What if you don’t want a Golf?
Are you mad? Why wouldn’t you want a VW Golf? They are incredibly well built, they have a reliable history and heritage and they are affordable. Now I could bring up that “VW emissions thing” but let’s not go there, that was (hopefully) a one-time thing!
In South Africa we have incredibly strong favouritism to the VW Golf, this could have come from the long history of typically emotive South African ad campaigns that were released through the 80s and 90s. This could also be attributed to the sheer volume of Golfs that were brought into the country along with the dealer and after sales support offered by the German powerhouse. Efficiency at its best!
The above examples have not only made the VW Golf one of South Africa’s most loved cars, but with its high sales numbers, it has also brought with it incredibly high theft and hijack statistics, high insurance premiums and ultimately consumer laziness. No I am not joking above the lazy part, it is common knowledge that when a potential customer is looking for a new car, they go directly to VW and the Golf in particular. Zero consumer research, minimal test drives.
But what about the few people that are tired of looking for their Golf among all of the other Golfs in the car park? The few that are looking for something that isn’t a Golf? Something a little, dare I say it, different.
What about something Italian? What about something from the great City of Turin? Well, I believe that if you are looking for something with a little bit of style, a heap of character and a car that you can find in a Golf infested parking lot, I would recommend the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
The first thing you will notice when comparing Alfa Romeo to other manufacturers is that there are fewer models to choose from within the Giulietta’s range. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you are looking for a diesel, well best skip the Italians and move to the Germans.
The particular model that we are looking at is the entry level 1.4 turbo-charged, 88kw variant which truth be told feels like it has much more to offer than 88kw. Immediately you feel the short release of the clutch, the tight throw through the gears (which might actually be as a result of a heavier gear-knob) and the slightly harder ride quality. The not-so-little Giulietta gets off the line with a bit of unexpected-vigour and easily encourages spirited driving, all of this while in normal mode. Switch it to Dynamic mode and the throttle sensitivity is instantly transformed from formal work shoe to lightweight running spike. Once you have quickly reached the third or fourth set of traffic lights you will have already felt out the mechanics and quickly become accustomed to the overall feel of the car. It also helps that the seat position is near perfect, the steering wheel is at the right angle and the pedals are beautifully spaced.
The instrument cluster and interior layout are easily accessible from almost any seating position and the subtle Italian terms like Benzina and Acqua C° just add a cultural flare that often lacks among other manufacturers. Oh, and how can I forget about the uninformative digital boost gauge that can be selected on the drivers LCD screen. This animated feature does not display any important figures or numbers, but rather a sliding scale of no boost to lots of boost. It is really entertaining as it is often partnered with a slight whoosh of air from the blow-off valve.
The mighty 1.4 litre may encourage spirited driving, but you never really find yourself breaking the law, nor do you find yourself breaking the bank with a higher than average fuel consumption. The car is set up in a way that you can really drive it without frequent visits to the stazione di rifornimento (petrol station).
So where is the common misconception of “Italian-ness” with the Giulietta? Well the overall build quality will not be as tight and complete when compared to that of the German counterpart, so you may find a rattle develop every so often, but like all rattles, these can be fixed. Also, this ultimately comes down to the quality of roads that you drive on daily. With that said, build materials do seem to be better thought out, fewer hard plastics and generally nicer touch points.
The common electrical issues of the past seem to be, well that of the past. Alfa have tied up loose ends and there seem to be fewer electric issues in general. With an improvement in overall engineering, electrical issues and build quality being addressed, the only slight issue you may run into is one over parts delivery and service costs, but if you are looking at larger hatch with some great technology around the R300 000 price bracket, parts and after sales service costs are generally higher. Ultimately, a little bit of saving, planning and regular maintenance and services will guarantee a healthy little Alfa.
Alfa’s Giulietta is not perfect by any means, but it is a blast to drive on a daily basis. If you are in the market for something a little more exciting and easily recognisable by your friends, family and general petrol heads on South African roads, then I would highly recommend that you practice the pronunciation of the word espresso and take a tour of your city through the eyes of an Italian.