- Sweet, visceral turbo engine
- Engaging steering and handling
- Decent value for money
- It's tight in the back seat
- Some dodgy cabin materials
- Thirsty at speed and in town
The big news at Alfa Romeo recently has all concerned their new rear-drive platform – with the mid-size Giulia sedan first out of the blocks, and an SUV derivative – called Stelvio – to follow soon enough. But this is new ground for the Italian brand: what Alfa Romeo have traditionally done well is soulful, front-drive hatches. And that’s where the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce comes in.
The Giulietta has been with us for about seven years, but the Veloce name is new. It’s the five-door Giulietta’s performance model – this used to be called Quadrifoglio, but in line with the new Giulia, the ‘four-leaf clover’ now denotes Alfa’s seriously rapid vehicles. The 177kW Veloce is quick, no doubt about it – but the take-no-prisoners 375kW Giulia Quadrifoglio reveals why the Veloce swap was necessary.
Few major updates have punctuated the Giulietta’s presence in Australia – and indeed, traces of the C-Evo platform the Giulietta sits on can be dated to the famed Lancia Delta of the 1980s. But a twin strategy of frequent, minor trim changes, and some meaningful mechanical upgrades mean the Giulietta Veloce is far more competitive with the modern hot hatch set than you’d thin,
In fact, the Giulietta’s combination of arresting looks, an emotional and highly-strung 1.75-litre turbo petrol from Alfa’s 4C mini-supercar, delicate handling balance and superb steering mean it pulls on your heartstrings like few other five-doors we have driven.
The alloy 4C engine means the Veloce is plenty quick enough, producing boosty, 6 second 0–100km/h sprints. It sounds raspy and rewarding, too, especially at high revs, where you’ll want to live to extract the most from this bratty Italian five-door. The presence of an electronically controlled, mechanically locking front differential also means that the substantial power figure can be harnessed through the front wheels, with the Veloce able to aggressively sprint up a mountain pass with little understeer.
And while the 1.75T is characterful and the diff useful, it’s the Giulietta’s handling characteristics that really draw a keen driver in. Sure, the interior and primary controls – especially the steering wheel – are quite dated, but if you’re not hung up on having the most modern cabin in this segment, the Giulietta Veloce is a distinctly interesting Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance competitor.
Garden variety Giuliettas are powered by a sweet 1.4-litre turbocharged four that’s familiar throughout the Fiat-Chrysler lineup – but Alfa’s real honey pot is saved for the Giulietta Veloce alone, with the superfast 4C two-door that birthed the engine now gone from the lineup.
It’s an alloy 1.75-litre turbocharged four producing 177kW of power at 5,750rpm, and 340Nm of torque at just 2,000rpm. As the numbers suggest, it’s a powerful engine that likes to be revved out when driving in anger, while the stout and early torque figure is more than capable of overwhelming the front wheels, given the light 1,299 kilogram mass.
The Alfa’s engine is more AMG than Golf, with a bratty, brappy character communicated through a deep bassy note at low revs, rising to a raspy shriek when really revved out. And the burbling bass is real – even when the engine heats up and the Giulietta is in its most chilled-out ‘Natural’ driving mode, you’re aware of something special under the bonnet.
Look, it’s not as flexible as a two-litre TSI in a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but few small-capacity engines can produce the linear strength that VW have achieved with huge research and development budgets. For a company working on decidedly slimmer resources, Alfa Romeo have quite an achievement on their hands with the 1.75-litre.
Only more pronounced crackles and pops would increase the aural theatre of the engine, but that’s likely a product of our addiction to entirely overstated exhausts, like that fitted to the AMG A45, or Audi RS3.
As we mentioned, ‘Natural’ mode is for cruising around town but once you’ve found the right road, you’ll want to shift to ‘Dynamic’, which switches on the front differential lock – it’s not available in Natural. 177kW is still a substantial figure in a vehicle that’s pretty light and the diff lock is key to getting the power to the tarmac in hard corners.
The diff is less tenacious than the one Volkswagen fit to the GTI Performance, but its effect is clearly felt on long, sweeping uphill corners. This is where a front-drive car without a trick differential starts to understeer due to the outside tyre being overwhelmed – but the effect of these differentials is to keep the front wheels in lockstep, belting the power to the ground. In the Giulietta, it works, and it seriously complements your abilities as a driver.
What also works well at speed is the Veloce’s standard six-speed double-clutch automatic – no manual was developed for the 4C, so there’s naturally no manual here. It’s a snappy and rewarding gearbox when moving fast, and the paddles make it smooth enough at any speed. But left to its own devices around town, the DCT can feel laggy and gappy.
