Alfa Romeo. The name still conjures up numerous evocative associations. Distinct, daring, provocative, enticing, and perhaps a few less than flattering references to the rather capricious nature of models past may arise. Regardless of which way opinions settle, Alfa Romeo has a reputation for building cars that induces a pretty strong reaction.
Here, we have the centenary-marking and range-topping Giulietta Quadrifoglio ('Cloverleaf' in Italian); as expected Alfa Romeo has produced something refreshingly non-conformist. The Giulietta is a welcome addition to the fiercely competitive 'C' segment, ranged against the likes of the well established VW Golf and Ford Focus. The all-new car is long-awaited: its predecessor, the 147, lasted a decade of subtle facelifts and tweaks before it was finally superseded last year to make way for its replacement.
With the Giulietta, Alfa Romeo has reincarnated one of its most iconic and successful names from its past. The original Giulietta debuted in 1954 and the latest incarnation has its predecessor's character traits firmly planted amongst its technology-enhanced roots. With the model's sporty appeal, attractive looks and accessible pricing, Alfa hopes to entice interest within the ever-expanding family market (now accounting for one in four of European car sales).
From the front, the new car is typical of the current generation's Alfa Romeos; forceful yet handsome, with the characteristic off-set number plate and equally bequeathed classic suspended shield grille. In profile, the car mimics the fluidity of a coupe, concealing its five-door practicality with hidden rear door handles. Muscular wheel arches and deep side skirting add further to its aesthetics. Head and taillights employ the increasingly popular LED technology, with far greater reliability and lower power consumption compared to the now almost defunct conventional bulb.
Underneath the bonnet the Italian manufacturer have opted wholeheartedly for the adage that less is more. What initially appears to sound like a rather puny 1750cc engine, fires up and throws out some impressive performance figures: 235 bhp, 0-62mph in 6.8 sec and a very respectable 150mph top speed, all without sacrificing overall economy.
In order to harness and disseminate this power, Alfa has introduced what it calls the 'DNA system', an in-cabin control switch that enables drivers to select their desired driving characteristics. The system acts on the engine, brakes, steering, suspension and gearbox to hone the car's response to certain driving conditions. Select 'Dynamic' and the engine is immediately more responsive, the steering becomes heavier for a sportier feel and the brakes more receptive.
By flicking the setting to 'Normal' you are primed to calmly nip down the supermarket without being pulled over by the local constabulary and by selecting 'All-Weather' you are equipped for whatever low grip scenarios El Nino may throw at you.
Impressive indeed, but as our time with the Cloverleaf drew to a close we encountered a slight glitch in the matrix. Reliability has always been a slight foible where Alfa Romeo is concerned and regrettably our experience was no different. An engine management problem arose after a particularly cold night and as a precaution the DNA system locked itself into an'All-Weather' mode, leaving us to nurse our attractive yet wounded mount back to Alfa for diagnostics.
Despite this slight hiccup (since been identified as human error on the part of an engineer) we were still thrilled by the Giulietta Quadrifoglio. Undeniably good looking inside and out, with confident performance and some stylistic quirks, the Giulietta is absolutely everything an Alfa Romeo should be. As a result, it should hold the gaze of an equally adventurous driver.