Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCT - First Drive

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Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, turbocharged
Transmission: six-speed Alfa TCT dual-clutch automatic/sequential
Power: 170 bhp at 5,500 rpm
Torque: 230 Nm at 2,250 rpm (250 Nm at 2,500 rpm in Dynamic mode)
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 54.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 121 g/km
Top speed: 135 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 7.7 seconds

Price: from £21,855 (Lusso trim)

Alfa Romeo sales enjoyed a minor boom in the UK last year, with registrations increasing by 31 per cent to 11,563, the highest level since 2002. Much of that success can be attributed to the popularity of the attractive Giulietta, introduced eighteen months ago as a replacement for the 147 and a rival to the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series. Now the Giulietta gets a boost with the introduction of a new self-shifting dual-clutch gearbox branded TCT (Twin Clutch Transmission).

Volkswagen, with its DSG gearboxes, beat Alfa to the punch with dual-clutch technology but it would be unwise to underestimate any new development from Fiat Powertain Group, the operation responsible for engines and gearboxes for Fiat-owned brands, including Alfa. In the last few years, Fiat has come up with MultiAir valve-gear and the impressive TwinAir two-cylinder engine fitted to the 500 and other small Fiat group cars. Before that, it was associated with the development of common rail diesels. TCT, designed and made by Fiat, is the subject of 28 patents, and doesn't let the side down.

The new transmission is available in conjunction with the two biggest-selling Giulietta engine options, the turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir Petrol and the 2.0-litre JTDM-2 diesel, both of which produce 170 horsepower, although the diesel provides more torque (320 Nm as opposed to 230 Nm). In the case of the petrol, TCT costs £1,350 more than the manual, for the diesel, it's £1,400. I tried both and came away quite impressed. “Automatic” changes are smooth and quick, and the cars' subjective liveliness is borne out by the figures. The petrol is capable of accelerating from rest to 62 mph in only 7.7 seconds, the diesel in 8.0, although in practice, the diesel's torque makes it feel like it has more real-world go. I had the chance to speak with one of Fiat Powertrain's head boffins, Constantinos Vafidis, and he explained to me that they'd decided not to provide more than six ratios (some Volkswagen DSG boxes have seven) in order to avoid the “busy-ness” associated with over-frequent changes, a decision that's supported, or at least not really challenged, by the experience of using the TCT 'boxes on the road. One minor niggle – the steering wheel mounted paddles that can be used as an alternative to the gear selector for manual shifts could do with feeling a bit classier. Metal might be nicer than plastic, although in general, the Giulietta scores quite highly on cabin ambience, combining a distinctively Italian Alfa feel with apparently good fit and finish.

One interesting difference between TCT and dual-clutch gearboxes from other manufacturers is that there is no “S” or “sport” setting on the selector gate to provide a more aggressive shift pattern making more use of the lower gears for a driver who wants to press on. Instead, the TCT gearbox is integrated into and influenced by Alfa's “DNA” system. DNA is controlled by a switch on the centre console and has three settings – Dynamic (or sporty), Normal and All-weather – which a driver selects according to mood or conditions. In a manual Alfa, DNA alters the engine, steering and suspension settings, and can feel a bit superfluous. Giving the system control over the mapping of the gearbox in TCT-equipped Giuliettas appears to lend it a bit more purpose, although I'd need to spend longer with the car to get to the bottom of just how much difference mucking about with the DNA switch really made to the TCT's shift behaviour.

Traditionally, Alfas have been a minority choice and have appealed mainly to the heart rather than the head. But the company is increasingly able to deploy quite strong rational arguments in favour of buying a Giulietta as well; Alfas have been working their way up the residual value and customer satisfaction league tables, and now the Giulietta TCT models' low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in official tests make them an attractive option for benefit-in-kind taxation conscious company car users as well. The petrol TCT achieves 54.3 mpg (combined cycle) and 121g/km, while the diesel delivers 62.8 mpg and 119g/km – in both cases that's an improvement over the figures for the equivalent cars with manual gearboxes, highlighting the potential for dual-clutch gearboxes to provide the convenience of an automatic while matching or beating a manual for performance and economy. The petrol TCT's balance in particular between emissions, economy and performance also compares very favourably with just about every C-segment competitor, including cars with with Volkswagen's turbocharged TSI engines and DSG gearboxes.

Alfa struggles a bit to get noticed in the face of British buyers' obsession with the German brands but the Giulietta is slowly helping to change that - and the new TCT transmission can only help.

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