What is it?
A diesel Alfa is always going to be a tricky concept to pull off. Like introducing ketchup to your Sunday roast, one might be desirable, the other delectable, but that gives no guarantee that a confection of the two will work.
Happily and as we have already reported, with its new Giulietta Alfa Romeo appears to have tracked down and recovered sizeable chunks of a mojo that had been missing for so long many, ourselves included, feared it dead. And the good news is that for once not even compression ignition can spoil the fun.
What's it like?
I’m not going to say its 2.0-litre, 168bhp turbo-diesel motor actually adds to your enjoyment, because the standard it must meet is set by it’s no less powerful 1.4-litre turbo-petrol brother which is sweeter, sharper and quieter by far. But nor does it detract from the driving experience sufficiently for its only justification to be circumstance rather than choice.
Partly this is because the rest of the car is so unexpectedly good. Diesel power puts a further 30kg just where you don’t need them over the front wheels, but this remains a suitably engaging Alfa to run up an Italian mountain or, I have no doubt, down a British B-road.
Its ride quality is just as startlingly impressive, its steering as lucid as any all-electric, system charged with turning driven wheels as you’ll find. You can convince yourself its turn-in is a little less incisive, but this is a matter of degrees. Compared to a 147, it remains miraculous.
Yet even a diesel engine as effective as this one would still seem a little out of place in any Alfa Romeo, and in one as otherwise sophisticated as the Giulietta, the inherent limitations of Rudolf Diesel’s invention are perhaps all too clear to see.
Principally, the motor is too noisy, both under load and at a gentle cruise. It’s not a deal-breaker but if you are wedded to the idea of the diesel, can we recommend not test-driving the 1.4tb just to confirm your decision? Otherwise you might just find the diesel’s ability to travel 12 extra miles for every gallon while emitting 10 fewer grammes of CO2 for every kilometre poor recompense for Alfa’s best four-cylinder motor since another Rudolf, this one called Hruska, penned a magical little flat-four and installed it in the Alfasud nearly 40 years ago.
Like all good diesels, this one can deliver peak torque soon after idle and exercise steely control on the gradient of the curve all the way to peak power, making the gearbox’s six evenly stacked ratios a marketing rather than an engineering imperative.
But there is no joy in this motor and if I can briefly compare it to the best of the best, BMW has not only found out how to liberate much more power from the same capacity, it has done so with considerably better manners too.
Should I buy one?
In summary, it’s fair to say the diesel Giulietta (at least this diesel Giulietta, for there is a 103bhp 1.6-litre version yet to be driven) comes close to greatness despite rather than because of this engine. It is ketchup, when what you really want with something as tasty as this is mustard.