Fabulous steering goes a long way to making a driver feel connected to the car, and here the Veloce delivers in spades. The weighting is near spot-on in Natural mode, and while it feels over-firm in Dynamic, you do appreciate the confidence additional weight brings when driving above seven-tenths.
Sadly, the fast Giulietta had a tyre downgrade in Australia sometime in the last couple of years, moving from expensive and excellent Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber to relatively inexpensive Pirelli Cinturato P7 sneakers. The Cinturatos – which are also fitted to mainstream Golfs – feel fine in a non-sports car but in the Veloce, when you want to drive properly fast, they find the limit of their grip in tight downhill sections far too quickly.
The standard Giulietta suspension is swapped out for a sports variant in the Veloce and safe to say, it’s choppy around town, but the cushioned seats do mean imperfections aren’t translated directly to the driver’s back. It isn’t too noisy inside – apart from sweet engine noise – and the Brembo stoppers are also more than adequate.
Don’t look around for complex safety technology – radar cruise, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring: that’s not available here. Manual cruise is included though and the Giulietta has retained its 5-star ANCAP crash rating from quite a few years ago…
While the Giulietta still feels fresh mechanically, it’s inside where the Alfa is starting to show its age. Now, it’s ageing quite gracefully – but the Giulietta is from an era of hard-touch plastics and very large steering wheels, and neither of those issues have been addressed.
Run a hand around most exposed surfaces in the cabin and you’ll remark that they don’t feel expensive like a Golf, and the dinner-plate steering wheel feels pretty un-sporty in a vehicle with such excellent handling: Alfa Romeo, check out the effect of Peugeot’s fun and functional small wheel in the 308 for comparison. Ending up somewhere in the middle of the two would be ideal for the next version.
We have few complaints about the seats, though, which are well-bolstered and comfortable. The leather-alcantara trim mix is upmarket and feels very premium. However, long-legged Australian drivers will quickly make the connection that the short squab was designed with Italians in mind! The Giulia’s greater thigh support shows that Alfa Romeo are doing away with this habit, however.
Manual seat adjustment sees an eyebrow raised when you’re spending $42,000, however – as does the deletion of the centre armrest from the Giulietta’s standard specification in recent history. That feels cheap and short-sighted, given this car is actually quite adequate for long-distance touring, despite a rough-ish suspension tune.
The infotainment is provided by way of FCA’s corporate 6.5-inch uConnect touchscreen – which basically just gets the job done. It’s small and relatively low-resolution compared to Volkswagen’s new 8-inch screens or Peugeot’s 9.7-inch touchscreen in the 308, but given the Alfa is all about driving and nothing about fiddling with screens, we can forgive it. Somewhat.
The navigation system is a breeze and identifies intelligent routes, and the nine-speaker Bose stereo – which has been around in small Alfas for quite some time – is really bassy and satisfying. However, the lack of digital radio is another age thing.
Move from the front seats to the back and you’ll realise that the five-door Giulietta isn’t a practicality superstar. Consider the back seats a place for kids or very occasional use by friends, and you’ll be on the money: the extra three places are a nice to have, but Alfa’s five-door is more like a car for a couple and their stuff, and perhaps one or two littlies, than a true practical sports car like a Golf GTI.
The small back seat isn’t to say that the Alfa Romeo is truly impractical: it’s not. That was the role of the 4C two-door, after all – and while the Giulietta has been gifted that car’s engine, it is still, at its heart, a four-door-and-booted hatchback.
So despite our warnings about the cramped back seat, naturally it is usable and this is a five-person car when you need it to be. It just happens that it’s particularly spacious when you use it as a two-seater, with a big back seat to toss an overnight bag or the shopping into.
Head around the back and press down onto the new Alfa Romeo badging, and you’ll pop open a generously-sized boot. The 350 litres of space on offer is about par for the course for a hatch of this size. It’s a fair drop into the boot, meaning removing heavy suitcases is a bit of a pain, but there is a small hook for the shopping and a 12-volt socket and light back there.
Plus, if you need to you can fold the back seats forward to slide a piece of furniture or fit a bike with the wheel removed, at an absolute pinch.
In the cabin, the lack of a front armrest is a real annoyance, especially given it contained a shallow storage tray. However, there are still small cupholders between the seats, though you’ll be putting your phone into one of them. The prominent “DNA” driving mode switch occupies the place ahead of the gear shifter where you’d usually find a tray for your phone.
The door bins are really tiny in the front: they’re for papers, not for water bottles, in this car. And in the back, there aren’t door bins at all, but there is an air vent to keep the air circulating for your passengers.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Servicing the 2017 Giulietta Veloce
The Giulietta Veloce will either be really expensive to service, or really cheap. How’s that possible? Well, if you time your purchase right then you might catch Alfa Romeo offering three years of complimentary scheduled servicing on the Giulietta range – as they are now, in May 2017.
