By Jonathan Crouch
If you thought that all Focus-sized family hatchbacks built in the 21st century's second decade were much of a muchness, Alfa Romeo's Giulietta is probably going to come as a breath of fresh air. After four years on sale, this car was updated in 2014, at which point it gained an upgraded 2.0-litre diesel engine, greater refinement, cleverer infotainment technology and a slightly smarter feel inside and out. These virtues were added to this Alfa's existing attributes - distinctive styling, a strong range of engines and interior design a world away from the usual blandness - creating a car that might appeal to both head and heart. Here, we check out the 2014-2020-era versions of this model for the used market.
5dr Hatch (1.4, 1.75 petrol / 1.6 diesel, 2.0 diesel)
So you need a family hatchback - but you don't want a dull one. It's time for something different this time around, something you can attach a bit of pride and passion to. Something like this perhaps, the post-2014-era version of Alfa Romeo's Giulietta.
Here's a model - and a brand - with as much heritage as you could want. The Giulietta name, after all, goes all the way back to the pretty two and four-door designs Alfa used to make in the mid-Fifties and was a badge revived in the late Seventies for the 'Nuova Giulietta', a chic sports saloon, before it was once again abandoned in favour of the various modern era family hatches that directly preceded this car. In the Eighties, we had the 33, succeeded in the Nineties by the 145 and 146 models before the turn of the century brought us the 147 range that set the scene for the re-introduction of the Giulietta name in 2010, this time designating a sporting family five-door hatch - the car we look at here.
By this time, global passion for the Alfa brand had cooled somewhat, for reasons now well documented: the excellence of the German competition, the slow turnover of models and the Milanese brand's over-dependence on hardware borrowed from parent company Fiat. It was clear that if the company was to survive, then things would have to change, with more competitive, freshly designed products and cutting edge technology. All created without losing the spark that makes an Alfa what it is. Early signs with this Giulietta were good in that regard. True, the constrained times of its development meant a need to share underpinnings and engineware with humbler brands in the Fiat group but that wasn't necessarily a problem. After all, this car uses these mechanicals in its own very individual way thanks to the development of Alfa-specific steering, seating, suspension and brakes. The Milanese maker claimed that the engines were tuned differently too and there were unique looks. So far so good.
Sure enough, early sales of this model were certainly encouraging, the appeal of the Alfa brand matched with the efficiency of hi-tech MultiAir petrol and Multijet diesel engines installed beneath the bonnet and optionally mated to a clever dual clutch TCT paddleshift auto gearbox. By 2013 though, things were tailing off as buyers at the premium end of the family hatchback sector began to be tempted away by newer rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Alfa urgently needed to rejuvenate this car. Hence the 2014 model year update that created the version of this car that sold all the way through to the end of production in 2020.
What You Get
Let's be honest. Even in its pricey premium segment, the family hatchback market isn't overly endowed with pretty cars. This one was welcome then, taking the styling cues of its smaller MiTo stablemate and transferring them, rather successfully it has to be said, to a bigger five door-only design. At the front, where as usual on an Alfa, the number plate is jauntily offset to the left, the famous triangular grille is given plenty of space to breathe with the air-intakes cut low and the headlamps, complete with daytime running lights, pushed out to the corners. It's the look we first saw on the 8C Competizione supercar and not one you expect to find on a Focus-sized family hatch.
The visual changes made to the post-2014-era revised version were slight: extra chrome on the front grille, revised front fog light bezels, smarter alloy wheels and a wider range of paint colours. But then, this wasn't a design that needed much doing to it and as on the original version of this Giulietta design, there's beautiful detailing almost everywhere you look. Take the lovely LED tail lamp night time signature for example. Or the shapely profile. We don't think we've ever seen a pair of rear doors so artfully disguised, the blade-thin shut lines disappearing into the rear wheel arch line and the door handles hidden in the window frame.
Enter in through them and the news that this car is longer than a Volkswagen Golf might lead you to expect more head, leg and knee room than is actually on offer. The narrowing window line and sloping coupe-like roof don't help here and it can be a little dark unless you get a car whose original owner found quite a lot extra for the large electric double sunroof. Still, two adults will be reasonably comfortable and three kids adequately provided for.
Lift the rear hatch - the badge neatly doubles as a boot release - and you'll find that this Alfa offers a class-competitive 350-litre cargo bay, though you have to lift your luggage over quite a high lip to get to it. Once there, you'll find that, no, there isn't quite as much space as you'd get in a Golf, an A3, a Civic or a SEAT Leon from this era but the capacity is very comparable to a rival BMW 1 Series and actually a little more than you'd get in a Volvo V40 or a Mercedes A-Class. It's reasonably practical too, with a bag hook, a power socket and a recess where bottles can be stored. If you need more, you can as usual push forward the 60/40 split-folding rear bench (unlike the MiTo, it's was fitted as standard here) to free up an unremarkable 750-litres.
