Do you miss the Giulietta, the sporting sedan from the 1950s that combined Italian flair with equal helpings of day-to-day utility? Well, Alfa has resurrected the name in this elegant 5-door hatch that made its debut recently at the Geneva Motor Show. And although this beauty, which replaces the 147 in Europe, won't be coming stateside, its all-new front-drive Compact chassis will no doubt be found underpinning future Chrysler offerings and, one can only hope, American-market Alfa Romeos.
If all of this sounds a little vague, that's because it is. /Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne will announce the Fiat Group's 5-year plan on April 21, but until then company officials are exceedingly tight-lipped about future product plans. Yet they did invite us to drive the Giulietta at Balocco, Fiat Group's test facility nestled at the base of the Alps, about halfway between Milan and Turin. And engineers were on hand with static displays of the Compact platform's body-in-white, suspension and engines to give us a taste of what's in the pipeline.
It's obvious that the priorities are lighter weight, higher rigidity and increased safety. The Compact uses a lot of aluminum in its suspension, MacPherson struts in front and a multilink arrangement in back, the main element here being a very sturdy-looking semi-trailing arm. It's notable that the inboard pivot points of the other links attach to an aluminum casting that bolts to the structure, ensuring very precise alignment. In the front of the structure, there are longitudinal aluminum lower beams that offer an additional load path in a frontal collision. It seems to work, as they had a crash-tested Giulietta on display that had been subjected to a 40-mph offset frontal impact on the driver's side, and the driver's door still opened! Also noteworthy is an extremely intricate magnesium casting that supports the dashboard, and Alfa's new twin-pinion steering system, its motor mounted directly to the steering rack.
Although there are a litany of engine choices including 120- and 170-bhp turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4s and a 170-bhp 2.0-liter turbodiesel, the real gem is the 1750 TBi, a direct-injected turbo four with variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust. It makes 235 bhp, for an inspiring specific output of 134 bhp/liter. Also on display was Alfa's new TCT dual-clutch 6-speed transmission, which won't be available until shortly after the car goes on sale.
The hottest version is the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde with that 1750 engine (a magic displacement for fans of the marque) with a ride height 15 mm lower in front, and 10 mm lower in the rear, sport-tuned suspension, red-painted brake calipers and a choice of 17- or 18-in. wheels with a turbine impellor motif. And of course, that's what Alfa had on hand for our track test experience.
We're happy to report that the Giulietta is a joy to drive, with excellent response from the engine, especially with the car's DNA controller (Dynamic, Normal, All Weather) set to dynamic mode, which sharpens throttle response, reduces steering assist, and alters parameters for both the stability control system and electronically controlled diff. Cornering is flat, torque steer is minimal and the steering is wonderfully communicative, among the best electrically assisted systems I've experienced. Given the lack of body roll, ride quality is quite acceptable.
It's too bad we can't buy this especially delicious-looking carrot dangled in front of us. But the promise of its responsive, nicely sorted chassis bodes well for any variant that ultimately shows up in American Chrysler or (we hope) Alfa Romeo dealerships.