Alfa Romeo Giulietta – Review

Alfa Romeo, as a brand, have always produced some beautiful looking cars and are desirable by most. But once suggested as perhaps your next car, one is hesitant to recommend one due to a few reliability issues some models have suffered over the years. So, is the Giulietta finally the one to make you bite the bullet and itch that Alfa itch?

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A Few Facts:
Model Tested: Alfa Romeo Giulietta Super Sport
Engine: 2.0 Diesel – 150hp and 380Nm
Transmission: 6-Speed manual, front-wheel drive.
Price: Prices for the Giulietta range start at €21,950. Price as tested – €28,121.

Styling

This is where the Guilietta’s praises are sang the most. Its evident that the Ford Focus’s rival is prettier than Gran Paradiso itself. The decades old symbolic Alfa grill is very much present here. The triangular tribute grill sits flush to the body work with the 156-esque reg plate-mount to the right of it. Beneath the nose, sits the bottom half of the grill. Surrounding it is a thin red stripe; very much like penciled lipstick. Little Julie is looking elegant indeed.

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Finished in Alfa White and carbon trim, the Giulietta is more of a work of art than a car. It pays tribute to many Alfa predecessors. But what I really like are the rear door handles. Any manufacturer can be normal and put them on the door but Alfa have been unique and placed them adjacent to the window.

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To the rear, the clean and neatness continues. The boot release button is built into the rear badge. A touch of lipstick compliments the rear ‘defuser’, if you will. Protruding from either side of the defuser are chrome tailpipes, giving the Giulietta a rather sporty look.

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Interior

Open up the Alfa’s door and step into what is, well not quite what would remind you of a basilica. But more like a cockpit of a drivers car. The interior is well laid out with the essentials within easy reach. Unfortunately the interior lacked some quality that I was hoping for. Naturally, Alfa used a lot of Fiat bits. Namely, the Infotainment system.

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However, it comes with some typical Alfa niggles. The pedals are so close together and lack a rest plate for your left foot. Although the upside to this is, you can learn to heel-toe naturally. Honestly, throughout my time with the car I got used to not having a rest plate and just placed my foot under the clutch pedal when not using it. Going from driving the Megane GT with its nice and chunky steering wheel to driving the Alfa’s unnecessarily large and 2D-like steering wheel was not so welcoming, however.

On The Road

A diesel Alfa is appealing to some more than others. To me, I wouldn’t be a fan. But, I must admit the 2.0JTD motor that was equipped to the test car I had is very good. It is powerful enough to excite you when you plant your foot but is also reasonably frugal once you take it handy. Although the 4-cylinder diesel clatter that echoes throughout the cabin is not desirable. This 150hp unit is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. A 7-speed TCT(Twin Clutch Transmisson) is also available.

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The Giulietta features Alfa’s DNA button. This is, in essence, a toggle that driver’s can use to select different driving modes – Dynamic, Natural and All-Weather, hence DNA. In Natural mode the Alfa feels very relaxed and composed. It remains comfortable while negotiating Irish roads. Steering comes in electrically power assisted form, much like many of its rivals. In Dynamic mode, steering feel is heavy and direct while in Natural it is easy to deal with.

Switching the toggle to D, transforms the car instantly. As soon as the toggle is pushed, the throttle frees up immediately propelling you forward. You have to ask yourself is it worth the speeding ticket to see what the Giulietta can do.

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Recently I have taken to Youtube to educate myself on how to heel-toe. Excuse my utter useless explanation of this but here is it goes… This is the process of rev-matching while braking. Rev-matching is matching the speed of the engine to the gearbox. Heel-toeing means you are using a blip of the throttle while braking and downshifting. The idea behind it is that you combine the two actions into one therefore, eventually, making you a quicker driver. It also adds to the fun of driving. I managed to practice this with ease thanks to the closeness of the brake and accelerator pedal in the Giulietta.

For a family car, the chassis feels very firm and the car as a whole feels well planted to the road. When I took it out onto some twisting and narrow roads, little Julie coped very well. Body roll was kept to a minimum. It has the makings of a very good hot hatch.

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Surprisingly, the Giulietta did not fair so well in the city. Stop-start traffic was very jerky and the turning circle is quite awful, really. Navigating through a popular city centre car park was done so with quite a lot of cursing.

Practicality/Boot Space

Door pockets are shallow but usable. There are decent sized coffee cup holders, not that you’ll need them because you’ll be sipping on espresso.