And at the wheel? Well, if you owned the original 2010-2013-era version of this car, you'll probably take a seat in this post-2014-era model and struggle to put your finger exactly on why it all feels slightly nicer. So let us help. We mentioned seats: well they were re-designed as part of the 2014 facelift to be more comfortable and enveloping, particularly in terms of upper-body lateral support. The door panels were re-styled too, as was the three-spoke height and reach-adjustable leather-trimmed steering wheel, though this remains a touch too far away for perfect comfort. The sweeping dashboard's was re-designed too, mainly to accommodate a more sophisticated Uconnect multimedia system with a 5-inch colour screen that increases to 6.5-inches in size with models specified with Alfa's satellite navigation set-up.
True, some of the fittings don't have that hewn-from-granite feel you'd get in a Golf, but many owners will gladly trade that this car's bolder, more memorable design. Nice to see that there's a proper conventional handbrake too. Of course, as on any Alfa, there are a few niggles: the pedals (which look lovely with aluminium trim) remain rather close together and there's nowhere to rest your clutch foot. Seat back adjustment is awkward when you've got your belt on. There are a few rough plastic finishes - for example, around the steering column shroud and on the lip of the glovebox. You might be struggling to find somewhere to put your mobile 'phone and if you need to plug it in, the relocation of the USB and Aux-in points in front of the gearlever on the facelifted model means that cables can end up trailing backwards where they then can get in the way of the gearshift. And rear visibility isn't great thanks to the small rear window and the thick rear C-pillars, making it important to find a car whose original owner specified the optional parking sensors.
But these aren't the things you really remember after an extended spell in this car. What's important is the way it feels such a special place to be, especially when upgraded with sports leather upholstery. Most of the major controls fall easily to hand and you're faced with a gorgeous set of deeply cowled proper red-lit Alfa Romeo sports dials, on their own enough to make your heart beat a little faster. Would you really want to revert back to German functionality after this? No. Thought not.
What You Pay
Please contact us for an exact up-to-date valuation.
What to Look For
Though quite a few owners in our survey seemed happy, there are certainly things that you'll need to look for. If you like a quiet drive to work, this might not be the car for you: the squeaks you'll commonly get on older models will mean you may have to drive with the radio on. Interior trim, particularly around the centre console area, can contribute to this by becoming loose and making a noise.
Build quality can certainly be patchy; take the sealing issues we can across in our survey. These can be defective in the rear and around the windscreen, so after a downpour, you might open the boot to find dribbles of water down the windscreen and in the boot lock area. The front windscreen seals can end up falling off too, due to the way Alfa pushes them in under the windscreen (it requires the windscreen to be removed to fix). You might notice this on the motorway when things start flapping. In the rain, the rear passenger door inner seal can fail too - behind the door trim - which leaves little puddles on the door sill. The rear driver-side passenger door outer seal can often also fail, leaving water between the inner and out seals. Try and make sure you test drive the Giulietta model you have in mind in the wet to make sure it's not afflicted with any of these issues.
What else? Well another owner in our survey had a pump bearing collapse and an exhaust sensor failure. The rear de-mister also packed up, quickly followed by the near side rear light cluster. This turned out to be due to the wiring loom - which was broken between the tailgate and the point where it entered the car. We came across some issues with the MultiAir petrol engines; in one case, the powerplant failed completely. Make sure that the infotainment system works as it should and doesn't freeze or crash. If it does, the system might need an update. More expensive versions have big alloy wheels that could easily have picked up kerbing damage. Check the cabin for the usual family scuffs and scratches. We've come across reports of the gear knob working loose. And certain cable protectors under the bonnet get worn away by the engine cover, too. Overall, you'd we wise to insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2014 Giulietta 1.4 TB 170hp - Ex Vat) An air filter costs in the £11-£21 bracket. An oil filter costs in the £5-£21 bracket. Front brake pads sit in the £26-£60 bracket for a set; for a rear set, it's in the £20 to £65 bracket. Front brake discs sit in the £60-£76 bracket; for rears, think in the £60-£87. A water pump is around £31-£51. And a pollen filter is in the £9-£22 bracket. A wiper blade is in the £11-£19 bracket. A fuel filter is around £17.
On the Road
So is it a 'proper Alfa' to drive? To start with, we have to tell you that we're not quite sure what that means. If by 'proper Alfas', you mean old Alfasuds and Spiders with their crude ride and appalling driving positions, then no, it's certainly not like that. In fact, rather surprisingly, the ride is one of the best things about this car, supple, yet complementing excellent body control. The other thing that surprised us at launch was the impressive refinement and in the post-2014-era revised model, Alfa went all-out to better this; modifications were made in the engine compartment, the wheel arches, the front mudguard, the floor, the rear bumper and the boot. Their work paid off.
But what about the kind of sound that enthusiasts would want any car from this charismatic Italian brand to have - that distinctive Alfa engine rasp? Whether you get that depends of course much on the powerplant you choose. Half the range was, after all, made up of Fiat Group JTDm-2 diesels - a 105bhp 1.6 plus a couple of 2.0-litre units - and no one ever expected aural excitement from one of those.
