Alfa hauls out automatic weapon

To true Alfisti just the thought of sticking an automatic transmission into the much-revered Giulietta would be as incomprehensible as adding coke to grappa or garam masala to polenta – but that’s exactly what the white coats in Italy have done to its latest model, which has just landed on local shores.

The passion is still there.

Not just an ordinary automatic either, but Alfa’s rather innovative TCT (twin clutch transmission) that already does duty in theMiTo. In essence it is a dual dry clutch six-speed transmission which the suits in Alfa’s sales and marketing team reckon is setting a class benchmark in the ratio mix and performance, fuel consumption and emissions.

Whether the clever guys with the thick glasses and long hair tweaked the oily bits I don’t know but the TCT system seems to work better on the Giulietta than in theMiTo.

It is smoother and quicker, even though the Giulietta suffers from a bit of turbo lag and slight hesitation from a stop and start system (which mercifully can be switched off).

The passion is still there

Fortunately not too much red blooded Alfa Romeo passion has been sacrificed for eco-cred green and the wellbeing of polar bears because although the pleasure of short stick stirring is missing the transmission does offer the choice of flicking the flappies on the steering-wheel or tap-tapping the auto shift lever.

The good-looking five-door hatch comes with some bragging rights.

It’s difficult to fathom why car manufacturers go to all the trouble to drop in an auto box and still offer manual options at the same time. Surely a simple solution would be either a straight manual or an ordinary automatic? Why spend extra money to boy an automatic and then drive it in manual fashion? But then the car industry is made up of copy cats; one does, the others follow and the paddle shift option on an auto shift is now virtually standard across the board.

Either way, Alfa claim the new TCT set-up improves efficiency, lowers fuel consumption, improves driving comfort, and gives the Giulietta a “sportier feeling”.

Torque and traction

On our test drive in the vicinity of the Cradle of Mankind we had ample opportunity to play with the TCT shift and it works fairly rapidly, even when left to its own devices. The main reason for this is because the transmission is made up of two “gearboxes”, one for even gears and one for odd gears, each with its own clutch, which allows the selection and engagement of the subsequent gear while the previous one is still engaged. The result is a steady stream of torque delivery and better traction.

The living quarters look good, but finding the ideal seat position can be a bit of a hassle.

A nice feature of the Guilietta is that the driver can, at the flick of the switch, change the car’s personality fromNormalto Dynamic. OK, so the Dynamic option doesn’t turn the car from purring pussy cat to snarling, hissing wild cat, the Giulietta does become a tad tauter and keener to trot. The 125kW under the bonnet is peppy and kicks out a top speed of 218km/h and a not too shabby 7.7 second dash from 0 to 100km/h (0.1 seconds faster than the manual derivative, claims Alfa).

No doubt the user-friendly TCT transmission is going to appeal to urbanites, commuters, lady drivers and the more mature end of the market who no doubt will also be impressed with the car’s low fuel consumption of 5.2 litres/100km and emissions of just 121g/km.

Bragging rights

Although on the pricey side at R315 000 the auto option is decked out with outstanding safety features, including the highest score ever by a compact car in Euro NCAP safety tests. The good-looking five-door hatch brags with jazzy alloys, wide connectivity options, fog lights, and a stylish and comfortable cabin with dual climate control and steering mounted adjustments.

Many drivers will be impressed with the car’s low fuel consumption of 5.2 litres/100km and emissions of just 121g/km.

The only irritating thing about all the new Giuliettas is that it is difficult to find a comfortable, workable seat position; too high and your head touches the roof. Anything lower than that and the front end of the car becomes invisible which could lead to pricey parking bumps and scratches.

Alfa Romeo has always been known to cause little spurts of adrenaline in drivers and non-owners alike but for most of its existence it has been living under a cloud of body rusting, dicey electronics and temperamental engines. Of late reliability issues, poor service standards, parts availability and low resale values have replaced previous issues but Alfa Romeo has worked hard at improving things and their efforts are certainly helped along by the brand’s five-year 150 000km warranty (including three years on paintwork and five years on rust anti-perforation) and six-year/90 000km service plan with service intervals of 30 000km.

Whether all of these, plus the Giulietta’s stylish looks, sporty character, long list of standard luxury, safety kit, green credentials and new TCT transmission carry enough weight for it to step into the ring against the likes of VW Golf Audi, Audi A3 Sportback, Citroen DS4 and BMW 1 Series only time and the market will tell.

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