Alfa adds a bit of La Dolce Vita
Romantic salute to icon of the Fifties looks great but raises more questions than answers, writes Campbell Spray
Believe it or not, a lot of thought goes into this column. Is it being fair? Are too many prejudices getting in the way? And are we being relevant at all? Of course, all concerns are dismissed in a swig of good red wine over dinner.
Well that's enough about the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, let's talk heroes -- and not the X Factor charity single which brought a tear to my eye on last Sunday's results show.
Last Tuesday I had just returned the aforementioned car to Sandyford in south Dublin and then caught the Luas to Grafton Street before picking up a Dublin Bike for the ride to our office in Talbot Street. I love the Luas but the Bike Scheme is in another realm entirely: One of the best things to come to the capital since the canals.
At the Bike Station in Molesworth Street I met Ruairi Quinn returning one as I took another out. Ruairi, one of our most able politicians of now and the last 30 years, features in today's supplement as an "inspiring figure" for troubled times. We passed comments on the fate of the present Government and then marvelled that there were some good things that had come out of the last years, including the Bike Scheme.
Apparently this is down to Andrew Montague, a Labour councillor who saw the idea in Paris and had the drive to bring it here. He sometimes incurs the wrath of motorists as the chairman of the Dublin Transport Committee, but he is a visionary. I hope eventually there is a plaque to him and the brilliant Bike Scheme. He is a hero to thousands of commuters and shoppers.
Of course, to many, Alfas are motoring legends and the Giulietta does its best to invoke the glories of the past before their present was tainted with tales of unreliability, poor residuals and cramped, badly built cars. Their fans have been heroic in their loyalty.
But those days should now be past and the Italian company and its Fiat parent seem to have turned the corner.
There is no brand that so divides readers. For every tale of woe that reaches me there are impassioned letters from Alfistis berating me for demeaning their experience and saying that their "hundreds of thousands of fault-free kilometres of exhilarating driving" have been anything but the "cursed affair" of which I wrote.
It was with some trepidation that I took on the Giulietta for a week's test driving. However the smallish hatchback has received a certain amount of critical acclaim and is in the final seven for the European Car of the Year. It certainly looked exciting. In the road outside our office it stood out -- almost too tempting -- in what is called "competizione red pearlescent paint".
At the end of the week it excited two 18-year-olds when I picked them up from school. With its rear door handles disguised as part of the rear windows it attempts coupe looks with hatchback space and adaptability.
The Giulietta is fast, with a 0-100kmh of 7.8 seconds on its way to a top speed of 218kmh. The 1.4 Turbo 170bhp Multiair engine is relatively clean, attracting road tax of €156, but it seems to encourage heavy consumption despite having stop/start technology. It was the first car in quite a while whose fuel gauge went down much more than I expected.
Despite claims to be a five seater it isn't; four big people would be squeezed, a two plus two family would be happy enough although the rear doors don't open enough.
The car's air conditioning annoyed me for being loud and ineffective, the driving position -- especially with the foot pedals -- was extremely uncomfortable, there was poor visibility and the gearbox wasn't precise enough.
Yet the Alfistis will find such niggles minor in a car that salutes an icon of the Fifties.
They will take comfort from its classy feel inside with a bold dashboard with some retro switches. And, most importantly, on the road they will have the throaty roar from the engine and have good body control -- although I didn't much like its unnecessary DNA system (dynamic, normal and all-weather) which adjusts steering, engine and stability control. None of them give the blend of sparkle and confidence you expect.
Although the Giulietta is not as jaw-droppingly good looking as some of its kin, it will appeal to people who want something different. Yet the whole package might disappoint. The test car's basic price was €28,695 but by the time black sports leather, that special paint and electric heated front seats are added it comes to €34,140.
This is getting pricy for a smallish unproved sporty hatchback which might have very poor residuals. There is a lot of competition out there at that price. And I wouldn't take a heroic stand with the Alfa. But the Alfisti will disagree for they have a new car on an innovative and light platform.
"What is there not to like about it?" berated a colleague and long-time Alfa owner when he saw the picture on this page and heard that the throaty roar is still there.
Oh I don't know, I'm off on my bike -- maybe I'm off my rocker.