Inside the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde you’ll find a so-called DNA selector. It allows the driver to choose between Dynamic, Normal or All-weather driving modes.
It’s an unfortunate name, because in truth, the car formerly known as the Giulietta Cloverleaf shares little in common with the iconic Alfa Romeos from the Italian marque’s illustrious past. As far as blood lines are concerned, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde offers less DNA and more NA, for not applicable.
Which is a disappointing thing to have to write. Arriving at the Circuito di Balocco in Italy, hopes were high that this new range-topping Giulietta would be the hot Alfa Romeo hatchback we’ve all been waiting for.
After all, it does share the same 1750 turbocharged engine and six-speed TCT transmission you’ll find in the new Alfa Romeo 4C. But then with Alfa Romeo, perhaps more than any other car manufacturer, there’s an inherent willingness for a new car to succeed. Alfa Romeo has a back catalogue and associated heritage that many manufacturers can only dream of.
Alfa Romeo was keen to remind us of this past, not only laying on a fine selection of historic cars for us to drool over, but also devoting a sizeable chunk of the presentation to the history of Alfa’s famous Cloverleaf.
It’s a double-edged sword for the Giulietta. The historic references undoubtedly give it a head start over a fresh-faced newcomer like the Kia Ceed GT. But it also means it has a lot to live up. And unfortunately, whether you call it the Cloverleaf, the Quadrifoglio Verde or simply the QV, the Giulietta falls a long way short of being brilliant.
The problems start as soon as you settle yourself into the Giulietta. The new Alcantara trim wraparound sports seats are good enough, but the leather steering wheel is just too big. Yes, it’s flat-bottomed, but that does little to counter the scale of the thing.
Other changes inside include a new instrument panel with a Quadrifoglio Verde logo on the dials, specific kick plates, aluminium pedals, black roof lining and carpet mats. Together, they just about manage to convince you that you’re supposedly sat in the best Giulietta you can buy.
There’s no start button, so a twist of the wonderfully Italian key sees the 1.75-litre engine burst into life, providing the first hint of the new QV Intake Engine Sound system, which uses the fuel intake unit to enhance low frequencies. Curiously – or perhaps tellingly – Alfa Romeo spent more time describing this system and how it echoes the noise emitted by the twin cam engines of the 1960s, then it did about the suspension upgrades for the new Quadrifoglio Verde.
And that’s because both the suspension and steering have been left untouched. But more on this in a moment.
Thanks to the new launch control system – something also borrowed from the 4C – the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde will sprint to 62mph in a really-rather-good 6.0 seconds. That’s half a second quicker than both the Golf GTi and the Focus ST, arguably two of the Giulietta’s biggest rivals.
But in the real world, how often will you use the launch control system? What it’s actually doing is masking one of the Giulietta’s Quadrifoglio Verde’s biggest issues.
Plant your right foot without launch control and the transmission has a little think, ponders for a while and then makes its way to 2,000rpm. There’s a shorter delay as it hits 3,000rpm, before finally breaking free of its shackles, heading for the redline.
Once it clears its throat, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde does feel properly quick, but you’re left feeling so disheartened by the initial delays, all the excitement has been watered down to disappointment. It’s more orange squash than fizzy Tango.
Which is a shame, because the peak power of 240hp – which itself is slightly up on the the old Giulietta Cloverleaf – is available at 5,750rpm, which should encourage you to drive it like a 1990s hot hatch. But you won’t.
There’s worse to come when cornering. Exit a bend and the transmission does its best to remove any momentum you had when entering the corner. Using the paddles helps a little, but you can’t help but think a proper manual gearbox would have been so much better.
It’s not all bad news. The changes from the twin dry clutch transmission are smooth enough and the response times from the paddle shifters are immediate. And straight line pace is impressive, leaving you in little doubt about its claimed 149mph top speed.
Thanks to its Brembo braking system it stops well, too. But why, oh why must the kind of braking you’d do on an enthusiastic B-road jaunt, lead to the flashing of the hazard lights? Sure, the benefits in an emergency situation can’t be ignored, but in this case they’re just too sensitive. And very annoying.
That said, you’ll soon learn to back off a little earlier, as the car feels unnaturally heavy when cornering, with the chassis not up with the best of its rivals. Alfa points out that the engine is 20kg lighter than before, but fails to mention the 20kg added by the transmission. So at 1,320kg, it’s as you were.
Other gripes? Well we could do without the DNA selector. We simply don’t want a ‘Normal’ setting in a supposedly hot hatch. Just give us ‘Dynamic’ at all times. We’re grown ups, we can live with it. We don’t remember such nonsense in the Cloverleaf cars of yesterday.
The steering, too, is a bit of a let down. Initially, it feels immediate, but it often gets lighter after the initial turn, giving it an inconsistent feel. It doesn’t inspire much in the way of confidence. And that’s something you need when you’re driving a 150mph five-door hatchback.
Sure, the pace and performance from the 1.75-litre, four-cylinder engine is impressive and hats off to Alfa Romeo for bringing the CO2 emissions down from 177g/km to 162g/km. But it’s worth pointing out that the 2.0-litre engines in the Golf GTi and Focus ST emit 148g/km and 169g/km respectively.
On the plus side, the increased efficiency does bring the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde down a couple of road tax bands, from I to G. But such things shouldn’t really matter when discussing a hot hatch. A £40 difference on your road tax shouldn’t be an issue. This should be a car you buy with your heart, not armed with a calculator.
We don’t want to be heading off, desperately searching for straws we can clutch, in order to find some positives about the car. And when those positives are things like the useful 350 litres of boot space, the generous levels of standard equipment and the feeling that you could live with the Giulietta QV everyday, something must be amiss.
And we haven’t even mentioned the lack of space in the rear seats, the questionable quality of the interior plastics and the poor reward visibility, something made worse by the huge headrests on the new sports seats. It’s just so desperately disappointing.
Put it this way. We had two drives in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde. The first was a shared drive on a pre-planned route set up by Alfa Romeo. The second was what we could call a Dawn Raid – on empty roads, consisting of short straights, broken up by terrific left and right handers.
The first drive was pleasant. A relaxed affair in which the gear changes were smooth, the ride was compliant and the scenery was quite delightful. The company was very good, too.
The second drive was a 45-minute solo blast, the kind of which should see you arriving home beaming from ear-to-ear, eagerly awaiting your next 5am alarm call.
That the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde was highly convincing in the first scenario and desperately disappointing in the second is very sad. And it’s precisely why we feel the car isn’t fit to wear the badge.
The Cloverleaf should be a badge of honour, reserved for the very best, the most evocative of Alfa Romeos. The Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde isn’t one of these. At £28,120, it’s only a few hundred pounds cheaper than a DSG-equipped Golf GTi, or two grand more than the sensible option – the Golf with the six-speed manual ‘box.
If you like the look of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta – and who can blame you – you’d be better off opting for a Distinctive, Exclusive or Sportiva and spending your money on some of the new QV Line range of accessories.
We left the launch event wondering if the Cloverleaf badge sat above the side indicator on the Giulietta’s front wing would have been better, not as an object, but as a decal, perhaps even painted, reflecting the glory days of the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia.
But that would be to disrespect the heritage of the famous badge. And besides, the paint would soon fade, much like the gloss of this once famous automotive badge.
A great shame.
Exterior images © PetrolBlog, interior images © Alfa Romeo.