Every day as I walk into the Topcar offices it looms large in front of me like a pending dentist appointment – 31 January – the date that my tenure with me Giulie ends. If I’m honest I probably haven’t spent enough time with it; the lure of test cars in the Topcar lot has tempted me once too often into discarding the Giulie for flings with these newer models.
But that’s all going to change from now. I’m a one-car guy for the rest of my spell and I’m going to ride me Giulie like it deserves. I’ve lined up some properly nice routes for the holiday season and my hope is that I can log 15 000km by the final report. The fact that I’m no longer using the normal mode on the DNA system has made for another month of
entertaining driving. The raspy four-cylinder motor really sprints up the rev range as you weld your foot to the floorboard, sometimes a little too quickly for the tyres to keep up with, resulting in some noteworthy screeching in the early hours of the morning.
Possibly my favourite element of me Giulie is the ride; I’ve never been uncomfortable or had to note how crashy a bump had been. It rides serenely, I’m a nutter for a firm ride, and I may actually be the only person who thinks that the cup chassis on a Renault RS should be standard across the range. This Giulietta has it perfect, firm but not jittery, and there’s just about no lean once you’ve thrown it into a corner. I really am impressed by the folks over at Alfa for getting that spot on.
As for what’s going on inside me Giulie, I have had to adopt a strict rule of no eating, drinking or liquids being brought into the car, that’s because I have the black leather with red stitching and the ‘sausage’ inserts that are definitely the pick of the range, but any mess whatsoever would be nothing short of a travesty. The upmarket interior really is the cherry on top of a very well put together package that represents a resurgent Alfa Romeo. Pity the sales don’t say so.
Update: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
After a chat last month with some other Giulietta drivers about fuel consumption figures and the best way to reduce it, I have embarked on an experiment for this month.
I have driven the entire month with the DNA system on the Giulie in dynamic mode. For those unfamiliar with what this system does, it is basically a three position driving mode switch. Mode one (A) is for all weather or specifically European winters where the roads are heaped with snow and ice and traction is vital. Mode two (N) is the regular driving mode combing the most fuel economic throttle mapping with less interruption from the traction control. Mode three (D) is used for dynamic and enthusiastic driving, the throttle response is sharper, the steering is heavier and the traction control is set up enhance the driving experience.
For the most part of my ten months with me Giulie I’ve driven in N mode with an eye on my fuel consumption, trying to keep it as much on the frugal side as possible. Only occasionally did I switch to D mode when the situation arose (read mountain pass). Having spoken to these other Giulietta owners they assured me the entire experience would be better if I drove the thing in dynamic mode all the time with only minimal effect on the fuel economy. I was doubtful to say the least.
These are my findings after a solid month of Dynamic driving: The sharper throttle response leads to easier pull offs from lights and inclines as the acceleration occurs more rapidly. All driving thanks to the Dynamic mode is done with more enthusiasm as the raspy four cylinder exhaust note eggs you on; the downside of this is an increase in speeding fines (I would imagine). After resetting my digital trip metre on the Giulie directly after filling in last month’s figures I have noted that fuel economy for this month read out at 8.9l/100km. A difference of exactly nothing compared to nine months of driving normally. Now obviously it isn’t an absolutely accurate test. The route I travelled would have differed to last month and the mileage done this month was slightly more than last month. The point I make is that the figure should have still been notably higher despite the test’s shortfalls.
This isn’t entirely bad news however as this just means from now until the end of my term with me Giulie I can drive in Dynamic mode wherever I go, completely free of any guilt or damage to my pocket.
Update: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
MY GIULIE HAS spent all of its time so far pottering around town, the routine only broken by the occasional spurt down the freeway to the airport, or cruise around the coastline playing chauffeur. It hasn’t really enjoyed a longer road trip to properly stretch its legs.
Winter had come in hard to Cape Town, so a planned trip up the coast to Cape St Francis seemed well timed. I was only too pleased to escape the horizontal downpours in Cape Town, hoping for sunnier skies to the East. But instead of simply furrowing through the rain on the N2, I ignored the built-in Tom Tom GPS and bolted up the N1 where I had factored in an entertaining detour.
