Road test: Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce, the forgotten hot hatch?
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The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce is a joy to drive, pure and simple.
Like all Alfas, there are reservations about the latest Giulietta hot hatch, but none of them detracts from the sheer pleasure of handling it. With its low, sleek lines, the Giulietta is still one of the most attractive hatchbacks on the market, which is high praise considering the car first appeared back in 2010.
From the front, the low-slung signature Alfa Romeo triangular grille is now highlighted by a black honeycomb design, while newly updated front lamps give the car a contemporary feel. The new front light houses LED daylight running lamps and Bi-Xenon headlights.
There are 18-in twin-spoke black and burnished chrome alloy wheels, and red Brembo front brake callipers. The rear of the car is stylishly offset by twin exhaust pipes at each end of the diffuser. It all looks fantastic, especially in the test car’s Alfa Red, and belies its age.
However, inside the Giulietta Veloce has not aged so well.
The cabin feels more cramped than its competitors, and although there is a relatively small touch screen on the dashboard, there is no rear view camera. Nor is there a centre arm rest.
The two centre coffee holders are shallow by comparison with more contemporary models. And don’t bother searching for somewhere to stash small items out of sight because apart from the glovebox, there is no where to do so.
That is not to say the Giulietta is uncomfortable to drive. The driver’s seat is manually operated, and I found it relatively easy to set a comfortable driving position in place. Seats and the steering wheel have stylish red stitching between the alcantara and leather materials. While the flat-bottomed steering wheel is well-shaped, it seems too large when compared with other hatches.
But the sports seats are comfortable, even on long journeys, and offer good lateral support even when the car is being driven at speed through tight corners on a steep hill road.
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It is in these circumstances that the Giulietta excels as a hot hatch. The steering is firm and direct, and the car travels precisely where it is directed.
While the 18in tyres may be noisy, they help keep the car grounded and on-track.
It is a front-wheel-drive model, but there is no shortage of grip, no matter how hard you drive in and out a corner. And, at no stage in several hundred kilometres of driving, was the rear end close to slipping. There is surprisingly little body roll evident even when the car is under pressured cornering.
The Veloce is powered by a superb 1.7-litre engine that produces 177kW of power and 340Nm of torque. A six-speed TCT gearbox operates as an automatic using the normal gearstick between the front seats. There are also discrete paddle shifters almost hidden behind the steering wheel to operate the gearbox manually.
Alfa Romeo says the car has a maximum speed of 244 km/h, and that it can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in six seconds. It feels quick, especially if you require rapid acceleration when using a passing lane for example, and the turbo is wound-up and kicks in quickly.
There is plenty of (now old-fashioned) turbo lag when accelerating from standstill, but once you become familiar with the car’s behaviour, it doesn’t dampen the spirited driving experience.
A solid drive mode switch just in front of the gearstick adjusts the throttle response and steering weight between three different settings — dynamic, natural and all-weather. It is called the DNA switch, and in the sportier dynamic mode it prepares the brakes to handle a more spirited driving style, while the throttle response is sharper.
Unfortunately it is a long way from the driver’s normal line of sight, so changing driving mode involves leaning down to reach it, which isn’t advised when you’re in full flight and about to push the car further.
While the three drive modes are distinct, none provides the ideal mode.
Once you have come to grips with this, dynamic mode became my default or preferred setting, occasionally using the paddles when the engine response didn’t quite suit the circumstances.
The Giulietta is around the same size as competitors such as the Volkswagen Golf, although one of the prices to pay for the sleeker and more sporty appearance is less headroom in the rear of the car.
The swooping roofline looks good, although children in the back seat may not like the way the rear windows slope upwards towards the rear pillars. The design also means there is less visibility from the driver’s seat than in models such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, making the absence of a rear camera even more of a puzzle.
The Volkswagen and the Mercedes-Benz models have excellent cameras, making manoeuvring so much easier, while reducing the risk of accidentally marking the car in tight situations.
The Giulietta sits midway between the Golf and the Ford Focus as far as boot capacity is concerned, with 350 litres of space with the seats in place. It also has a lip and the boot floor is well below the lip, so whatever is being loaded has to be lifted and dropped down, rather than pushed straight into the boot.
It is unlikely this will worry enthusiasts who will value the sporty appearance and driving experience well above such practicalities.
The Alfa stirs the driving spirit, just as you would expect from an Italian marque with Alfa Romeo’s heritage.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce
Price: $49,990 (plus on road costs)
Pros: Spirited, sporty hot hatch, glued to the road
Cons: No rear-vision camera, cramped cabin