The Alfa Romeo Giulietta has been facelifted for the second time. So 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. There are also new seats and revised finishes inside. There has been a full clear-out of the trim range, too. It 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.
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 diesel. That’s the drivetrain set-up we’re sampling here. 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 alloy wheels, sports suspension, Brembo brakes, 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. The 1.6 JTDm TCT’s figures stack up very well. On standard-fit 16in alloy wheels, 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. Although 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. It finds a happy ally in a TCT gearbox that, in Normal mode, doesn’t upshift too early and efficiently blurs its way through ratios and it swaps gears more snappily in Dynamic. Paddle-borne shift requests are answered quickly. This all makes for swift progress on country roads, but there’s little engagement to be found from the steering.
Turn-in is quick 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 although the Alfa’s brake-based front differential raises the limit of grip, the chassis feels inert rather than playful. That will suit many fleet drivers just fine, though, as will the pliant ride that only comes unstuck over transverse ridges, although there is notable road noise, even with the standard-fit 16in wheels.
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 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. 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.
Price: £21,000 (est)
Engine: 4 cyls, 1598cc, diesel
Power: 118bhp at 3750rpm
Torque: 236lb ft at 1750rpm
Gearbox: 6-spd dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: 1320kg
Top speed: 121mph
Economy: 74.3mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 99g/km, 17%