidentally ripped off the plastic head of the stick. I still could shift, but its sex-appeal was gone. They say it happens and I was glad I am not the only one. The dealer ordered the part and few days later they replaced the plastic, still for free.
The seller was Auto Valas in Kosice, Slovakia. Until I came to them, I didn't believe that there is somebody in Slovakia with such a positive approach to the customer.
The dealer of my previous car (Porsche Inter Auto Slovakia) was accommodating, but only until the deal was closed. When I returned to the showroom, nobody recognized me, nobody offered me anything, nobody asked me how was I satisfied with my car. Even after servicing my car there for years (therefore spending a lot of money there), they weren't willing to offer me a substitute vehicle while mine was repaired by their mechanics.
Before that, I used Tempus Bavaria in Kosice (BMW), Auto Gabriel in Kosice (VW), and another VW dealer in Presov. The seller was very helpful and friendly, but not willing to offer any real discount, and then only if I took the car on a leasing or loan. In Kosice, the seller seemed to be waiting for us to leave. Just as in Presov, in Kosice they were unwilling to give me any discount. If I remember correctly, they offered me the car for 9€ less and when I got to Presov again, they offered me another 100€ discount. The seller in Presov, when I told him I chose the Alfa, immediately wanted to offer me a better price. All in all he was a nice guy.
The Tempus Bravia in Kosice was my worst experience. I got there once around 16:30 at Friday, and they should have been open till 18:00. I went to the sellers stand where there were three people; every one of them suddenly started to pack their things, nobody spoke to me, they just packed and left. I left with the notion that I would never willingly enter a BMW showroom again; staff quality should always match the cars. (Now, after two years, BMW stopped the contract with this dealership and they had to close, I wonder why... [translator's comment])
This time, I browsed the websites of various car dealers, and stumbled upon Fiat. They offered a discount right in their configuration program, so just for fun, I configured a Bravo. One winter evening, when we were near a Fiat showroom, we stepped into the showroom for a quick look, which turned into about two hours. I told the seller about the cars I considered like the VW Polo GTI and the Fiat Bravo - the GTI's power was enticing, but power is not the only important thing. They had a gasoline Bravo there, I think it was 88-kW model with xenon headlights, great features and 17'' discs. When I sat into it, I liked it right away and I really considered buying one.
Car – 2012 Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Year of manufacture - 2011
Age – 31,000 km / 19,262 miles
Engine - four cylinder turbodiesel
Number of valve per cylinder - 4
Engine size [cm3] - 1598
Maximum power output [kW] - 77
Peak torque [Nm] - 320
0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) - 11.3 seconds
Max speed [km/h / mph] – 185 / 115
Number of gears - 6 (manual)
Wheel diameter [inch] - 16
Luggage space - 350 liters
Fuel consumption – 5.8 (40.5 mpg)
But when the seller discovered how much we were willing to spend on a car, he seemed as if he almost couldn't contain himself when he showed us (now our) Giulietta. He was enthusiastic about offering us an Alfa Romeo. I though that Alfas were unnecessarily overpriced, and a Giulietta was out of our range (I never even looked at the Alfa Romeo websites), just as a new BMW is. The dealer told us about all her qualities, and he answered all our questions; when he showed us the price, we were dumbstruck. We left with the notion that it has to be too good to be true. The showroom should have been closed at 6 PM, but we left almost at 7:30.
It was a car they had to sell by the end of the year. I searched and verified everything about it so I wouldn't keep my hopes up for nothing. I read forums and discussions – Alfa does not have the best reputation here because of the reliability (I discovered that this is mostly spread by people who never owned one). I searched for the catch, but I couldn't find one.
The next day I was at the showroom again. I tried to find the problem which would cause few thousand euro discount (and it didn't matter if we paid it in cash or by a loan). The dealer always found time for me and my human half and he really did everything to make us happy. And so, just after Christmas, we went to pick up our new Giulietta. We even got some small things with the car like t-shirts, caps, scarves, wine bottles. I never heard about anybody who got anything with their car. Those are small things, but they come in handy. The last argument was, that we wouldn't leave the showroom with an empty tank. It was not a full one, but in VW they told us that we would have to buy fuel just as we leave the shop, or we wouldn't get far.
The customer service didn't end with that. Every time I go to the showroom I'm properly greeted, I'm offered coffee and some talk. I used to photograph, so I wanted to take some photos of their cars and they complied without any objections. They also offered some service for free I would have to pay few hundred euros otherwise – I will not mention what was it, because other people would want this service for free too.
Everything they do, they do to please the customer, because when he is satisfied, he doesn't feel the need to change the dealership once he decides to buy a newer car. I know that and I also know that if I stay this content, my next car will be an Alfa too.
Reliability - 10: Except for the broken AC cooler and, in the review mentioned, speed control malfunction, Alfa is always ready to drive. I could lover the grade for reliability because of those things, but they didn't affect the ability of the car to get me from point A to point B, so I let the reader to decide.
Driving characteristics - 10: It is the best in corners. Especially when my right foot presses the gas pedal and the left plays with the clutch.
Driving comfort - 9: Alfa doesn't like pot holes. But we don't plan to exchange her for a 52 ton tracked vehicle with a cannon because of it.
Running costs - 10: When I combine the cost of fuel and service in authorized garages, it is less than with my previous beloved from Mlada Boleslav (located in Czech Republic)– Skoda Fabia HTP.
Power - 10: When we got together, we knew about the 77 kW and 320 Nm she offers. The fact that the second Italian will have more power doesn't change the fact that my Alfa is still bringing me a lot of joy.
Consumption - 10: In spite of spirited driving, our average consumption over two years has been 5.9 liters per 100 km (40.5 mpg).
Engine noise - 9: It is audible outside of the vehicle, behind the wheel it is acceptable. And when the engine reaches its optimal temperature, the rise from 2,500 rpm to 3,500 rpm is a heavenly music.
Seat quality - 10: Seats are one of the most important things, because it depends on them how the driver handles the car. And in the Alfa I have no complaints about them. I cannot say how are the back seats, because the driver doesn't sit there.
Brakes - 10: After hitting the brakes, the car stops so fast, it makes you nauseous.
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