Boot space equals a comfortable 350l . By comparison, the Mazda3 has 364l and the Opel Astra; 351l.

Equipment

Alfa uses the infotainment system here from the Fiat line-up. Uconnect is easy to use and to connect to. It has the essentials like Bluetooth audio and phone. What isn’t so nice is the tiny 5 inch screen. It looks lost on the dash. A bigger display with a better resolution would increase the quality of the infotainment system

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Running Costs

Throughout my 7-daily routine of suburban and motorway driving, the Giulietta returned a fuel economy figure of 6.3l/100km. This is quite a bit off of Alfa’s claimed figure of 5.0l/100km.

Juliet emits 110g/km of CO2 which presents a tax bill of €190 per year.

Pricing

Prices for the Giulietta range start at €21,950. The price for the test car came to €28,121, including options.

Competition

Opel Astra – As fair as practicality and cabin layout goes, the Astra trumps its rivals. But, it is certainly no match for the Giulietta in the looks department. C’mon, we all know looks matter!

Renault Megane – A sexy French hatch with tons of character and road presence. However unless you opt for the GT, the 110hp and 130hp variants are no match for the Giulietta’s power and driving ability.

Mazda3 – The Mazda3 really does tick a lot of boxes. It drives well for its class, looks great featuring Mazda’s KODO design and is just as practical. But, the Guilietta’s sex appeal wins this time round.

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Conclusion

There is certainly no denying the beauty of the Giulietta. It has to be one of the prettiest cars on sale at the moment and one of the most low key. However, I couldn’t help but think that the Giulietta was just too practical and it felt like it was trying to be something is was not. Personally, I feel a diesel is out of place in an Italian like the Alfa but that is easily overcome by opting for the 1.4TBi petrol engine. Spec Little Julie right and you will have yourself something truly to be proud of.

Renault Megane GT – Review

A French Baguette; just a large stick of bread but oh so good. Brie cheese; just another kind of cheese but oh so tasty. Bordeaux; just another type of wine but oh so fine. The Renault Megane GT; yet another warm hatch but oh so great. But what does the Megane GT say about the future of RenaultSport models?

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A Few Facts:
Model Tested: Renault Megane GT
Engine: 1.6 petrol, 205hp and 280NM
Transmission: 7-Speed automatic, front-wheel drive.
Price: Prices for the Megane range start at €19,490. Price as tested – €32,040.

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Styling

There are a certain type of car that really appeal to me, they are known as sleepers. A sleeper is a car that is quick/fast but does not stand out from the crowd or look much different from a tamer version in its line up. For example; the 2017 Honda Civic Type R is not a sleeper, it has a giant wing and extravagant styling. You know its quick because it already looks like its going 100km/h while parked.

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The Renault Megane GT, on the other hand, is a complete sleeper. It has the same elegant styling as the regular Megane but under the bonnet has the added “umph”. When I reviewed the Megane, I praised the French brand’s uniqueness. The Megane GT is no different, it features a similar bold and distinctive face as featured on the Clio and Kadjar, for example. What sets the GT apart from the more tame Megane are sportier bumpers, the honeycomb grill and the subtle badges dotted around the bodywork. For example, the GT badge below the Renault logo on the grill, the Renault Sport logo on the boot and the front wings and the 4control badge on the B pillar.

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Interior

Inside, the Megane’s rather good interior is pretty much left untouched from the regular Megane. Featured is the 8.7 inch touch screen that houses R-Link, more on that later. As well laid out as the cabin is, its not very strategic. The door lock and unlock buttons are underneath the screen on the left of the driver, not on the door. Although the cruise control “increase” and “decrease” buttons are on the steering wheel itself, the option to turn on cruise or speed limiter are on centre console. The radio controls are on a whole stalk of their own, underneath the wiper stalk on the left hand side of the steering wheel. Its all just a bit..well, French.

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This has its charms though. The seats, oh the seats! Again, I loved the seats that were fitted in the regular Megane. They are a very good attempt at being a full bucket seat but without loosing the comfortability for everyday use. While the test car was fitted with cloth, alcantara can be added at an extra cost of €1,500. Worth every cent, in my opinion.

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Both rear head and legroom is accommodating but close rivals offer better space.