Having spent the previous night tossing folders and folders of music onto two separate 2Gb flash drives labelled’ Citroën DS4 press release’ and ‘Topcar back-up files’, I was certain there would be enough aural stimulation for the trip. The USB slot is located inside the glovebox on the Giulietta, which is not the brightest place if you ask me. Once you’ve got to the end of one flash drive or want to change over to another, you can’t simply reach across while driving. The solution is to make sure you have a passenger or a drive with a bagillion gigs of data – but good luck sifting through that to find All along the watchtower by Jimi Hendrix using your steering wheel controls. What was wrong with the USB slot placed next to the handbrake, as in the Alfa Mito?
But back to the drive. I had convinced myself I could still make 650km before nightfall despite a small detour up and over Franschhoek Pass. I hadn’t used dynamic mode on the DNA system for such a long time I was beginning to wonder whether it still worked. It did, and of course the Giulietta really comes alive when you string a set of bends together in quick succession. The throttle response is instant and turbo lag non-existent, while steering feedback is spot on, having a nice meaty feel to it in dynamic mode. Jab at the brakes and the Giulietta stays settled and poised, then dives in sharply once asked. Mid-corner balance is great, and on the way out the DNA system fights the front’s inclination to push, but not enough to feel overly intrusive.
Once back on the freeway I did encounter a small annoyance – the 1.4-litre turbo’s cruising speed. It sits comfortably at 100kph but you’re in for an arduous task to keep up a steady 120kph. It requires quite a lot of throttle to maintain 120kph on the hills, and this plays havoc with fuel economy: I only managed 7.8ℓ/100kph on the trip. This may be down to the small displacement of the engine, and I’d like to see if cars with similar capacity, like the Golf TSI or Citroën DS3, suffer the same malaise.
Update: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
AFTER LAST MONTH’S hiccups I decided it was probably best to get them sorted once and hopefully for all as I plan to take the Giulie on a coastal road trip to Port Elizabeth. Just to refresh: my start-stop system wasn’t functioning and the fuel filler flap was a bit sticky.
An internet search on Alfa Romeo’s website soon had me on the phone to Gary Green Auto, the closest Cape Town dealer. After a discussion with service manager Riccardo, he advised that I book the car in for a check-up – the first opening being two days later.
Once at Gary Green’s I took a look around to see what type of place I was dealing with, and was surprised to find almost hospital clean floors and immaculately clean tools, all filed away neatly. The mechanics’ overalls even looked spick and span enough for a Friday night dinner party.
After re-explaining my problems to Riccardo I quizzed him on parts availability and the likelihood of getting the Giulietta back before Christmas. I was assured that if parts needed to be couriered down from Joburg the problem would be sorted out within three days, but if they needed to be imported from Italy, I was in for three-week wait.
Within six hours of dropping off my Giulie, I got a call from Riccardo explaining that he had fixed the filler flap problem. A manufacturing defect meant that a little piece of plastic was catching as the flap was being unlocked, the fix simply filing down the piece in question. I would however have to wait until the following day for their chief electronic guru to take a look at the stop-start issue. He also offered me a lift to anywhere I needed to go and also a ride the following morning if I was in need.
The next day Riccardo phoned to tell me the start-stop issue had been solved and the car was ready for collection. He explained that a dud battery had caused the start-stop malfunction, adding that a special gel-based battery was required to deal with the heavier loads placed on them by the sart-stop system. These are more efficient than the old school flooded cell units and have a higher specific power output, the downside being they are more expensive – at R2200, make that a lot more expensive.
With the new power pack fitted, the start-stop system was functioning as normal on the way home, and hopefully will be for a lot longer this time around. Thankfully too, everything was covered by the five-year 150000km warranty and I was back in the car within 24 hours of booking it into the garage.
Update: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
ALFA GIULIETTA SALES continued their upward trend with 74 new owners driving off showroom floors in May. This is good news for a brand that has really struggled in SA during the last few years. Let’s hope the public enthusiasm for the new cars is well supported and we continue to see Alfas on our streets.
While I remain a passionate Alfisti, I have to admit I have finally unearthed a few niggles – or eccentricities as Alfa owners prefer to call them.
The first issue is that the stop-start system which cuts the engine at traffic lights, or whenever you happen to be in neutral and at a standstill, has gone on vacation. I am now greeted with a ‘stop-start unavailable’ readout on the dashboard every time the function fails to engage. I’ll have to investigate this issue a little further if it persists but will first give the system the mandatory week to sort itself out as it’s not actually that much of a hindrance when driving.
