crankandpiston takes a closer look at two of the region’s newest debutants: the seventh generation Volkswagen Golf and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.[Not a valid template]
In the early 1980s, the Volkswagen Golf and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta didn’t have a huge amount in common. One had a tough task ahead replacing the enigmatic Beetle as Volkswagen’s entry-level model, a task made all the more difficult by its more grungy – read ‘boxy’ – styling compared to the curvaceous look of its predecessor. Still, with a new platform came good balance, sportier levels of power and handling, and – in 1976 – a GTI ‘hot hatch’ version, a custom also taken into the second-generation model in 1983. Affordable prices meant households quickly sat up and took notice of the all-new Golf.
The other meanwhile was busy re-inventing a name many thought long gone since dropping off the radar along with the original model in the mid-1960s: the four-door saloon’s stylistic differences to its coupe forebear spoke for themselves. Even three facelifts couldn’t get the ball fully re-rolling during an eight-year production cycle though, fierce competition and a questionable reliability record putting paid to Alfa Romeo’s efforts. By the mid-1980s, the Giulietta was off the radar once again at a time when the Golf was starting to pick up steam.
Fast-forward to the 2010 Geneva Motor Show and the Giulietta was back for a third crack of the whip, this time as a replacement to Alfa’s entry level 147 hatchback. Once again, heritage was difficult to unearth since little – if anything – remained of either the first or second-generation models in the new hatchback. A different story indeed for the Golf, which was already into its sixth generation version and well-established as one of – if not THE – hatchback of choice for young families thanks to an intricate mix of practicality and lairiness: every 17-year with a driving licence fresh off the press was busy saving their coppers for one. Much is the same today, with the launch of the seventh generation model late last year. Thanks to further upgrades to the engine range (which is now 23 percent more fuel efficient than those of the Mk6), the bodyshell (100kg lighter and significantly stiffer), driver assistance systems (a wider and more technically savvy collection has improved safety) and the interior cabin (which now boasts more space), 38 years of honing and tweaking has given the Golf formidable credibility. A brief glimpse over our review of the new GTI should give you a rough idea too…
Quite an act to follow then but let’s not downplay the Alfa hand just yet (you may already have seen the Uma Thurman adverts). Already three years old before setting threaded tyre onto Middle East shores leaves the Giulietta on the backfoot certainly, although the hatchback came close to being crowned European Car of the Year in 2011 (we’ll overlook the fact the new Golf won this year’s blue ribbon), boasts six engines in its range – one of which, the Multiair, was voted best new engine of the year also in 2011 – and is already well on the way to the quarter of a million units built mark. Not accolades to be scoffed at lightly. That, plus that all-important cross and serpent badge emblem on the front grille. For a company that so vehemently markets ‘soul’ in each of its models and boasts a heritage more than one hundred years strong, this could make all the difference when it comes to customers signing on the dotted line.
On the day of our twin test though, there is an altogether more unorthodox difference maker: sun-kissed skies and baking tarmac in Dubai are replaced almost out of nowhere by dark clouds and rain. It seems Mother Nature is doing her utmost to disrupt crankandpiston at home as well as on the Mille Miglia, since slick roads does rather knacker our plans for a mountainside thrash. Then again, when was the last time a crankandpiston photoshoot took place in the rain? Exactly.
Intermittent weather encourages us – that would be colleagues James Davison and Arun, as well as myself – to get cracking, and we quickly line our metallic black contenders up alongside each other in a surprisingly busy part of the Dubai’s Al Quoz industrial region for some atmospheric shots. It also gives us the chance to check out the looks of each hatchback.
As you’d expect, we’re well into the Italian Alfa Romeo’s playground here, a very angular front end – coupled with striking bonnet lines and sculpted headlights – and Alfa’s traditional diamond front grille unlikely to leave you on the fence. There’s certainly character to the front end, one that is further enhanced in this reviewer’s opinion by the sleek taillights, subtle taillip roof spoiler and the ‘Giulietta’ stencil across the rear panel. The hidden rear door handles – this being a five-door model only – is a particularly nice touch, secreted as they are in the C-Pillar beside the rear windows. Throw in some satin effect wing mirrors and 18-inch Turbine-design alloys, and it’s fair to say the Alfa ticks all the right boxes.