With its 2.0-litre JTDM-2 diesel models, does Alfa Romeo offer Giuliettas that appeal to head and heart in equal measures? Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Those of you in the know will realise that Alfa Romeo has been building some fantastic diesel engines in recent years and the 2.0-litre JTDM-2 units fitted to this improved Giulietta are a case in point. Choose 150 or 175bhp outputs and you'll get decent economy, low emissions and there's no need to compromise on the style statement.
There are some car makers who unerringly get their products right, straight off the bat. Unfortunately Alfa Romeo isn't one of them. It normally takes about a year for Alfa to flesh out a new car model range and to fine tune the build process. The Giulietta has been with us since early 2010 and in that time, it's established itself as a car that can stand toe to toe with the Volkswagen Golf, even bettering the mighty German in several key regards. One area where Alfa Romeo can certainly leverage an advantage over Volkswagen is in diesel engine technology and the Giulietta line up now includes two impressive 2.0-litre JTDM-2 powerplants. Customers can choose from either 150 or 175bhp versions and both units show the Giulietta off in a distinctly favourable light. With diesel sales accounting for an ever bigger share in this fierce market sector, Alfa looks as if it's in the box seats.
The majority of UK Giulietta sales are accounted for by the 120bhp 1.6-litre JTDM-2 diesel, but it's the larger 2.0-litre unit we look at here, developing 150bhp with manual transmission or 175bhp with the TCT auto. The 150bhp unit comes with a hefty 380Nm of torque and that helps it to a 130mph top end with the sprint to 62mph detaining you for a mere 8.8 seconds. Go for the 175bhp unit and you'll knock another second off the sprint time and top out at 135mph. The torque figure of the 175bhp engine is lower at 350Nm, so it's the 150bhp engine that feels more muscular when pulling out of a junction. Both powerplants use the JTDM-2 second-generation common-rail injection configuration and all versions get a six-speed manual gearbox while a dual clutch automatic is offered with the 175bhp unit. The DNA selector that debuted on Alfa's MiTo supermini reappears on the Giulietta. Dynamic, Normal and All weather modes can be chosen - hence the 'DNA' branding. These options then adjust the settings of the engine, gearbox, steering, Q2 electronic differential and VDC stability control system to optimise the car's behaviour to the conditions of the driver's preference. Dynamic works best on open roads but makes the throttle response too spiky for town driving, where you'll want to switch it back into Normal. After a while you'll wish the car could figure this out for itself.
Design and Build
Every time I see the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, I come away with a different opinion as to how pretty it is. Some of the basic proportioning is quite challenging and is extremely sensitive to colour choices and wheel selections. In dark colours, with the biggest alloy wheels on the options list, it looks fantastic. Go for a pale colour with small wheels and it can appear uncomfortably bulbous. This latest model gets sleeker front-end styling that includes a striking honeycomb grille, piano black bumper inserts with red highlights on sporty models and revised headlamp and fog lamp surrounds. The idea is to emphasise the Giulietta's close genetic links with Alfa Romeo's premium segment Giulia sports saloon: hence the smarter badging, classier alloy wheels, revised tail pipes and fresh new colours. Inside, there are revised seat upholsteries, dashboard and door panel finishes. Plus a Uconnect infotainment system now with smartphone-enabled LIVE services. These include music streaming with access to the Deezer and TuneIn set-ups, news with Reuters, Facebook Check-In and Twitter. Plus Alfa's useful 'eco:Drive' and 'my:Car' services, along with traffic updates for navigation-equipped models. Otherwise, it's pretty much as you were. Those sleek lines don't impinge on practicality too much, although there's not as much space in the rear as the exterior dimensions might suggest. The 350-litre boot is competitive and Alfa has built a range of storage options into the cabin. The controls are arranged in tiers on the sweeping dash and there's a suitably traditional set of cowled instruments.
Market and Model
The 2.0-litre JTDM-2 engine comes with either 'Tecnica', 'Super' or 'Speciale' trim, plus there's a cheaper standard spec if you go for the 150bhp unit. The entry-level Giulietta benefits from burnished headlamp surrounds, satin-finish door handles and smarter tailpipes, while inside there are classier grey and black fabric seats with an Alfa Romeo logo on the head restraints, along with a smart matte black dashboard insert and luxury floor mats. The refreshed style elements are accompanied by a standard equipment list which includes a leather steering wheel with audio remote controls, air conditioning, a five-inch Uconnect LIVE infotainment screen with Bluetooth connectivity, the Alfa DNA driving mode selector, six airbags, 16-inch 'Turbine' alloy wheels, one-touch electric windows all round and steering-wheel paddle shifters on TCT-equipped models. Alfa hasn't skimped on safety features and the Giulietta gets a complement of six airbags plus an array of electronic devices designed to let drivers extract the maximum from their car while staying safe at all times. There's ABS anti-lock braking with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD); Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) - Alfa Romeo's interpretation of Electronic Stability Programme; Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Steering Torque (DST), Hydraulic Brake Assistance (HBA) and a Pre-Fill function for the brakes. This helped the Giulietta achieve a record 87 out of 100 score on the revised EuroNCAP ratings.
Cost of Ownership
Alfa Romeo has often managed to tug at the heart strings with sufficient force that the hard economics of ownership get punted to the background. That policy may have worked in times of plenty, but in a climate where buyers are watching every penny, a pretty face is no longer enough. The Giulietta 2.0-litre JTDM-2 doesn't do at all badly when it comes to fuel economy, with the 150bhp model returning a combined figure of 67.3mpg while the punchier 175bhp TCT version still gets 65.7 miles per gallon of derv. The 150bhp model might well be more popular with company car buyers as it manages 110g/km of CO2, while the 175bhp car emits 113g/km. Residual values have stood up stronger than perhaps many industry pundits expected and the diesel models fare best of all. It's worth remembering that if you do go for the big alloys, fancy paint finishes and infotainment upgrades, you'll only see a very small proportion of the incremental outlay preserved come resale time. One factor working in the Giulietta JTDM-2's favour is a particularly long servicing interval, thus minimising work required on the vehicle during its life cycle and cutting its running costs. The 36,000 mile service interval might have raised alarm bells on older Alfas but improving both perceived and actual quality has been a key objective for Alfa Romeo in recent years
There's no shortage of buyers who would love an Alfa Romeo but have been deterred by any number of practical considerations. Reliability, quality and cost per mile have often worked against the Italians in the past, but every objective measure demonstrates that contemporary Alfa models have their house in order. The improved Giulietta 2.0 JTDM-2 is an intriguing car insofar as it marries some sassy styling with engineering that most rival manufacturers can only look at and begin to imitate. Go for the 150bhp model if you're looking to keep a cap on bills but don't want to miss out on a helping of brio, while the 175bhp TCT version will appeal to those with looser purse strings. The overall package may not be as roundly polished as a VW Golf, but it feels a more special ownership experience and you won't get kicked in the wallet for choosing the Giulietta over the Golf. So what's stopping you? Here's an Alfa that needs no excuses.