Ask any writer what his favorite part of the job is and I believe you’ll get the same answer: the pay. Hahaha! Of course, I am just kidding. There’s something I bet you’ve never heard before: writers complaining about how little they get paid, since writing is a lot harder than it looks, and writers bring the world its information, and what do you mean there’s a meeting on Monday and I can’t wear shorts to the office?
No, I think you’ll find the thing writers appreciate most is getting mail from readers. I know I do. There’s nothing like opening up my inbox after finishing a long, difficult column, to find a reader e-mail that says: Dude, you quit Porsche… for this?
That’s why I was very excited to see I recently had a new Facebook message from a reader named Rasmus, who listed two current occupations on Facebook: “CEO at Yahoo” and “President at Microsoft.” As if this wasn’t impressive enough, he listed his past occupation – this is entirely true – as “Nikolai Tesla.”
Clearly, Rasmus is a very important man, what with the longevity and the lead roles at tech firms, so I took his message very seriously. It addressed a column I wrote a few weeks back about how Americans don’t want the kind of slow, underpowered diesel cars they drive in Europe. Or at least I think it did, because he started out by asking: “How many European turbo diesels have you driven?” and quickly went downhill from there. It ended with the question: “Who paid you to feed this kind of nonsense to the world?” which I thought was pretty harsh, considering that writing is a lot harder than it looks.
But I got to thinking about it, and I decided maybe Rasmus is right. Maybe I don’t have enough experience driving European diesels. So I’ve spent the last two weeks tooling around Europe in an underpowered diesel rental car for the sole purpose of writing an article about it. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell the IRS when they ask how I could possibly justify taking my entire trip as a tax deduction.
Anyway: it’s time to review the car. I’ve decided to break this into easy-to-digest categories, largely so Rasmus can follow along without taking too much time away from running the tech giants. Here goes:
The car was a 2013 Alfa Romeo Giulietta, which is the sexiest name ever given to a gray hatchback with no floor mats. It came courtesy of the Milan airport Avis (Motto: Take a number, then come back after dinner!) who had promised me an “Audi A3 or similar,” then pawned off the Giuletta in the same way you might book a “Toyota Camry or similar” at Enterprise and drive off the lot in a two-year-old Malibu with paintwork.
The Alfa’s styling is highly polarizing, as it places people squarely into two camps: those who love it, and those who are so indifferent to it that they approach a Citroen parked three spaces over and wonder why their key fob won’t open the door.
I was in the latter group. This will anger Alfa lovers, who will probably do hateful things to me in retaliation, such as sign over the title to a 164 and insist I keep it running. But the simple truth is that if you take off the cool Alfa grille and the neat LED tail lights, the Giulietta is just like every other car in Europe: small, boring, and just days away from having its wing mirror taken off by a guy on a Vespa wearing one of those shoulder bags.
The interior is a major strong point. I came to this conclusion using the age-old auto journalist theory that “I’m going to complain about everything else in the car, so I have to find at least one positive aspect or else they won’t invite me to the next press launch.”
As I recall, the Giuletta offered the following exceptional in-cabin features:
1. Alfa Romeo logos on the pedals.
2. A handbrake.
There may have been more, but I was too mystified by the car’s equipment level to really take it all in. That’s because it had dual-zone automatic climate control, alloy wheels, power windows, and even one of those “change the setting depending on your driving style” things that no one uses – but no auxiliary jack or USB port for music.
Fortunately, there was a silver lining: the Giulietta’s gauge cluster used all fourteen of its pixels to show an image of the car every time I turned it on. This, ladies and gentlemen, is luxury. Or sport. Or whatever Alfa’s trying to be these days.
My Giuletta was equipped with a 1.6-liter “MultiJet” turbodiesel engine, which propelled the Alfa to a top speed roughly defined as “the same as a skipping schoolgirl.” For those interested, these are the answers to your questions:
a) 104 horsepower.
b) 0-to-60 in 11.5 seconds.
c) no, I have no idea what “MultiJet” means either.
The big question, of course, is: Could you drive the Giulietta on US roads? That’s what Rasmus would ask me, likely in the form of an obscenity-laced Facebook message. And the answer is: Yes! But for God’s sake, why would you want to? You’d lose stoplight races to illegal immigrant lawnmower crews and the kind of people who believe red lights are for surfing the Internet. Gas isn’t that expensive.
On the Road
So we know acceleration is … lackluster. But what about the rest? How does it handle? What’s the gas mileage? What can it carry?
The answer to all these questions, and many others, is: Decent. (Yes, I believe the correct answer to “What can it carry?” is “Decent.”) The Giuletta handles maybe a little better than you’d expect from a boring front-wheel drive economy car. Fuel economy was exceptional, but then it had better be considering its acceleration mimics tree growth. And cargo capacity is enough for, say, a 10-day, 1,800-mile trip around Europe with a two people and their stuff.
In other words: in practice, the Giuletta is really just a fairly mild European hatchback. Which makes sense, because I’m told it underpins the Dodge Dart, which is really just a fairly mild American sedan.
Here’s the thing about Europe: they have a lot of cars. And virtually every one of them is a small hatchback that competes with the Giulietta. There’s the Punto. The C1. The Twingo. The Clio. The C3. The Megane. The Focus. The Polo. The Meriva. The Jazz. The 500L. The Cruze. The Astra. The Corolla. The C4. The MiTo. The Note. The Corsa. The Fiesta. The Golf. And yet, in spite all of this, thousands of people still purchased the Chrysler PT Cruiser! Seriously! You see them everywhere!
But that isn’t my point. My point is that it’s too hard to judge the Giuletta against its rivals, considering a) they all look identical, and b) I’ve never driven any of them. That means the only thing left to do is go back to Europe, and drive a few more cars through a few more beautiful towns on the French Riviera. For research, of course. Sunny, gourmet, relaxing, beach-going – and most importantly, tax-deductible – research.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com and writes for The Truth About Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.