Happy 100th Birthday Alfa!

In 1910 ALFA (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili) was founded, later in 1915 Nicola Romeo took over the company and the rest is automotive history.

The timing coincides with the launch of a very important car for the FIAT owned brand, the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The VW Golf-sized car is set to make our roads a nicer place to be, because at last Alfa has a car that can seriously compete with the big boys like Ford's Focus and the Golf - something the old 147 sadly couldn't do. Motors went to The UK to test the new Alfa in right hand drive at Goodwood. We drove two versions, one petrol/one diesel and both had their strong points. The 2 litre diesel JTD m-2 is the stealthy, fast and economical choice but if you must have tonnes of power going through the front wheels, the wickedly fast 1750 'TBi' Cloverleaf with 235bhp is the one.

The five-door car is pretty to look. There’s a massive Alfa front grill and LED rear lights. Giulietta is more than just a pumped up MiTo. Giulietta sits on a new platform called simply 'Compact' (that will feature in future FIATs also). The rear doors are cleverly disguised into the bodywork (something we first saw with the Alfa 156) and this enhances the car's sporty appeal.

Inside there is seating for five although the rear headroom is best suited to those under six-foot and even shorter if you specify the optional twin sunroofs. I have a couple of niggles though. The Speedometer should be better, its readout is too small and the dial is poorly positioned. The only other complaint concerns the closeness of the pedals to each other, as they are not overly accommodating to my size tens!

On the road the Italian is a blast to drive. Steering is sharp and the ride is overall a bit fidgety but in a good, involving way. All Giuliettas feature the now familiar Alfa Romeo electronic 'd.n.a.' system that allows you to alter the car's throttle response, gearing (automatic only), steering weight and overall feel. ‘D’ is for dynamic and in this mode the throttle is sharpened up predominantly and all the engine's power comes on tap when you press the accelerator. ‘N’ is for normal and this mode will help you keep your license points free. ‘A’ is for all weather - so basically it does the opposite of Dynamic and is very handy when weather conditions prove slippy.

There is a host of standard drivers aids fitted but thankfully they are not too intrusive. On the twisty rural roads around the Goodwood estate the Alfa handled like an old school GTi. With 'D" selected cornering at pace was encouraged. There is also a new level of open road refinement that is impressive.

So how practical will the new Giulietta be? The rear cabin space is not as generous as rivals and the boot could be bigger but as it is such a good looking car we’ll forgive the Giulietta this time.

The 2-litre JTD Giulietta is the obvious choice but having taken the rapid Cloverleaf for a good few testing miles also, it is the one to go for if you are a true Alfa Romeo fan.

They say you cannot be a true petrol head without owning an Alfa at some stage.

Michael Sheridan