The second and slightly more annoying issue is with the petrol filler cap. As with a lot of vehicles nowadays, the filler cap locks and unlocks along with the door locks, so when you want to fill up with fuel you unlock your doors and the filler cap can be released with an inward push. That’s not been happening of late. When the door unlocks the filler cap can be pushed in but it doesn’t release, so the attendant continues to push harder and harder at it with grubby fingers until the areas looks like it’s been attacked by a toddler who’s just gorged on a slab of melted chocolate. It now takes several flicks on the unlock button inside the car to encourage the filler cap to open. I will definitely get this attended to ASAP as I don’t want to be stranded at a petrol station unable to get fuel into the car. Now that would be an embarrassing phone call.
Apart from these two, um, eccentricities, the Alfa has treated me well this month. I’m always pleased to return to its stylish confines after driving some of the other test machinery we have at the office.
Update: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
LOOKING AT THE car sales figures for April, the Alfa Giulietta sold 54 units in comparison to March when the tally was 44 units. We’ll have to wait until next month’s issue of Topcar for May’s figures but early signs are that it’s trending upwards.
I reckon that most of these sales have occurred in my neighborhood or that it at least accounts for a good percentage of Giuliettas sold. From seeing zero Alfas at the beginning of the year in my ’hood, there is now a small colony of Alfisti tearing up the streets. At least two Mitos seem to have sprouted from nowhere and I’ve seen three Giulietta’s – one white with different wheels to mine and two in red. (It looks particularly hot in red.) Of course I attribute at least all of those sales to myself and shall be demanding commission from Alfa Romeo in the coming months.
Looking at the Giulietta figures in relation to the rivals we see a rather bland trend in the hatchback market. VW’s Golf is the top seller with 464 units, far ahead of the other major player in the market, the Opel Astra, with 182 units sold in April. Admittedly the Golf has more derivatives to stimulate sales but it shows how much we like to flock to what feels comfortable and safe when buying cars.
This month my Giulie was used as a taxicab, picking people up from the airport and shuttling them around the Western Cape on sightseeing tours. Rear passengers in particular commented on the acceptable space available to them and on the handy rear ventilation system provided for their personal use. However, criticism was cast at this system as it seems the vents can only be aimed at passengers’ knees.
After an intimate session with the lady in the dashboard that speaks to me via Bluetooth, I’ve coaxed her into speaking a little louder when notifying me of who I’m trying to call. Easter holidays meant an increase in the traffic in Cape Town and along with that a decrease in both fuel economy and my patience span. At one point I had nudged the Alfa down to an average of 8.8ℓ/100km according to the on-board readout, but that quickly went back up to 8.9ℓ/100km in the space of a few hours of traffic-heavy driving. My aim is to get the average figure down to 8.0ℓ/100km before I have to hand back the keys.
Update: Alfa Romeo Giulietta
AFTER THREE MONTHS of hopping in and out of the Alfa Giulietta I can now start to give a bit more perspective on what it’s like to live with this car.
First off, I have a few issues with the Blue& Me Bluetooth system that links the car to your phone and works via voice activation. I’m sure most of you have tried a voice activation system at some stage and are familiar with the phrase ‘command unknown’ or ‘please try again’. Resorting to profanities doesn’t seem to have any effect on the device either. The Alfa system is actually rather good. I paired my phone with the car in about two minutes and providing I leave Bluetooth enabled on my phone, it’ll tell me I’m connected to my service provider with a display on the dash. Great. Well, sort of, because having to turn Bluetooth on and off every time you get in and out of the car defeats the purpose of the whole hands-free system. But leaving it on all day just means my phone is flat by the time I get into the car in the evenings and that is a signal for panic. What if it broke down and I’m stranded without the means to call for help? It makes you wonder how we ever survived without mobile phones.
Another thing I haven’t been able to figure out is how to make the kind lady inside the audio system speak a little louder. She isn’t linked to the radio’s volume control and every time I receive a call on mobile I have to rapidly thrash the volume button on the steering wheel so I can hear the person who’s calling.
The mechanicals on the Giulie are holding up really well. There are no rattles, intermittent electrical faults or oil leaks. It hasn’t used any oil whatsoever so far and the only fluid it ever seems to need is soapy water for its weekly wash. I’m beginning to be impressed by other aspects of my Giulie. For a car that continuously sits in traffic, the fuel consumption is starting to come down and if I didn’t wear such heavy shoes I’m sure it would be more frugal. I do like to squirt the power just to hear the gruff four-cylinder and relish the almost instant power delivery, but with rocketing oil prices this may become a less frequent affair.