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On The Road

Continuing with a sleeper’s characteristics, the Megane doesn’t let a loud roar or burble when you turn on the engine. As much as you’d like it too, however.

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Immediately, the Megane begins to handle like a true sports hatch. I mentioned 4Control earlier. This is 4 wheel steering. At speeds up to 80km/h in Sport mode(60km/h in other modes), the front and rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of each other. This makes the car nimble around the city and easy to park. While at higher speeds, the wheels turn in the same direction. This means you can throw the GT into a corner and keep the power on going through because the wheels are adding extra grip. You are for sure to come out the other side with a huge grin on your face.

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The GT’s suspension and 7-speed EDC automatic gearbox have both been developed by RenaultSport. Much like the Opel Corsa OPC, the Megane GT is easy and comfortable around the city but when you get to a suitable back road and put the chassis and ‘box to the test, it delivers. Although, the Megane weighs in at 1,463kg so it isn’t the slimmest of pickings. It is just short of 30kg heavier than the Focus ST but the ST has an extra 45hp. The Golf GTI comes to 1,289kg and is also up on power by as much as 25hp.

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However, with the massive, chunky leather wrapped steering wheel and large metal gearbox paddles to guide you through all seven gears of the EDC ‘box, the GT feels very much like a drivers car.

Practicality/Boot Space

Nothing is lost over the regular Megane, 384l of boot space is still available and there is sufficient storage throughout the cabin.

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Equipment

The GT is tech-spec heavy. It features Renault’s latest version of R-Link, R-Link 2. R-Link is Renault’s infotainment system. Again, referring back to my time with the regular Megane, the R-Link system didn’t impress me. Why? Well, because it wouldn’t connect to my phone. But thankfully this time it did. It did so with ease and the system is easy to use. Its interface is much like a smartphone or tablet, simple.

This GT came optioned with with a BOSE sound system(€600) which is good. It consists of seven speakers and one subwoofer. The sound quality is good from the system. Users can change the speaker’s atmosphere too. So you can have the music suit a Nightclub setting, a Lounge setting or Live music setting.

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Running Costs

The GT is a thirsty little bête (beast, for you non-French speakers out there)I averaged 9.5l/100km, quite a long way off Renault’s claimed combined figure of 6.0l/100km. Admittedly, I did have a heavy foot on the accelerator when the opportunity arose. But who wouldn’t when you have the R.S button at their discretion.

The tax bill comes to €280 for the year down to the emissions of 134g/km of CO2.

Also available in the GT is a 165hp diesel although Renault Ireland does not offer it on our shores yet so has not released economy figures for this engine. Though in theory, it should be more fuel efficient.

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Pricing

Pricing for the Megane range starts at €19,490. Prices for the GT start at €30,690 but this one, as it sits, will set you back €32,040.

Competition

The Megane GT kind of sits in the middle lane a bit. Many of its competitors are either higher or lower in terms of power but I did my best to find the most suitable.

Ford Focus ST – A fast Ford has always been the Ford to have. The Focus ST packs more punch than the GT with 250hp coming from its 2.0 petrol engine. Although the design is beginning to age a bit now so the GT is a fresh face to the warm hatch segment.

Skoda Octavia RS – A particular favourite car of mine on sale in Ireland at the moment and along with the Golf GTI, it seems to be the go-to-car in the warm hatch segment. The RS has both petrol and diesel variants, much like the rest of the competitors, but the pick of the bunch is the 230hp 2.0 petrol model. It has also received a facelift but the Megane is still prettier.

Peugeot 308 GT – The Pug is the most direct rival to the Megane GT. The two Frenchies have been battling it out for many years as far back as the the Peugeot 205 GTi and Renault 5 GT days. The new 308 GT is also powered by a 1.6 Turbo and too has 205hp. Although, the Pug weighs in at 1,200kg so is more than 250kg lighter than the Megane.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta – The Giulietta is arguably prettier than the GT with its more subtle and low-key elegant Italian styling. Although I am basing my driving experience off of a 2.0 diesel model, the Giulietta has a purer driving feel than that of the Megane. The 170hp 1.4TBi petrol is the engine to go for.

Conclusion

The Megane mightn’t be as pure as its RS ancestors in terms of being a simple, point-and-shoot warm hatch, and you would be right. It is filled with innovative consumer and driver technology. But one downshift from a blip of the large metal gearshifter paddles and plant your foot to the floor, suddenly the future of RenaultSport does not seem all that bad.

