The Alfa Romeo Giullietta blends manageable size and good fuel economy with lots of utility, advanced technology and high, sporting style, crafted by one of Italy's oldest, most revered car builders. Americans could get the opportunity to buy a Giulietta by 2012.
North America might need a bit of context regarding Alfa Romeo, to be sure. The company is an upscale division of Fiat, one of Europe's largest automakers, but it hasn't sold cars in the United States since 1995. The Giulietta name (pronounced like Romeo and Juliet-tah) dates back to 1955, when it was applied to a long line of small, lightweight cars noted for their agile handling. The Giulietta was a volume-produced product that moved Alfa into the mainstream with a new type of chassis known as a unitbody. Giuliettas came in Spider convertible, Sprint coupe, and Berlina sedan body styles and were rear-wheel drive. Through the 1960s, the Giulietta Spider and Sprint developed a small but fanatical following in North America for its sporty handling and racing capability.
Things change, and the biggest change of late is that Fiat is now the controlling shareholder of American automaker Chrysler. Chrysler and Fiat will share technology in the years ahead, and jointly develop vehicles for the U.S. market. Fiat is expected to introduce some of its existing products either through Chrysler dealerships or through standalone stores under the Fiat or Alfa Romeo brand name. Most prominent among these will be the Fiat 500, but in recent discussions Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has made it clear that his company will introduced a smaller Alfa Romeo to the United States for the 2012 model year. Many in the car business predict the Giulietta will be that Alfa Romeo.
The current Giulietta is an all-new model, introduced in Europe in the spring of 2010. The Giulietta is a compact five-door, front-drive hatchback with sporting aims and a load of Italian flair. With an overall length of 171.3 inches on a 103.1-inch wheelbase, the Giulietta is about the size of more familiar cars like the Mazda 3 and Subaru Impreza hatchbacks, even if it looks quite a bit different.
The Giulietta's calling card is Alfa Romeo's traditional triangular grille, ringed in chrome between bi-xenon projector beam headlamps and LED running lights. A big air intake below its front bumper line creates an almost sneering face, edged with standard fog lamps. The Giulietta's body is heavily sculpted, starting with deep scallops along the length of its hood.
In profile, the Giulietta's hood looks long, ahead of a gradually sloping roofline that drops abruptly at the rear hatch. Its LED taillights swirl around the edges of the rear fenders, and then across the metal under the rear glass. It's safe to say that the Giulietta will stand out among the cookie-cutter compacts currently populating American roadways.
Its interior styling is unique, too, but by appearances quite functional. Its switches are neither complicated nor too densely packed together, with extra large knobs for frequently adjusted audio and climate functions.The optional navigation screen pops up from the center of the dash, and nicely in the driver's forward site line.
The Guilietta is offered with five engines in Europe, including two diesels, but it's almost certain that only the most powerful of those will be offered in the United States. That's a moderately sized, 1.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with direct fuel injection and a significant 235 horsepower. Many speculate that Alfa will fit the Giulietta with a second, larger engine option before it goes on sale in the States. The car will be offered with a six-speed manual and an automatic transmission: either a conventional six-speed automatic, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), or a dual-clutch manu-matic. Alfa has all three types at its disposal.
Other high-tech mechanical features include a dual-pinion steering system unique in the Giulietta's price range. One pinion turns the front wheels with electrical power at lower speeds, so turning the steering wheel requires very little effort. The other pinion has no assist at all, working at higher speeds and delivering the pure, un-boosted steering feel sports car drivers appreciate. All Giuliettas also come with something Alfa calls its DNA selector. It's a driver adjustable button, similar to those used on many expensive luxury-performance cars. The DNA selector allows the Giulietta driver to tailor how quickly the gas pedal reacts, how firm the steering feels, and how much the electronic stability control will allow the tires to slip before the electronics intervene.
The Giulietta will likely be sold in two trim levels in North America, as it is in Europe, where the least expensive version starts at $27,700. Even the base Giullietta model will come well equipped, with features such as dual-zone climate control and probably leather upholstery.