Strong and smooth engines
More and more people are choosing dual-clutch gearboxes to combine the benefits of automatic fast shifts, improved fuel consumption and light weight, so to meet demand Alfa Romeo has developed its own, which is an option for the mid-size hatchback Giulietta on the range-topping petrol and diesel engines.
The Giulietta has led a sales resurgence for Alfa with its mainstream appeal and wide spread of talents. It was missing an automatic gearbox choice though, and because dual-clutch technology combines the lightness of a manual with the relaxed enjoyment of a traditional torque converter automatic, with greater efficiency than either, the company felt it was the right choice.
The Twin-Clutch Transmission (TCT) is judged to have most appeal for buyers of premium engine options, so it's only available on the most powerful iterations of the 1.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel powerplants. That effectively positions the gearbox as a more exclusive ownership proposition and adds implied prestige, positioning it above the top end of the prior range.
Competing in the C-segment the Giulietta TCT has some stiff competition from rivals with longer-established automatic gearbox options but it adds a valuable extra string to car's bow. The gearbox itself isn't as refined in operation as some other choices but the package represents a tempting choice both financially and aesthetically. Several trim choices are available in conjunction with the TCT gearbox.
Fitted with the turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine and new gearbox the Giulietta makes a convincing case for itself as a beautiful, entertaining and efficient hatchback. The engine has been around in previous cars and is more than adequate for providing a sprightly turn of pace, although shift times and smoothness from the TCT are not quite the best in the sector.
The Giulietta is arguably the most interesting and desirable car in its segment and the TCT gearbox can only increase its appeal. The reality is that the TCT isn't the best dual-clutch gearbox out there, but is smooth and relaxed in casual driving. Impressive fuel economy figures redress the balance in terms of driving appeal and this version of the Giulietta is undoubtedly well adapted for modern drivers' needs.
One of the key selling points of the TCT gearbox is that the running costs are lower, especially for company car buyers who will benefit from a lower CO2 rating when compared to the manual version. The gearbox does keep revs low, and the efficient 1.4-litre turbocharged engine allows impressive fuel economy when driven with restraint. The residuals for the Giulietta are generally good as well, promising a balanced all-round ownership proposition.
A spacious front passenger area is deceptive. While those at the front have an awful lot of room around them, rear passengers will feel more enclosed both because of the way the car's shoulder line rises and due to the thickness of the C-pillars either side of the tailgate. A point against its practicality is that its boot load lip is deeper than some, making it harder to get heavy items in and out. That said, the boot area is surprisingly capacious.
For all the flair and style of the exterior and general interior fixtures, the instrument cluster is actually quite bland. It's extremely clear and easy to read at a glance, but somehow it doesn't live up to the passionate design throughout the rest of the overall package. There is a simple, easy-to-read red LCD display that has quite an old-school appearance. It's quite charming but some people may prefer something a little more high-tech.
The chief factor affecting the Giulietta's general comfort is the wheel size. Larger wheels introduce more road noise and reduce the comfort on rough road surfaces. Also important are the seats, but all the possible choices are more than good enough. The optional leather sports seats are arguably the most comfortable, but they leave the occupant sitting slightly lower and affect how easy the car is to get in and out of.
All the main bases are covered, with an immobiliser and remote central locking as standard. The key can open the boot alone if desired, and Alfa's 'Safe Lock' deadlocking system is standard. Security experts Thatcham rate the Giulietta Lusso five out of five for theft prevention, which is one star higher than the entry-level Turismo model. For theft from the vehicle, the Lusso earns four stars while the Turismo is awarded three.
The Giulietta scores highly in the Euro NCAP safety tests and features a broad spectrum of electronic safety gear. Stability control is standard, as are daytime running lights, six airbags and an anti-whiplash system. There are other clever ideas in place as well, including a system that sends a pulse to the steering wheel in emergencies to prompt the driver to steer in a certain direction.
The Giulietta needs to appeal to a mainstream audience, and the TCT gearbox has been tuned with a bias towards normal, relaxed driving. With typical use the shifts both up and down the gears are smooth and quiet, but they're not especially fast even when the car's 'DNA' adjustable driving dynamics switch is set to 'D' for Dynamic. A decrease in ride quality is evident on larger wheels, but the petrol engine is smooth, strong and appealing in a variety of driving situations.
Although it has all the basic qualities in place with relatively easy access to the rear seats, Isofix child seat mounts and a spacious boot, there are some aspects that count against it. The boot lip is too deep to allow easy access to heavy child-related paraphernalia and it's generally not wide or deep enough for pushchairs. Any leather surfaces are also quite soft, and potentially vulnerable to careless hands.
Reading into the nature and intended usage pattern of the TCT-equipped Giulietta, it implies that previous driving experience will have led to a preference for the benefits of a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. This isn't the least user-friendly car around and would be easy for the most part for new drivers to get used to, aside from the restricted rear visibility. It's also too expensive for most first-time car buyers to finance or insure.
It's fair to say that in the past Alfa Romeos have not had the best reputation for build quality or reliability. What the brand has in spades is the prestige that comes with being a slightly irrationally desirable purchase, but the latest generation of the company's cars have made significant leaps forward. The interior is solid, with no creaks or rattles over rough and patchy road surfaces, and the workmanship evident in the optional leather seats, for example, is superb.
Although the rear door handles are located in such a way as to disguise the fact that the car is a five-door, the two extra doors allow an ease of access for rear passengers that's on a par with anything else in the sector. Likewise the front seats occupants, for whom getting in and out is easy. If sports seats are specified there are larger side bolsters that can get in the way, but some buyers will recognise this as a worthwhile trade-off.
The main stereo controls are simple enough, with a combination of buttons and dials. Some people might wish that certain functions were prioritised ahead of others and given their own button, but it doesn't take long to get used to. The retro red LCD display will divide opinion and is certainly a little low-tech compared to some of the standard fit displays on other mid-size hatchbacks, but it's charming and performs its job perfectly well.
The Giulietta stays close to the Alfa colour traditions, so there are multiple black, silver/grey and red options, including the costly option of '8C Red', a deeply metallic colour named after Alfa's 8C sports car, which was the first of the company's cars to use it. Red is particularly becoming of the Giulietta's shape. Inside, the dashboard and centre console are both stylish and feel high quality. It's a much more interesting environment than some other rivals offer.
Lusso models have rear parking sensors as standard, which is a particularly good thing because rear visibility in the Giulietta is relatively poor. The high tailgate line and small rear window prevent a good line of sight. With the benefit of the parking sensors and variable-assistance power steering the Giulietta is easy to bay park. Plus, the automatic gearbox makes low-speed manoeuvres easier for those who lack confidence with clutches.
Space saver fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options: 1.4-litre (120bhp, 170bhp); 1.7-litre (235bhp). Diesel engine options: 1.6-litre (105bhp); 2.0-litre (140bhp, 170bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, plus dual-clutch TCT auto gearbox (170bhp engines only). Trim levels: Turismo, Lusso, Veloce, Cloverleaf.