Alfa Romeo could be deemed the mystery brand of motoring in the Middle East – a class-act for sure, but where are the cars on the region’s roads? The Italian brand, a household name for yonks for slick designs and phenomenal motorsport success, fell into relative obscurity.
Fiat-Chrysler aims to correct that, big time. The objective is to put the passion back into Romeo. A serious shot over the bows of rivals in the UAE has just been fired with the introduction of the groovy Giulietta hatchback. It’s classy in the way an Italian suit oozes style.
So if Juliet started asking, “wherefore art thou, Romeo?”, the answer was, “Hatta, Jules babe, putting in some wicked quality time with your near-namesake Giulietta.”
I’m probably on nodding terms with every rocky outcrop and mountain goat in the imposing near the border with Oman from testing autos there over the years, but the fact remains the area is one of the neatest places in the Middle East to put a car through its paces.
The current Giulietta – which your mates have probably either been in or seen in Europe – has all the solid fundamentals and neat design. Does the design set it apart from the crowd? Not really, it’s more a case of the Italians doing it right and stylishly.
And after a while you’re seduced by those curves. This is most welcome as so many American cars are big and dumb-looking while lots of Asian vehicles are perfectly competent, but as dull as the press conferences that launch them.
Alfa has been around a touch over 100 years so they know how to do style, quality and reliability.Take your first squiz at the Giulietta and it’s essentially what you would expect from the Alfa Romeo stable. The Italian thoroughbreds don’t make ugly horseless carriages and this car observes the tactile proprieties of tradition. The driving in the Hatta area of mixed conditions was pleasurable and lively.
Alfa’s ‘DNA’ drive select system also does what the PR stuff on the floor says, instantly adding a small but telling edge to the driving experience with sharper throttle response, sportier gear selections and a tad more road feel through the steering wheel.
The Giulietta’s suspension finds a corridor between comfy and sporty, which everyday divers want and need. It exhibits little body roll when finding its way into corners.
The cabin is neat and attractive. Not, however, edgy or ‘wow’. There’s nothing amiss with what’s on offer but it could do with a dollop of the aforementioned. That said, the Giulietta feels solid and well built.
From our first drive the car offers pretty much everything you could want from a hatch, handling like a classic Alfa — agile and delivering power instantly.
The Giulietta is available in the Middle East with the 170hp 1.4 TB MultiAir engine. If you’re going to stomp your foot like Elton John doing Crocodile Rock you’ll reach a top speed of 218kph and scoot from 0 to100kph in just 7.7 seconds.
The transmission works in either all-automatic or sequential mode, as required by the driver who can manually manage the up and down position of the stick to which steering wheel shift paddles may be combined.
Preferred transmission technology here is the double-clutch gearbox. It has, as the name implies, two clutches operating the gears, meaning the transmission is constantly primed to shift and, therefore, does so more quickly. Alfa Romeo’s twin clutch transmission, or TCT, was available in their Mito supermini for some time before being introduced in the flagship Giulietta.
On the road it’s pretty handy, with the gearbox working well in tandem with Alfa Romeo’s trademark DNA drive-mode system. Progress is untroubled with gear changes coming up smoothly and promptly in normal mode.
In dynamic mode, throttle response is sharper and the steering offers more feedback while the transmission contributes to the impressive extra pep by holding onto the revs longer in lower gears. In all-weather mode, designed to cope with slippery conditions, the TCT will pull away from standstill in second gear to maximise traction.
Space up front is good with plenty of seat adjustment to get comfortable but the roofline doesn’t leave a lot of headroom in the back. Legroom is in short supply in the back too. Heather Mills would be half OK. Life in the back seat would be too cosy for many though and no use at all to Brad Pitt and Geena Davis.
The recline is good on the front seats but the twirly knob thing on the side of the seat is difficult to turn from inside the car. It’s best to get out of the vehicle, move the seat forward so the item is exposed and you can get a good grip on it. Just the thing if there’s a sandstorm.
Safety is well catered for with stability control, ABS brakes, hill-hold assist DST (which prompts the driver to make the correct manoeuvre in emergencies via a pulse sent to the steering wheel), pre-fill (that guarantees the maximum braking promptness in the case of danger), anti-whiplash system and all the usual airbags. The trunk has a width of 1023 mm between the wheels and a maximum capacity of 350 litres.
And the Giulietta absolutely nailed it in the Euro-NCAP crash tests, earning the top five-star rating with one of the best ever scores.
It’s probably stretching it to suggest that Alfa Romeo has been put on the Viagra for the Middle East but the Giulietta shows the brand has been reanimated, if such a word exists.
When you’re talking affordable exotica, few can trump Alfa so thankfully when it comes to forking out cash the Giulietta is going to have the right sticker prices. Punters tend to have a definite – or close to it – idea of how much loot they’re prepared to spend on an Alfa or any car, for that matter. The Giulietta argues its case well in dosh, design and deeds.