Revised Giulietta boasts an upgraded cabin, a new engine and a tweaked exterior design, but its rivals remain more competent overall

What is it?

A revised version of Alfa Romeo's long-standing Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra rival.

Besides myriad cosmetic tweaks, including a new grille and alloy wheel designs, the Alfa benefits from a host of interior upgrades - most notably the addition of an all-new 'Uconnect' media system, redesigned seats and different trim panels.

A new 2.0-litre 'JTDm-2' diesel, more powerful and cleaner than the previous 2.0-litre unit, has also joined the Alfa's engine range. It uses new injectors, ones which can fire up to eight times per combustion cycle, resulting in more efficient combustion cycles.

Output from the turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel is rated at 148bhp and up to 280lb ft, some 10bhp and 22lb ft up compared to the older unit, which is sent through the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.

Alfa claims 67.3mpg on the combined cycle for this 2.0-litre diesel Giulietta, and an appealing low emissions rating of 110g/km of CO2 - 4.5mpg more and 9g/km less than the outgoing engine.

Performance appears adequate on paper too, with a claimed 0-62mph time of 8.8sec and a top speed of 130mph, marginal improvements of 0.2sec and 3mph compared to the previous Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Trim levels have also changed for the 2014 model year, with the new range comprising of 'Progression', 'Distinctive', 'Exclusive' and 'Sportiva Nav'.

We tested an Exclusive variant which comes as standard with dual-zone climate control, cruise control, sports suspension, a 5-inch Uconnect multimedia system with DAB and Bluetooth, USB and aux-in connectivity.

A range of cosmetic upgrades also feature in the Exclusive model, including tinted glass, 17-inch alloys, 'darkened' headlights, aluminium sports pedals and side skirts.

Prices have increased slightly trim-for-trim compared to the previous generation, but Alfa counters this by claiming that the kit levels have increased even more so; for example the Exclusive trim adds £2000 worth of kit for a hike of £920, compared to the Veloce model it supersedes.

What's it like?

A noticeable improvement over the previous model, that's for sure. Alfa's interior tweaks have helped lift the interior ambiance and feel considerably, and it's a lot more interesting to look at than the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

Up front you'll find relatively comfortable seats with plenty of support, lots of space and adequate visibility. The steering wheel adjust for rise and reach, and it's not difficult to find a suitable driving position, but the wheel has contours that may not agree with some. There's no clutch footrest, or clear space alongside the clutch, which could prove tiresome on longer trips - and the brake and accelerator are positioned quite close together.

A modicum of storage spaces - such as a decently sized glove box, stowage tray in the centre arm rest and slender door pockets - will prove useful to many but the lack of a place to put your mobile will frustrate many. The problem is exacerbated further by the positioning of the USB and auxiliary connection ports in front of the gear lever, which means that cables can end up trailing all over the cabin.

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Move into the back and you'll find a tolerable amount of room - there's just about seating for three adults but headroom for the outer occupants is limited; a Focus or Volkswagen Golf is more comfortable in the tail.

A large 350-litre boot - some 34 litres bigger than a Ford Focus' - and a space-saver spare-wheel serve to improve the Alfa's usability. The new Alfa Uconnect system media is easy to use too, and quick to respond to inputs.

While the interior is a generally presentable and appealing place to be, it's when you look a little closer that its long-term appeal becomes questionable. There are disappointing finishes in places, including a sharp plastic edge to the lip of the glovebox, while some areas have been left seemingly unfinished - around the steering column shroud, for example, there are roughly-cut fabrics and unfinished plastic edges.

On the move there's little wind noise but a considerable amount of road noise persistently reminds you that you're travelling. The new diesel engine is a smooth affair though, offering up a decent amount of punch until you hit around 3500rpm, after which it tails off.

A swift and slick six-speed manual gearbox make it easy to keep the Alfa surging along, however, and it's also quite content to potter along in higher gears, with its torque permitting for prompt acceleration. It's a comparatively refined diesel engine too, although the stop-start system can be a little sluggish, and its performance doesn't feel at odds with the Alfa's sporting nature. It returned an indicated 50mpg during testing too, which bodes well for long-distance users.

