IN these cash-strapped times, it’s lamentable that the choice of which car to buy can come to a simple toss-up between fuel economy versus fun. It’s a question that many car buyers struggle with. More powerful engines usually use more fuel, which is one reason why squeezing every last drop of fuel economy out of an engine equates to a big dent in the motoring fun factor.
Today’s soaring price of fuel means more and more manufacturers are coming up with clever innovations to eek out additional fuel economy without compromising performance, or at least without compromising performance too much.
Alfa Romeo’s TCT transmission system is one such technology. Its unique semi-automatic system uses two clutches, instead of one, to squeeze out as much efficiency as possible without compromising on the kind of sporty driving that the brand is associated with. At least, that’s the promise.
From a technology perspective, the system is impressive. One clutch handles the odd gears while the other clutch handles the even ones. This means when you shift gear, one clutch opens gradually as the other one closes and the power shifts seamlessly between the two gears. As the engine’s power is constantly linked to the wheels there is no interruption in its delivery. Which means shifting gears ought to be seamless. Despite having two clutches, the box weighs about the same as a manual one. Alfa claims that the TCT system sees improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions, a claim that is born out with economy figures that are as high as 62.8mpg (Combined, diesel) and CO2 emissions as low as 119g/km (diesel).
Alfa Romeo is making its TCT transmission available with its 1.4-litre turbocharged “Multiair” petrol engine and with its 2.0-litre JTDM diesel engine. Both engines are good for 170bhp and we drive both on the UK launch. Somehow, the 1.4-litre petrol engine feels bigger and more powerful than it is. Shifting gears is easy using the optional paddle shifters and I find that this Giulietta TCT feels quick and is a genuinely fun car to drive. Having said that, the slightly less quick, but more economical diesel feels like the more complete car.
Switching from Normal into Dynamic mode using the DNA controller sees the system provide a sportier shift pattern and the gears are held on to for longer, giving a more entertaining drive with a bit more crackle and pop too. We found that the handling was pretty good. Though the TCT transmission isn’t perfect, it does seems to do a pretty good job of blending the characteristics of a manual and automatic transmission. But we couldn’t help but detect a slight lag between the gear selection and delivery, though this seemed less discernible on the diesel version. The system is clever: click up or down more than once and it selects the last input if it concurs with the engine revs. But sometimes the system beeps and refuses the gear change if it considers that your gear shift, up or down, could put the engine under too much stress. It would appear that the choice here between sport and economy has seen economy win out. In reality this doesn’t seem very sporting.
Despite these niggles the result is a car that is fun to drive. Is it as much fun as a manual? In truth no, but it’s a lot more interesting than an automatic transmission when you add to that its speed and economy, not to mention its attractive styling, inspired by Alfa Romeo’s iconic 8C Competizione sports car (one of our test Alfa Giulietta TCT models was clothed in 8C Red paint – a £1,790 option). The Giulietta has a sumptuous and handsome interior which includes sports seats in black leather with red stitching, white dials and piano black and satin aluminium dash and door trim. The result is an unusual yet comfortable and economical car. It’s not quite as sporty as I would have liked but it’s close enough for that marvellous economy gain. And it is definitely quite different.
ALFA ROMEO GIULIETTA 1.4-LITRE TCT
PRICE: From £23,155
0-62MPH: 7.7 secs
TOP SPEED: 135 mph
CO2 G/KM: 121g/km
MPG COMBINED: 54.3mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****