What is it?
The facelifted version of Alfa Romeo's Audi A3 Sportback and BMW 1-series-rivalling Giulietta hatchback, in petrol-powered form.
We found plenty to like about the facelifted model when we first saw it at the Frankfurt motor show towards the end of last year. While visual changes might be small – encompassing new alloy wheels, a revised grille and updated headlights – the big talking point was the addition of a new JDTm turbodiesel engine.
While the new diesel delivers an interesting blend of torque and economy, this 170bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir option remains the highest-powered petrol engine in the range. It's coupled to Alfa's dual-clutch automatic transmission and was joined in our test car by steering column-mounted paddle shifters which, dissapointingly, cost an extra £260. This engine is also expected to take the majority of sales, with Alfa citing a current sales split of 58 per cent in favour of the petrol.
In terms of looks the Alfa is as striking as ever. Its front-end styling is focused around the large central grille, while the circular headlights give the car an impish charm.
Inside, Alfa has lifted the overall quality of the cabin with new materials and comfortable sports seats. Our test car came in top-spec Sportiva Nav trim, which comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, front parking sensors and painted brake calipers on the outside, while the cabin gets leather and Alcantara trim, a leather steering wheel, a stop-start system and Alfa's new Uconnect 6.5-inch infotainment system with navigation.
This variant's list price is £25,785, but options including metallic paint, an upgraded sound system and the aforementioned steering-column mounted paddles pushed the total price of our car to £27,375.
What's it like?
An improvement over the old model, to be sure. The overall fit and finish of the cabin has come on in leaps and bounds, but there are still a few too many hard plastics for our liking. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and while the new leather sports steering wheel is an improvement, its contours won't suit all drivers. The Uconnect infotainment system works well in practice, but it looks out of place in the Giulietta.
Elsewhere in the cabin, the comfortable centre armrest of our car provided good storage space, but it doesn't make up for a lack of storage elsewhere. Indeed, some fixtures, such as the auxiliary and USB audio jack, feel too far out of reach. Other instruments, like the cruise control stalk, are completely obscured by the steering wheel from taller drivers.
There's plenty of space in the front, though, and provided you're not crossing continents, adults should fare relatively well on the rear bench. Road noise is an issue at speed, and something we expect would become obtrusive over longer journeys.
To the business end of this car, then, and the good news is that this 1.4-litre engine feels sporty and engaging to drive. It's a little loud, particularly under load, but for the most part it's responsive, with a large surge of torque upwards of 2500rpm. We wouldn't favour Alfa's TCT dual-clutch automatic over a manual transmission, because it's sometimes slow to respond even with the driving mode switch to Dynamic. The column-mounted paddles make short work of manual changes, but they don't feel like a premium option.