Price: from £17,450 (£24,995 as tested)
Engine capacity: 1750cc
Power output (PS@rpm): 235@5,500 T
Top speed (mph): 150 0-60 mph (seconds): 7.5
Fuel economy (mpg): 34.9 (Urban), 47.1 (Combined)
Lexus may have Kylie spinning around in the television adverts for its latest hybrid (more on the CT200h next week), but Alfa Romeo has pulled out the Hollywood big guns with Kill Bill star Uma Thurman taking to the wheel in the trailer for its Giulietta. And according to Uma, Alfa’s latest hot hatch is “the stuff as dreams are made on”. Heady stuff, but for once – the Shakespeare corporate sacrilege aside – the flashy advert rings true. The Italian rival to the sedate Ford Focus and the class-leading VW Golf GTI does a thoroughly good job of delivering rapid performance, excellent handling and useful concessions to practicality to compliment Alfa’s usual line in exquisite design.
A family hatch with a sporty flavour, its dramatic front end and heavily sculpted sides separate it from the identikit Golf imitations crowding the market. While its power comes from a choice of five engines – three petrol and two diesel.
To the party, the Cloverleaf – the top-of-the range sport model I tested on the winding lanes of Suffolk last week – brings style (its interior is smart and solid) power, poise and entertainment from a punchy turbocharged 1750cc engine.
Presumably aimed at the testosterone-fuelled dad market, it offers excitement but is also practical enough (it has a useful-size boot) to trundle down to the shops in. And in its “Dynamic” mode – courtesy of its DNA handling system – it certainly delivers in the fun stakes, whizzing me past farm traffic with responsive steering and sharpened braking.
On city streets or in motorway traffic its “Normal” mode can be a little mushy. No matter what setting you opt for, its hard suspension clatters over every bump – even George Osborne’s £100m pothole slush fund won’t go far towards bringing relief to sore-bottomed Cloverleaf drivers. And in true Alfa style it drinks petrol like a society socialite drinks vodka martinis. These problems aside, the Giulietta stands out in a crowded class of Golf GTI imitations, while retaining Alfa’s trademark verve and sense of occasion. Not that there is anything wrong with the Golf, you’d just never see Uma driving one.
It’s hard to find a better hatchback than the new Ford Focus. The 1.6L EcoBoast (£19,745), right, isn’t billed as a sporty model but it makes great use of Ford’s excellent chassis. Failing that, there’s always the VW Golf.