Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCT review
by David Finlay (10 April 2012)
No, this is not a new kind of Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Not really. TCT stands for Twin Clutch Transmission, which is a new gearbox similar in operation to other semi-automatics on the market, the most famous being the DSG unit found in many Volkswagens, SEATs, Skodas and - with the alternative title of S tronic - Audis.
It's the work of Fiat Powertrain, and the Italians are at pains to point out that it's all their own work. It certainly doesn't feel like DSG, as we'll see, but like its German equivalent it allows the driver to control the car using two pedals rather than three, while at the same time being lighter, less power-absorbing and less fuel-using than a conventional automatic.
There are several engines in the Giulietta range, but for the moment TCT is being offered with only two of them, namely the 1.4-litre turbo petrol MultiAir and the two-litre JTDM-2 turbo diesel, both producing a maximum of 170bhp. Why only these? Because between them they account for nearly half of all Giulietta sales. Simple economics.
TCT Giuliettas cost £1350 more than manual-transmission ones, and for that you get only the most fractional improvement in straightline performance - top speed is unaffected (they can all get up to 135mph) and 0-62mph times drop by a mere tenth of a second (7.7 for the MultiAir, 7.9 for the diesel).
You do get the two-pedal arrangement, though, which may be a matter either of convenience or of necessity. But Alfa Romeo isn't stressing that so much as the improvement in official fuel economy and CO2 emissions. In the case of the diesel, these amount to 62.8mpg and 119g/km respectively, and the latter figure means that annual Vehicle Excise Duty payments are just £30, while Benefit In Kind taxation is set at 17%.
The MultiAir (which is quite a lot cheaper - prices start at £21,855 for this one as opposed to £23,550 for the diesel) is expected to be more popular. Fuel economy isn't so good, at 54.3mpg, but the CO2 rating of 121g/km is remarkably close. Slightly frustrating, too, since if it had been 1g/km better the MultiAir would also have cost £30 a year to tax. In fact it will cost £100, but BIK taxation is lower at 15%.
I have no idea why TCT should make so much more of a difference to the CO2 emissions of the MultiAir (13g/km better than the manual) than it does to the diesel (5g/km better), nor why the CO2 figures for the two semi-automatics are so similar when the economy figures are nearly 8mpg apart. But that's what the EU test results say, and it allows Alfa Romeo to make some interesting points at the expense of Volkswagen, whose much slower 104mpg 1.2 TSI petrol Golf with DSG doesn't even come close to the MultiAir TCT's CO2 rating.
Mention of Volkswagen brings me back to how TCT compares with DSG in the matter of driving experience. Well, TCT changes very quickly indeed from one ratio to the next, as it's designed to, but if you pay close enough attention there's some evidence that things are churning about in the depths of the transmission.
In most DSG-equipped VW Group cars, a change of engine note can sometimes be the only sign that you're not in the same gear that you were a second ago. TCT, is never quite as unobtrusive as that.
On the other hand, I've often found that DSG makes a meal of getting a car away from a standing start (whether you're trying to do this quickly or slowly). TCT doesn't seem to have this problem. A preference towards either the Italian or the German system will depend on which of these aspects is more important to you. Personally, give me the smoother getaway every time.
TCT models with both engines come in Lusso trim, at the prices mentioned five paragraphs ago, and Veloce, which adds £1300 to the cost of the MultiAir and £1250 to that of the diesel. I'd avoid Veloce simply because the larger wheels and lower-profile tyres take the ride quality into a level of firmness that doesn't suit me at all, and I think I might opt for the MultiAir; with more mid-range power, the diesel feels quicker, but it's more likely to lose grip in mid-corner if you're pushing hard, and the gearchanges feel a little more ponderous.