It’s the way of the world that things we anticipate with excitement often disappoint. Likewise, when we have a dim view of, or indeed don’t commit any mental energy to thinking about something, there is plenty of scope to be pleasantly surprised. And so I accepted the keys to the top of the range Alfa Romeo Giulietta TBi Quadrifoglio Verde (otherwise known as the Cloverleaf here in Blighty) with some trepidation. I’d had the car scheduled for a couple of weeks – ample time to read the blurb and become rather excited. I’d seen the enticing adverts on television too (‘I am Giulietta’). Surely this could only lead to disappointment.
The biggest disappointment happened before I graced the driver’s seat with my Levi’s: the colour of the demo vehicle is black. In fact, it’s not a true black, more of a blacky brown. It’s the single paint choice which doesn’t cost any extra; even white adds an additional £490 to the £25,010 base price of the Cloverleaf. While black isn’t necessarily a bad car colour, it just looks a little sombre on the Giulietta.
Shade aside, the Giulietta Cloverleaf has many pleasing styling details to draw the eye: the dark, painted 18” alloy wheels, the red brake callipers, subtle spoilers and skirts, LED lights and the Cloverleaf badge on the front wings. The Cloverleaf also sits lower than the other Giulietta models, adding to its purposeful look. Spending a little time contemplating the shape, there are some incredibly complex curves on the car, particularly down the flanks. While there are a couple of slightly awkward angles, the overall design is very attractive, especially the tidy rear.
Panel fit is generally very good, with only two of the doors on this car slightly proud (easy to adjust). The interior trim is good, too – the leather and microfibre seats with red stitching provide all the necessary support. The function-rich controls are intuitive; only the hidden cruise control stalk necessitated peering over the steering wheel to understand its operation. Small details such as benzina and acqua written on the fuel and water temperature gauges are lovely (and probably not in Italian merely due to oversight).
Gear selection is a little imprecise (on occasion, it wouldn’t go fully home into the first or second gear slots without a second try) and a slightly shorter throw would improve the feel. Whether the selection difficulty is a generic issue or just a problem on this demo vehicle I couldn’t tell, but it certainly made stop-start driving in busy traffic a chore. The slightly over-sized gear knob criticised by some felt just fine.
At night, once I’d managed to dim the glare from the red display, the instruments were pleasing and unobtrusive (but partly reflected at the top of the windscreen). Only the speedo is a little fussy and lacks some clarity which is a shame because it must be monitored very regularly. In terms of form over function, the metal racing car-style pedals look fabulous with the Alfa Romeo logo etched on them, however they present quite a challenge having just climbed-in from the rain with wet shoes.
There are three computer-controlled driving temperaments available: normal, dynamic and all weather. Switching to dynamic mode on part throttle, the car literally surges forward as the responses to driver inputs are changed from family hatchback to track car. Steering response is sharpened too. This top spec model boasts a turbo-charged 1,750cc engine with 235bhp on tap. It’s certainly fun on the open road, but I’d be tempted by a track day or three if it was mine. On the public highway, it’s very easy to end up the wrong side of legal. Gratifyingly, it doesn’t even bother displaying the ‘shift up’ messages in dynamic mode: economy is not a concern.
By moments, it was pleasing to drop back into normal mode just to calm things down and appreciate the difference in the two main settings. Despite torrential rain and standing water it behaved very well – I never felt the need to be further mollycoddled by the all weather setting. Normal mode does give a nod to improved economy and the projected range seems to leap by about a quarter over the dynamic mode. After a couple of hundred miles of very mixed driving in both modes, I still managed a respectable average of 29 mpg.
Handling is reassuring and the ride is generally good – for a sports set-up it is not too harsh on the passengers. One of my standard test routes includes very uneven tarmac, some exposed cobble stones peeping through and a wonderful combination of raised and sunken drain covers. It reveals most ride and suspension short-comings but the Alfa stood up well. Allowing one small reference to build quality concerns of old, it’s worth pointing out that with over 11,000 miles on this demo car, there wasn’t a single rattle or squeak from the cabin. The only clear fault was the car’s inability to talk iPod. Then again, perhaps my iPod doesn’t speak Italian.
Finally then, what of the Alfa passione? What of the century of motoring heritage that this car carries heavily on its shoulders? Did it make me grin insanely? Did I shiver with delight? Do I just have to go and buy one? Certainly I smiled and the drive is genuinely great fun and extremely competent, but even in dynamic mode, the engine and exhaust notes didn’t quite match the visual cues of the Quadrifoglio Verde. Like Italians having an emotional discussion in the street, this Alfa needs to do a little more shouting, just like Nonna Giulietta, over five decades earlier.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta TBi Cloverleaf from £25,010.
Power: 235 bhp, emissions: 177 CO2 g/km, torque: 339Nm in dynamic mode (300 in normal), 0-62 mph: 6.8s
Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○Tweet