What is it?
It’s the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, facelifted for the second time. For its sixth birthday, Alfa’s family hatchback gets a new nose with a black honeycomb grille, black bumper inserts and minor tweaks to the headlight and foglight surrounds, all of which bring it closer to the upcoming Giulia saloon’s styling. There are also new seats and gently revised finishes inside.
Geneva 2016 update: Alfa Romeo Giulia range revealed ahead of going on sale in the UK
There’s been a full clear-out of the trim range, too, which now starts with plain old Giulietta and rises through Super, Tecnica and Speciale to Veloce, the last of which being exclusive to the 237bhp 1750 TB formerly known as the Quadrifoglio Verde, a moniker reserved hereafter for Alfa’s ultra-high-performance models.
Alfa reckons the fleet market for 110-130bhp autos is rapidly gathering momentum, so it has also taken the opportunity to introduce its 'TCT' dual-clutch automatic transmission as an option on the economy-minded 118bhp 1.6 JTDm oil-burner. That’s the drivetrain configuration we’re sampling here.
What's it like?
If you’re piqued by the sporty looking Italian-market test car pictured, it’s worth noting that its spec approximates the UK-market Speciale trim that can be paired with mid-range Giulietta engines such as the 168bhp 1.4 Multiair but not the 1.6 diesel. Highlights include 18in alloys, sports suspension, Brembos, styling accents inside and out and seats in leather and Alcantara.
All Giuliettas also now feature smartphone integration for online services, accessed via a central touchscreen, and all TCT-equipped cars get paddles on the leather steering wheel. The sporty interior trim adds character to a familiar cabin that’s nicely finished, solidly assembled and ergonomically respectable, but not quite Volkswagen Golf sensible.
But you may be more interested in the new hardware combination. The 1.6 JTDm TCT’s figures stack up very well. On standard-fit 16in alloys it’s good for 74.3mpg and 99g/km of CO2, matching the manual version’s impressive stats.
It’s 0.2sec slower to 62mph, at 10.2sec, but the engine feels more lively than that, pulling robustly between 2000rpm and 4000rpm without much turbo lag. While peak torque is a middling 207lb ft in the ‘DNA’ drive selector’s Normal mode, it rises to a more convincing 236lb ft in Dynamic, which also adds weight to the steering and energises the gearbox’s shift patterns.
The engine idles fairly gently and remains smooth as revs rise, gaining significantly in volume over 3000rpm. But it’s not an unpleasant noise as small diesels go, and low-rev, high-speed cruising comes quietly and without nasty on-throttle drone.
It finds a happy ally in a TCT gearbox that doesn’t upshift too early in Normal mode, in which it efficiently blurs its way through ratios, while it swaps gears more snappily in Dynamic. Paddle-borne shift requests are answered quickly, and there’s none of the overly sensitive throttle response some beefier engines suffer in DNA’s peppiest setting.
The respectable pace all this produces makes for swift progress on country roads, but there’s little engagement to be found from the steering. Turn-in comes quickly enough, and there’s good steering weight through fast corners, but there’s quite a bit of body roll and the helm feels slightly wooden in Dynamic mode. And while the brake-based front differential raises the limit of grip, the chassis feels inert rather than playful.
That will suit many fleet drivers just fine, however, as will the pliant ride that only comes unstuck over transverse ridges, although there is notable road noise, even in the base example we tried with 16in wheels.
Should I buy one?
This isn’t an Alfa to bother your pulse, but it’s stylish, comfortable and well finished, and the numbers really do add up. To get a self-shifting eco-diesel VW Golf you’ll have to spend almost four grand more on a 1.6 TDI 110 DSG Match Edition.
Sure, it’d be better equipped than the entry-level Giulietta, but also slower and not quite as efficient and would wear torsion bar rear suspension versus the Alfa’s more sophisticated multi-link set-up The closest Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus, meanwhile, are a little cheaper but less efficient.
Other, hotter Giuliettas may disappoint, but for a certain type of driver, this one’s well worth a look.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6 JTDm TCT
Location Balocco, Italy; On sale April; Price £21,000 (est); Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, diesel; Power 118bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 1320kg; 0-62mph 10.2sec; Top speed 121mph; Economy 74.3mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 99g/km, 17%