The 2011 Giulietta drops the terrific quadrilateral front axle scheme of its 147 predecessor and instates a much lighter aluminum arm assembly, a mainstream MacPherson strut setup, and electronically actuated steering. Before the drive, I was ready to despair over yet another missed opportunity.

But despair never came. The MacPhersons have been tuned on the money for this chassis; the actuator for the electronically assisted steering has been placed on the rack itself and not somewhere up the steering column, so the feel and response are damned near mechanical; and the low-flex aluminum arms make a big difference, too, letting the larger Giulietta still feel about the size of the 147.

As on cars like the Golf or MINI, Alfa Romeo has given the Giulietta a new compact multilink rear suspension design, so the trailing feeling of the car is less lumbering and heavy, more nimble and helpful.

All Giuliettas come standard with the company's DNA adaptive drive control. This is a toggle switch to the left of the console shift lever and the D (dynamic), N (normal), and A (all-weather) affect the steering assistance, throttle response, shift timings (an optional dual-clutch automated manual with paddles comes online after summer), behavior of the Q2 e-diff at the front axle, and the thresholds for VDC stability control.

In a good move, the software people have finally made Normal on the Giulietta feel more, well, normal for an Alfa Romeo. And this improvement is on all five available engines: a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder with either 118 hp or 168 hp, a 1.6-liter turbo diesel with 103 hp, and another 2.0-liter TD with 168 hp.

Then there's the latest 1.7-liter four-cylinder direct-injected gas turbo with 232 hp in the high performing Quadrifoglio Verde trim. I'm told they simply remapped the Normal setting to pump out greater torque at lower revs.

But the lingering quality problems persist in the choice of materials and some of the assembly. The cricks and cracks never stopped, especially in the rear doors. Touching the interior here and there, particularly the inner door panels, revealed the plastics quality was completely basic Fiat stuff, though designed real pretty.

If Alfa wants to take on BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 buyers, it needs to up the premium touch surfaces in major ways. Though the Giulietta has the body dimensions and general comfort to compete, the less expensive Golf beats it handily so far as livability.

2011 Alfa Romeo Giulietta


Layout
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive, four-door hatch

Engine
1.75-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged, updated infinitely adjustable intake camshaft; redline 6500 rpm

Transmission
Six-speed manual, DNA adaptive chassis-engine management

Suspension
Front: standard MacPherson strut with anti-sway bar and aluminum control arms; Rear: multi-link structure of compact design

Brakes
13.0-inch front and 11.0-inch rear steel/aluminum compound discs with four-pot aluminum calipers; VDA traction control

Wheels and Tires
Forged one-piece Cloverleaf alloys, 7.5x17 Pirelli P Zero, 235/35 (91W)

MSRP: $34,000 (est.)

Performance


Peak Power: 232 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 251 lb-ft @ 1900 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.8 sec.
Top Speed: 150 mph

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