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Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf (2011) long-term test review

By the CAR road test team

Long Term Tests

25 October 2011 09:30

Talking Italian - 25 October 2011

It’s only three little words, but they mean so much. Don’t worry, I’ve not been reading Barbara Cartland (again) – it’s the words ‘Benzina’, ‘Acqua’ and ‘Giri’ on my Giulietta’s instrument binnacles. That’s petrol, water and revs, if you haven’t worked it out already.

Get in a German, French and Japanese car and any legends on view are in English, the lingua franca (if you excuse my Italian) of the automotive industry. Even Alfa’s parent company, Fiat, doesn’t indulge in such fancies.

Except when it comes to Alfa Romeo, these really aren’t indulgences. Do away with little touches like these and Alfa runs the risk of being just another manufacturer, not one which true car lovers still hold a candle for. Whether we like it or not, however, the majority of car drivers care little about the emotional side of motoring, so perhaps they may eventually be forced into line. That will be a sad day and – who knows – mark the beginning of the end for a company proudly founded by Monsieur Darracq and Signore Romeo 101 years ago.

For now, every time I get behind the wheel of the Giulietta, with Focuses, Astras and Golfs around me in the car park, it’s subtle reminders like these that bring a smile to my face.

By Stephen Worthy


Gorgeous in grey – 18 October 2011

Having driven my Leaf extensively yesterday and drained the battery to the point where it needed the whole night to recharge, I took Mr Worthy’s Giulietta home. With our long-term test fleet, and a constant stream of other cars on test, I reckon it can be at least a fortnight between back-to-back drives, but as I wander around the car park each evening, blipping key fobs in a vague attempt find my wheels for the night, if it’s still around I always stop to admire our Alfa.

Amongst the sea of generic fleet cars inevitably run by a big publishing company it’s a pearl; parked beside my neighbour’s 3-series it looks even better. I love the crease that runs from the front lights to the rear, and gets sharper as it approaches the shapely rump (and with the ‘hidden’ rear door handles the flanks are unbroken by unsightly bulges). And while other manufacturers would probably settle for a smooth bootlid, there’s another lovely line running between the rear lights. I’m pretty keen on the nose too. And somehow grey paint doesn’t look dull on the Giulietta.

There are faults though, some minor and some major. I wish it didn’t beep when you locked it: Alfa’s are cool but the screech emitted when you press the fob is downright embarrassing. The multimedia system is difficult to fathom – and I’m young and supposedly savvy about something called ‘technology’. And the lovely swathe of brushed metal across the dash, plus the great toggle switches, and air-con controls with their flush displays, are spoilt but the frankly terrible quality of plastics used for the transmission tunnel and door cards. The most frustrating thing is that Alfa’s so nearly there with this car.

I'm yet to be convinced by the driving experience either. The basic petrol and diesel cars we’ve tried before have been very good, but in hot hatch Cloverleaf-spec I’m not so sure. More time behind the wheel is needed. Give it another two weeks and I might get my chance. 

By Ben Pulman


The manual – 30 August 2011

Off down to Cornwall with the family next week and – if the weather holds up – I’ve got some serious beach reading to plough through, in between catching limpet crabs and kicking down sandcastles with my two-year-old. And you can forget Stig too – that’s Stig Larsson, the late Swedish crime novelist sensation, rather than the erstwhile Top Gear rubber burner. No, I want to seriously get to grips with the Giulietta’s owner’s manual.

Of course, manual in the singular is misleading. These days manufacturers shove the automotive equivalent of The Sunday Times into their gloveboxes, such is the sheer amount of ancillary pieces of literature accompanying it. Gone are the days when I would sit in my dad’s new Talbot Alpine or his Giulietta (that’s the ’80s version) and flick through what amounted to an owner’s pamphlet. But back then there was such a dearth of equipment on cars that you only needed info on how to work the indicators, fogs and select MW/LW/FM on the radio.

But does the new Giulietta really have to take 296 pages to assist owners? Thank the Lord it’s English only – imagine how hefty it would be if it was in Italian, French, German, Spanish and Inuit too? Enough to have serious implications for fuel economy and 0-60 times, you’d vouch.

Alongside the main manual there’s one for ‘Radionav’ (62 pages), another called ‘Ready To Go’ (40 pages long and ostensibly the 296-page manual in microcosm), an 82-page tome for the (Turn The Air) Blue & Me system and a 14-page Blue & Me mini-guide. That’s the best part of 450 pages. I’ve not read anything that lengthy since I was ordered to strike up an intense relationship with the work of Eric Hobsbawm at university.

