In our second focus on the 2012 Car of the Year contenders, Mambaonline’s motoring editor (and member of the judging panel) Brent Ellis highlights one of the quirkiest finalists.


As one of three hatchback competitors for next year’s Car of the Year title, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, in its mid-range 1.4 TBi Distinctive form, is one of the quirkiest of all the finalists.

Launched at the end of 2010, the Italian manufacturer revealed a much-needed and very worthy replacement for the 147, while re-introducing the Giulietta nameplate, which was last seen in the 1980s.


Using the company’s latest design language, an evolution of the MiTo, the traditional Alfa Romeo face given has been given a host of modern touches, like the projector-style fog lights and the LED daytime running lights which, in a vertical stack design, give the Giulietta ‘evil eyes’, so to speak. The V-shaped grille introduces aggressive bonnet creases too, making the overall face menacing and cheeky. The interesting side profile features a disappearing shoulder crease and a sleek window aperture, and with hidden rear door handles the Giulietta looks like a three-door coupe, rather than a five-door hatchback. The backside features a deep diffuser, one big-bore exhaust tail piece and pretty elongated LED tail lights which look stunning at night. With 17-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels and (optional) red-painted brake callipers, this version of the Giulietta really looks great.

Comfort and Features

Stepping inside the Giulietta reveals one of the most beautiful interiors in the business, and while modern Alfas like the MiTo aren’t as “driver-focused” as the older models in the range (like the GT and 159), the overall design is still purposeful and beautifully finished. Quality is good, with a nice mix of soft-touch synthetic surfaces, plastics and the odd touch of metal. The leather seats feature traditional Alfa Romeo styling, with sculpted cushions and beautiful craftsmanship.

One complaint I had during my test was that I never really got comfortable behind the wheel. Despite the seat’s many adjustment manoeuvres and a reach and height-adjustable leather steering wheel, I always felt slightly uncomfortable and at odds with the ergonomics. That said, switches are easy to find and use, with a typically Italian setup.

Happily the Distinctive version of the Giulietta is well-specced and a good dose of luxury is thrown in. Standard equipment includes heated and electric mirrors, electric windows all-round, front and rear armrests, dual-zone climate control with rear aircon vents, semi-bucket fabric seats, a multi-info trip computer, the leather steering wheel, a radio/CD/MP3/USB audio system with steering wheel controls and Bluetooth, and front fog lights.

Ride and Handling

Being an Italian Stallion, the Giulietta is fabulous to drive. A firm ride and communicative steering means you are always confident no matter the road conditions, making even gutsy driving a great pleasure. The clutch is fairly weighty and in general the pedal box is well-positioned. That said, the pedals aren’t in line with the steering wheel, in true Italian style. There’s also a good amount of engine noise intrusion, allowing the petrol in your veins the opportunity to flow a little quicker than usual.

Performance and Economy

This version of the Giulietta employs Alfa Romeo’s latest 1.4 TBi petrol engine – a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with MultiAir technology, which optimizes the air flow to create stupendous power outputs. Producing 125kW and 250Nm, the seemingly tiny motor does a great job of moving what is a fairly large car about. Coupled to a 6-speed manual gearbox, all those figures are good for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.8 seconds and a top speed of 218km/h.

In addition to MultiAir, Giulietta also features Alfa’s new DNA system – an electronic programme which changes the characteristics of the engine as you drive. Normal and All-weather are the “tame” settings, where throttle response is gentle and power delivery is smooth (switching over to All-weather results in extra assistance from the traction control, should the road be extra-slippery). Dynamic, however, is where all the fun starts! Throttle response is sharpened up, torque is delivered in spades and the steering gets heavier, resulting in more exhilarating performance and smile-inducing dynamics. Alfa’s Q2 electronic differential control is employed too, further improving power delivery.

Fuel efficiency is interesting to say the least, and with such a small engine one would expect great returns. Alfa Romeo claims just 5.8-litres per 100km on average and carbon emissions of 134g/km – figures which should make you smile rather broadly if you’re shopping for something economic.

In practise though it’s a different story, and I returned an average of 10.5-litres per 100km – and you can thank DNA for that, because once I’d tasted the merits of Dynamic mode, it was all downhill from there for me. Thankfully though the Giulietta is fitted with Start&Stop technology, which means at least you won’t be wasting any fuel while waiting at the lights, and as a system it works very well.


Alfa Romeo sure didn’t take any short cuts on the safety front with this car and at the time of launch, Giulietta was the safest car in its class ever tested by EuroNCAP, with a five-star rating of course. That was thanks to a host of electronic aids including ASR (anti-skid regulation), VDC (vehicle dynamics control) including ABS, EBD and BAS (anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist), a hill holder and the Q2 electronic diff. Six airbags and pre-tensioned seat belts also feature, along with anti-whiplash front head rests, remote central locking and an audible anti-theft alarm system.

Popular Options

A few optional extras are available for the Giulietta, and in an effort to give you a better idea of what this car would cost to buy, I’ve selected the most popular ones which I think most people would go for. These include cruise control (R1250), aluminium pedals (R1500), Venus Cannelloni leather (R15 000), electric seat adjustment for the driver’s seat (R1750), a visibility package (R3000, which includes auto lights and wipers, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror), rear parking sensors (R4500) and My-Port, which allows a TomTom navigation device to be directly attached to the dashboard, with no wires getting in the way of driving (R750). This would add nearly thirty grand to the list price, which is worth noting if you’re comparing this car to its price rivals.


As standard the Giulietta 1.4 TBi Distinctive retails for R284 230 including an impressive 5-year/150 000km warranty, a mammoth 6-year/90 000km service plan and service intervals of 30 000km – any doubts you may have had about Alfa’s modern-day reliability should be put to bed after that lot! Segment rivals include the VW Golf 1.4 TSI Highline (R284 800), the new BMW 118i (R288 954), the ageing Audi A3 Sportback 1.8T FSI Ambition (R291 365) and Citroën’s new DS4 1.6 THP 200 Sport (R319 900). That’s quite a nice mix, and in the presence of the Germans I’m sure most people would shy away from this Italian based on perceived quality and reliability.

Even if you add my selected options, the G

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