Choose the right petrol engine though and the units on offer are as sonorous as you can expect any modern engine to be. At entry-level, there was an aging 120bhp 1.4-litre TB unit, but all the emphasis - from Alfa and from people like us - rightly went into persuading potential buyers to shake the piggy bank a little further and stretch to the much higher-tech 170bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir unit from the little MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde hot hatch, a powerplant that suits this car perfectly. For a start, it's more than acceptably fast, rest to sixty occupying 7.6s on the way to 135mph and 250Nm of torque on hand for rapid overtaking. Yet it manages to be so while at the same time potentially returning a set of running cost figures that aren't too far off those of less charismatic direct rivals, returns further enhanced by the optional 6-speed TCT dual clutch auto gearbox which from new could be ordered with steering wheel paddle shifters for those wanting a proper F1-style feel.
This then, is the petrol version of choice, but if it really isn't quick enough for you, then you could also search for the rare 237bhp 1.75-litre turbo petrol Quadrifoglio Verde hot hatch model that puts out 80% of its grunt from as little as 1,800rpm, delivers you to 62mph in 6.6s and stops almost as quickly thanks to oversized 320mm Brembo brake discs. The engine beneath the bonnet sounds like the same 1750 TBi unit this particular variant used to have - but isn't. Instead, it's a lighter, more responsive powerplant that was originally developed for Alfa's 4C sportscar and which in this case must be controlled by the 6-speed TCT auto transmission and gearshift paddles.
On to diesel power - and more specifically the second generation 1.6 and 2.0-litre common rail JTDm-2 engines Alfa had to borrow from elsewhere in the Fiat empire. Installing a diesel engine beneath the bonnet meant the imposition of an extra 30kgs of weight just where you won't want it - over the front wheels. But even here, the Giulietta remains a relatively engaging thing to drive. The frugal 105bhp 1.6-litre variant makes 62mph in 11.3s on the way to 115mph but actually feels a bit quicker than that thanks to a healthy 320Nm of torque.
Pick of the range though, is arguably the mainstream 2.0-litre JTDM-2 powerplant, which was uprated in the post-2014-era improved model from 140 to 150bhp and proved to be far cleaner and more frugal in that facelifted guise thanks to a set of redesigned injectors able to fire up to eight times per combustion cycle for greater efficiency. You have to have a manual gearbox with the 150hp diesel diesel unit, but if you're quick with it, 62mph from rest is possible in 8.8s en route to 130mph. If you don't want the stick shift, then there's an auto-only 175bhp version of the 2.0-litre engine which improves those stats to 7.8s and 136mph but doesn't feel any faster since it can't quite match the standard unit's impressive 380Nm torque figure.
All models get the neat 'D.N.A' set-up we first saw on the MiTo, a system that via the 'Dynamic', 'Normal' and 'All-weather' settings accessible via the rocker switch near the gearlever, offers the driver pre-set modes to vary control of engine, gearbox, steering and VDC stability control system, so optimising the car's behavior to either the conditions or the driver's preference. It tweaks the standard Q2 electronic differential too, this one of those systems that works through the turns to counter both understeer and wheel spin by lightly micro-braking whichever front wheel is threatening to lose grip. As a result, the car's kept planted through the tightest corner and you're able to make full use of this Giulietta's stable feel and prodigious front end grip as you're fired on from bend to bend.
We think D.N.A works better on this Giulietta than it does on Alfa's smaller MiTo model. For a start, you don't have to leave it set in 'Dynamic' all the time for the car to have any real get-up-and-go, though if you're driving a 1.4-litre petrol MultiAir model, the 'Dynamic' setting does release an extra overboost effect for the turbo that really makes the engine wake up and take an interest in the road ahead. Even in a humbler 1.6-litre diesel though, you don't need to be a professional driver to notice the difference D.N.A can make to your drive, primarily perhaps when it comes to the steering: it's much sharper and more responsive if you switch from 'Normal' to 'Dynamic'.
Alfa Romeo's modern-era Giulietta proved to be a car that confounded many expectations. It was mature, cost-effective to run and featured strong safety credentials. Does that mean that with this car, this Milanese maker sold out, joined the mainstream, maybe got a little boring following its centenary? Actually, no.
Let's look at this logically. Where older Alfas used to score lay in the way that they were exciting cars to drive, to look at and to own. This Giulietta may not have quite the old-school sparkle of some of its predecessors and the cabin still has a few minor niggles if you care to look for them, but overall, this model was undoubtedly a desirable thing, particularly in this update post-2014-era guise. It was smart to behold, plush inside and able to match premium rivals from its era in most of the practical areas that matter. It's also quite efficient - or at least it is in its diesel guises.
When all's said and done, these are things that make this Italian contender much more a car you would actually buy, rather than a one you'd simply add to a future wish list. And for Alfa Romeo, that was a step forward.