Page-length aside, I’ve got some other issues too. The main manual looks like it’s been photocopied a thousand times and passed around the schoolyard, with its smudgy illustrations and monotone graphics. And how is it that whatever reason you consult it for, there’s either never an answer to be found or an index so flimsy you could write its entirety into the contents of a Tweet. No wonder some manufacturers are importing their handbooks into their infotainment systems as electronic files.

In the meantime, I’m having to wrestle with a fuel economy of 29mpg on the Cloverleaf which, when commuting 800 miles a week, is making a serious dent on my monthly fuel budget. For my next long-termer I’ve been promised something more frugal – otherwise we’ll be camping in the back garden next summer in order to cut costs.

By Stephen Worthy


Alfa dealers – 14 July 2011

After seven months of sensible, practical, mini-MPV Meriva long-term ownership, I’m about to enter a very different world. Out with the perfunctory, in with the passion: I'm about to run an Alfa Romeo. 

And after speccing up my new hen Alfa Romeo launched the Brera Spider five years ago, they flew journalists out to the windswept west coast of Morocco (downsizing across the industry means it would probably take place in Bognor today). In the early evening, with the sun dipping slowly towards the Atlantic horizon, a Q&A session was held, prior to a feast of tagine and couscous big enough to feed an entire Berber tribe. The ‘suits’ were out in force. Being Alfa, those suits were exceptionally well-tailored and elegant; the most chicly-dressed man of all stepped forward and introduced himself as Antonio Baravalle, CEO of Alfa. 

Sporting the kind of collar-length hair that would have him frog-marched out of most English golf clubs, he dragged forward a chair, flipped it round and sat on it, Christine Keeler-style – although thankfully without divesting himself of that elegant Milanese suit. It was a move intended to shout ‘We mean business’.

Over the next hour (although it felt like double that), Signor Baravalle said that the fine-looking Brera Spider and its coupe sibling were the beginnings of a renaissance, revealing plans for the next four years that would include a new ‘halo’ sports car (which would become the 8C), a new B-segment offering (the Mito) and then a C-segment vehicle (the Giulietta). Antonio is no longer at Alfa, having nicked off to a publishing company since then, but he’s been true to his word – with both an SUV and the 4C sports car due over the next 18 months, no one can deny that Alfa aren’t going for it.

And yet, as exciting as this news was, when any UK motoring journalists are in the same airspace as Alfa folk, the conversation always turns to the dealer network. Baravalle addressed that, albeit less expansively. Ahhh yes, he sighed cheerfully, they were going to reform their much-maligned customer service and focus on the the dealer network, implementing a drastic pruning of the number of Alfa’s UK sales outlets in order to focus on quality. 

I’ve had only a momentary interaction with an Alfa dealer so far, popping into HWM in Walton-on-Thames one Saturday morning to take a pic of my Giulietta outside. It was rather quiet, and the two staff members inside looked like they weren’t used to being disturbed. That’s good if it was the service centre, if not so for sales. With Alfa sales up nearly 125% in April 2011 compared to the same month a year previously, perhaps it was because it was the weekend before payday… 

Meantime, with the debate alive in the comments section below, and with the entire CAR office rather smitten with the looks of my Alfa, we'll discuss the styling next week. And get some pictures of the whole, entire car up online too.

By Stephen Worthy


Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf hello – 5 July 2011

After seven months of sensible, practical, mini-MPV Meriva long-term ownership, I’m about to enter a very different world. Out with the perfunctory, in with the passion: I'm about to run an Alfa Romeo. 

And after speccing up my new Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf (can we drop the Romeo from now on in these blogs? Yeah? Thanks), the very next day I drove past my local Alfa dealership and began wondering if it was a place I’d become well acquainted with. 

There are two clichés associated with Alfa Romeos. One, that you can’t consider yourself a proper petrolhead until you’ve owned one and two, that the Alfa dealer network has a reputation that would even make Gerald Ratner blush. The first? Well, as I won’t technically own the Giulietta, I might have to make a bid for Phil McNamara’s GTV. And secondly, modern car dealerships are surely less likely to get away with poor service in the digital age, aren’t they?

In the meantime, my Alfa (Romeo) recently arrived, so that spec…

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf OTR price: £24,995 

Rear parking sensors and multifunctional display: £260

Antracite Grey metallic paint: £510

Bi-Xenon headlights with headlight washer system: £715

Sports leather upholstery with (deep breath) height adjustable passenger seat, rear armrest with storage compartment & third rear head restraint, electrically adjustable, heated front seats with memory’s on driver’s side and electric lumbar adjustment on driver and passenger seats: £2,680

Electrically folding wing mirrors: £160

Radio NAV satellite navigation system with TMC PRO and 6.5" colour display with European maps on SD card: £1230 

Total: £30,550

First impressions? Gorgeous. The rest of 2011 is going to be very interesting indeed. More very soon...

By Stephen Worthy