Our cars: Alfa Giulietta final report

* Alfa Romeo on year-long test * Can it match up to the likes of a Focus or Golf? * By Tom Webster...

Our cars: Alfa Giulietta final report

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta certainly can't be criticised, like some modern hatchbacks, for looking a bit like the rest of the competition.

The little design touches that make you recognise a car are one thing, but it takes something really special to make a family hatchback stand out from the crowd and the Giulietta certainly looks distinctive.

It took on the new Audi A3 in a recent What Car? test, and the verdict was that 'its stylish looks are sure to seduce', which is strong praise for a car that went on sale in 2010.

Alfa has had a knack of turning out good-looking cars over the years, but they haven't always been the best to drive or run. Many of us here at What Car? were hoping that the Giulietta was going to be the model that changed all that, and were looking forward to running one for a year.

We plumped for the middle-of-the-range diesel engine the 2.0 JTDm with 138bhp, a 0-62mph time of 9.0 seconds, a very appealing official economy figure of 62.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 119g/km. On paper, the Giulietta made a great case for itself.

The launch of the What Car? True MPG tests gave us a chance to see that these figures were more than just claims, because the Alfa got impressively close to the official numbers, with 58.9mpg.

Sadly we didn't quite get to those heights on a weekly basis, because the Giulietta spent a lot of time in town; the basic brim-to-brim calculations showed an average closer to 49mpg. Not great, but not awful, either.

To be honest, the Alfa wasn't at home in town; tackling speed bumps at anything faster than crawling pace resulted in the underside of the car coming into noisy contact with the road. Cursory inspections showed no visible damage to the underside, but it was as unnerving after the 500th time as it was the first. A more forgiving suspension set-up and a redesign of the car's underbody would cure it.

The stop-start system also caused frustration. It seemed conditions had to be perfect, in terms of external and engine temperature, and its functioning often depended on the number of electronic gadgets running inside the car. More often than not a mocking 'Start & Stop unavailable' message appeared on the dashboard and nothing happened.

When the engine did cut out as it was supposed to, firing it up again caused more problems. You either had to wait for a second longer for the engine to settle before pulling away, or press the accelerator hard to avoid stalling.

Another thing that took too long to kick in were the rain-sensing wipers (part of the standard Visibility pack on Lusso trim). Even on the most sensitive setting the water on the windscreen would get to the point where vision was seriously impaired before the sensor set the wipers in motion. A more sensitive sensor would have helped, but thankfully an intermittent setting with different speeds was available.

Tom's Alfa Romeo on video

Further niggles included a shortage of space in the driver's footwell, with nowhere to put your left foot when you weren't using the clutch, and an engine that was noisy at low speeds and booming at higher revs.

In fact, that diesel engine was the focus of many of our gripes with the Giulietta. We may not have been quite so critical if we'd gone for the 1.4-litre petrol engine. It is quieter, smoother, more responsive and lighter, and is the one we would pick if we had the chance to choose again.

However, the Alfa can't be blamed at all for the biggest problem we encountered in its year with us. It spent around a month and a half off the road due to a numberplate cloning issue. Sadly, we still ended up having to retrieve our car from the police pound after it was mistakenly towed away.

Despite grumbles about nefarious criminals and internal systems that weren't as efficient as we'd hope, the Alfa was largely trouble-free. There were no major flaws over the 12 months.

The Alfa also proved adept at helping colleagues move house, despite rear seats that didn't fold completely flat and a high-ish boot lip. The Giulietta wasn't so adept at transporting rear passengers in comfort, because of tight legroom, but at least they were able to appreciate the ride quality at motorway speeds.

Overall, though, there were so many niggles that the overall experience was blighted, and we couldn't see past the irritations to keep the initial attraction alight.

Our Cars: Alfa Romeo Giulietta >>

Price when new 21,250
Price now (new) 21,250
Extras Leather upholstery 1450; electric double sunroof 1230;
and metallic paint 490
Total price new 24,420
Current part-ex value 12,010

Overall test fuel economy 48.4mpg
Worst fuel economy 45.6mpg
Best fuel economy 52.1mpg
True MPG 58.9mpg
Official fuel economy 62.8mpg
CO2(g/km)/tax liability 119/17%
Contract hire 282
Cost per mile 43p
Insurance group/quote 20/595

By Tom Webster