You’ll want that deal because over three years, or 45,000 kilometres, the Veloce will normally cost $2,485 to service – a good deal more than a similarly-quick Golf GTI. At least it only requires annual servicing, or every 15,000 kilometres – that’s convenient.
The three year, 150,000 kilometre warranty is also generous, although we don’t have nearly as many reliability concerns about modern Alfa Romeos than older models.
Fuelling the Giulietta
Alfa Romeo claim the Veloce can do 6.8L/100km on the combined cycle – but as with most performance cars, we found that you’re more likely to achieve the urban figure no matter what you do, which is 9.5L/100km for this car. However, when you’re buying a fun little turbo petrol toy, you need to budget close to $2,000 a year to fuel it anyway – call it paying to play.
The Giulietta’s depreciation
You had to see a traditional Alfa shortfall somewhere – and it’s in the way it loses value. If you keep a Giulietta Veloce ($41,900) for three years and 40,000 kilometres – the average – Glass’s Guide data indicates that it should retain about 49.8% of its value, returning you about $20,900 at sale.
That’s fairly feeble compared to the impressive 62% for the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf GTI, or the 55% you’ll get back on a Ford Focus ST.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Usually, the Giulietta Veloce’s most square competitor would be the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance – a five-door auto-only proposition, formerly with 169kW of power, and packing a similar front differential at $46,490. However, the Performance isn’t currently available – but when it’s back, you can think of it as a less soulful, but more powerful, modern and expensive alternative to the Alfa.
Ford’s Focus ST ($38,990) is manual-only but produces a similar 184kW of power and 345Nm of torque. It adds Recaro front seats, superior SYNC3 navigation, automatic lights, keyless entry and start, and optional advanced safety tech – and it’s handily cheaper, but only if you can row your own gears. Also, no tricky diff.
Peugeot have deleted their fun 308 GT petrol – the GT is now diesel only – so the closest thing to the Alfa from the funky French brand is the $49,990 manual-only GTI, but it’s significantly faster. Check it out if the Giulietta is too slow!
Within the Giulietta range, it’s arguably the Veloce that represents the best value proposition.
The entry-level Giulietta Super manual ($29,900 – often driveaway at this price) packs a 110kW tune of a 1.4-litre turbo, 16-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, 5-inch infotainment, fabric seats, a leather steering wheel, and auto wipers.
The $5,000 step up to the Super automatic ($34,900) is complemented by more power – 125kW here – plus 17-inch alloys, front parking sensors, better 6.5-inch uConnect navigation, and a leather shifter.
The $41,900 Veloce by comparison represents a big performance jump to the 1.75-litre turbo and the front differential. However, it also scores 18-inch alloys, Brembo brakes, a sports suspension and body kit, bi-xenon headlights, sports exhaust, leather and alcantara seats, steel pedals, a 9-speaker stereo and carbon-look trim. For little more than $11,000 over the base car, that’s pretty great.
And given you can get into a more powerful and fairly well-stocked Giulietta for less than a base Golf GTI, the value for money here isn’t bad at all.
Ford Focus ST ($38,990)
Ford’s two-litre Focus ST isn’t an all-out-weapon like the 2.3-litre, AWD Focus RS – but it’s actually a great blend of power and liveability. Solid infotainment, good Recaro bucket seats and engaging steering make the Focus fun, but it’s manual only – a compromise not all will be able to accept.
Peugeot 308 GTi ($49,990)
With the Giulietta Veloce’s direct Peugeot competitor – the 308 GT petrol – now gone, the GTi is it. It’s more of an all-out-attack French hot hatch, with 200kW of power from a hugely boosted 1.6-litre engine, and a particularly crazy black-and-red two-tone paint scheme available. A lovely (if different) interior and handsome looks outside make it a car to consider if you can afford the difference.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance (around $47,000)
Equipped with a trick front differential like the Giulietta, when the Golf GTI Performance returns to the Volkswagen range it will return really formidable direct competition to the Alfa. It’s more expensive, but it’s a better all-round package, with five usable seats, even more performance and a high-quality interior making up for the slight shortfall in soul compared to the Italian.
|Power||177kW at 5,750rpm|
|Torque||340Nm at 2,000rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||136kW per tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||6.8L/100km|
|Fuel capacity||60 litres|
|Average range||882 kilometres|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Unoccupied weight||1,299 kilograms|
|Cargo space (seats up)||350 litres|
|Cargo space (seats down)||1,045 litres|