Through corners the Giulietta delivers a precise and stable feel, with plenty of front-end grip, lots of traction and surprisingly little steering corruption from the peak 280lb ft that's sent to the front wheels. The car's ride can admittedly be a little busy, increasingly so on rougher roads, but it never crosses over into becoming outright uncomfortable - and with 'sports' suspension it's not entirely unexpected, either.

Braking performance is strong and easily controlled, and it's pleasing to see a conventional mechanical handbrake in lieu of the increasingly common and sometimes frustrating electronic equivalent.

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Alfa's DNA switch - offering 'Dynamic', 'Natural' and 'All weather' modes - does make a notable difference to the way the Giulietta performs, with a sharpening of responses as you move up from All Weather to Dynamic. If you enjoy driving in a spirited fashion, you'll probably put it in Dynamic and leave it be.

Should I buy one?

There is a lot to like about the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. It looks the part, it feels suitably sporting and its 2.0-litre diesel engine delivers a stout blend of performance and economy.

There are faults, such as the occasionally rough ride and poor finish in places, but for those seeking an enjoyable hatchback these issues will most likely fail to noticeably detract from the Alfa's overall appeal.

If it were less expensive than its direct rivals then it would bear further consideration for other buyers - a tradeoff of style and fun over outright substance for a discount, perhaps - but at its current price it's difficult to justify.

For comparison, a well-equipped and similarly performing Seat Leon FR TDI - which is arguably just as sharply styled - would set you back a lesser £21,565, compared to the Alfa's £22,170.

While the likes of the Seat Leon, Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus would admittedly be not as involving to drive as the Alfa, they would probably prove the more sensible long-term bet thanks to their better finish, interior space and refinement.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0 JTDm-2 150hp Exclusive

Price £22,170; 0-62mph 8.8sec; Top speed 130mph; Economy 67.3mpg; CO2 110g/km; Kerb weight 1320kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1956cc, turbodiesel; Power 148bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

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AHA1 20 March 2014

Good points - thank you.

I fear that the astute comments by Concinnity and Overdrive amongst others above are only too true. Fiat just doesn't have the scary level of cash reserves required to invest enough into Alfa. Upping the final bit of quality to match or better the premium marques whilst charging 15% or so less is a big ask especially over the life of at least one model generation.

Glad to hear the opposite view from Marc also. I have to buy a V60 or and XC60 for the missus at some point this year and I'd much rather get myself a MultiAir with TCT, I can tell you.

Ali_ 19 March 2014

The clutch rest issue is

The clutch rest issue is purely a RHD problem but is a major oversight. However, Alfa seem to be heading to a TCT only future and that does make space for your left foot. Despite the flaws, I'd much rather own the Alfa over the Golf or, indeed, the overpriced A class, ugly 1 series or dull A3. Just wish they'd get a move on with a 4wd GTA version to take on the S3 and Golf R and really give us a proper 4 seat performance Alfa. The 4C is lovely, but a niche market. Alfa needs a proper halo model in each range ASAP.
Andrew 61 19 March 2014

So nearly but no cigar ? The

So nearly but no cigar ? The price and a sub golf quality interior would not put me off or even the rear accommodation from a car in the class bellow but no place to rest your clutch foot and poorly positioned pedals can really start to grate after a while and it still has awkward looks. Shame.
Marc 20 March 2014

Andrew 61 wrote:So nearly but

Andrew 61 wrote:

So nearly but no cigar ? The price and a sub golf quality interior would not put me off or even the rear accommodation from a car in the class bellow but no place to rest your clutch foot and poorly positioned pedals can really start to grate after a while and it still has awkward looks. Shame.

I wouldn't get too hung up on interior quality, I have one, my wife now has a new Golf and I came to the Alfa from a Volvo V60 and I don't feel I'm stepping down when getting into the Alfa, of those three it's the Alfa I'd rather be in every time. The V60 didn't have a foot rest in the foot well either and the rear accomodation is on par with the V60 too. It's also probably has the best riding/handling combination of any hatchback I've driven for some time and that includes having a Focus Zetec before the Volvo.

And then you need to experience the 1.4 multiair engine, near diesel economy and enough performance to keep pace with any hot hatch out there.

There's not alot wrong with the Giulietta other than ignorance/prejudice from car buyers who simply head to the default marques without sampling what's actually out there first. Along with alot of the motoring press who can't get there heads out of Fords/BMW's backsides and make their decisions based on nothing more than a couple of hours twatting around some back roads.