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Nissan X-Trail – Review

When it comes to family cars, like SUVs, Irish buyers are spoiled for choice. There are a lot of good SUVs on the market that competition in the segment is strong. So does the Nissan X-Trail have what it takes to compete in this crowded segment?

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A Few Facts:
Model Tested: Nissan X-Trail SVE
Engine: 1.6 Diesel – 130hp and 320Nm
Transmission: 6-Speed manual, front-wheel drive.
Price: Prices for the X-Trail range start at €29,995. Price as tested – €40,250.

Styling

With the exception of some, like the Renault Scenic, family MPVs and SUVs aren’t the most exciting of car designs. Unfortunately, the Nissan X-Trail hasn’t followed suit of partners, Renault. The X-Trail is a bulky design. Lots of tacky chrome bits are scattered around the car like on the grill, fog light surrounds and door handles.

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Up front, it uses Nissan’s new distinctive face. It comes standard with LED daytime running lights and LED headlights on the SVE model. Nissan’s attempt to give the X-Trail some funky charm are the 19 inch alloys and the panoramic sun roof. The sunroof is a nice addition. Half of it opens for the front two passengers but overall, adds some light into the cabin.

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Interior

Inside, the SVE model adds Black leather seating. The SVE trim is quite spec heavy, which is a good thing. The leather seating is accompanied by electrically adjustable seats up front.

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Its a spacious place to be with lots of storage. Although, cheap and scratchy plastics are very much present.

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Around the city, there is excessive engine noise from the 1.6 diesel and opening it up on the motorway fills the cabin with an abundance of road noise.

On The Road

When I drove the Skoda Yeti, I was quite disappointed by it. It didn’t handle well at all despite Skoda’s efforts of making it feel more like a car than a crossover. Unfortunately, the same goes for the X-Trail.

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The SUV measures at 1.7m high and this is evident in the corners. Its quite unstable on the road with lots of wheel spin from the front wheels, which doesn’t help. Gear changes are notchy too so it doesn’t make for a pleasant drive. The X-Trail is available as a 4×4 also so maybe handling is improved in that version.

Practicality/Boot Space

My test car had the only optional extra for the SVE model which was the addition of two seats in the boot, Thus, making the X-Trail a spacious 7-seater.

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This option therefore adds to the practicality of the X-Trail. Although the boot measures at 550l with the extra seats down, it is decreased to 135l with them upright. Need help loading the boot? An electronically operated boot door is to your aid.

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There is plenty of storage in the glove box and door cards and the cup holders up front even benefit from a cooling system.

Equipment

The infotainment system in the X-Trail is simple but it works. It doesn’t have any complicated menus and isn’t even a touch screen. The Sat Nav works well and my phone paired up without hassle. Standard on the SVE trim is a reversing camera with 360-view technology.

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The 7-seater is an extra €2,900 over the same spec 5-seater model.

Running Costs

I averaged 6.6l/100km throughout my week with the X-Trail. The tax bill equates to €280 per year.

Pricing

Prices for the 2017 X-Trail range start from €29,995. My test car was priced at €40,250.

Competition

Renault Scenic – Yes, Yes, I know. The Renault Scenic is an MPV, not an SUV. But Renault and Nissan share the same engines and some other components so it is a fair comparison. The 2017 Renault Scenic is a very handsome package, the French have given it the perfect amount of flair. A 7-seat option is available too in the form of the Grand Scenic.

Ford Kuga – The 2017 Ford Kuga received a facelift and is looking even better than ever. The old Kuga got a lot of hate for its disproportions but I have always been a fan. Although the Kuga only offers a 5-seater option and has a 456l boot. It is also pricier with a starting price of €33,345(€36,145 for the ST-Line, the higher spec trim). Point for you Mr. X-Trail.

Mazda CX-5 – Another car that is very handsome in my eyes, the CX-5. With prices starting from €27,995(€35,795 for the highest spec, Platinum), it is cheaper than the X-Trail. Although, the Mazda also lacks the option of 7-seats and has a boot space of 503l. Congrats Mr. X-Trail.

Conclusion

Although I have concerns over the X-Trail’s build quality, there is no denying the practicality of the Japanese SUV. At just over €40,000 for the 7-Seater in SVE trim, it is good value for what you get too. Maybe I just need to get over the fact that family-orientated SUVs/crossovers aren’t good to drive.

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